As with MSU and Tum, I’m going with the assumption that Caris Levert will not play for Michigan. There’s no indication as of today that he’s likely and you’d have to wonder what impact it would have on M if he did play, given that they’ve been without him for a long period of time now. While last night was a disaster for them at both ends, I think there’s evidence that the offense has flowed better in his absence, at least in terms of Michigan keeping the ball moving, generating good looks for their perimeter shooters, etc. These things were occasionally an issue with Levert on the court, though obviously the trade off is that he gives you one of the few players in the nation truly capable of getting a look for himself at any time.
So, with him out, what that likely means is that we see Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson starting on the wings. MAAR has been a consistent shooter all year…50/36%. He alsoplays backup point guard minutes, but he’s tended to be the starter off the ball for Michigan ahead of Aubrey Dawkins. Robinson is the 6’8″DIII transfer from Williams College who has garnered so much attention for his three point shooting. Unlike MAAR, there is a definite splitfor Robinson between overall shooting performance and what he’s done in Big Ten play, though. Overall, he’s at 49% from three (andsince he takes about 80% of his overall shots from outside the arc, that’s the primary thing to be concerned about with him). In 10 conference games, though, he’s “only” at a bit under 37%. That there should be a tick down for him in Big Ten games isn’t that surprising, because coaching and scouting in the conference tends to produce that kind of result in many cases, butthe level of decline might surprise many.
Michigan also plays Aubrey Dawkins a lot off their bench. As was the case last season, he is a big three point threat as well (50% in league play and 46% overall). Of these three guys who play at the position for M, only MAAR is much of a threat going off the dribble…that’s just not something Robinson or Dawkins do very much.
I would expect to see Bryn Forbes and Denzel Valentine starting out guarding the wings (with Harris guarding Walton). Figure on Zel guarding Robinson, which is a matchup that makes sense in a few ways. For starters, Zel has the size to bother the 6’8″ Robinson, a factor in that Robinson doesn’t need a lot of time or room for his shot release and his height has proven to be a big part of his success, as he’s simply shot over defenders on many occasions…that’ll be tougher to do with a 6’5″ Valentine guarding him. Second, because Robinson doesn’t do much except spot up, it would be surprising if Zel ran into foul trouble guarding him. Bryn has a challenge coming against MAAR even though he isn’t a great offensive player. MAAR has a bit of size on him and he’s shown in the past an ability to use that size to his advantage in the midrange when going against smaller defenders. He’s also likely to try to go off the dribble, so Bryn’s got to be sound in denying that penetration. Dawkins presents mostly the same kinds of issues Robinson does except that he’s 4 inches smaller…he’s a guy you have to locate on the perimeter and close on. This would be another game where I think Alvin Ellis’ defense and size at 6’4″ could come in handy for MSU off their bench.
At the other end of the floor, Michigan could have real problems defending the MSU perimeter group. MAAR might be their best defender and that’s not saying a ton. Robinson struggles and Dawkins has been even worse if that’s possible. You saw it last night against IU, as Michigan struggled repeatedly to guard shooters, giving up a ton of wide open looks from the perimeter and then surrendering penetration repeatedly as well. I would expect MSU to get high quality looks in this game…whether the shots fall is another question, but the opportunities should be present. Defensively, MSU can’t let Robinson and Dawkins get loose for open looks. Contest their shots consistently and you can keep their makes to a reasonable level.