Michigan is a 4 out, 1 in team, so junior forward Zak Irvin is nominally a post player, though you’ll almost never see him operating on the blocks. It’s been a weird year for Irvin. He got off to a horrendous start shooting the ball and looked limited physically due to offseason back surgery. In conference games, his shooting eye is much better (44% from deep as opposed to 32% on the season as a whole). Yet, he still doesn’t look to my eye to be 100% physically. He was never going to be confused with Jason Richardson but he had some explosion which is lacking now IMO. OTOH, he’s become much more of a complete player, offensively at least. Up until the middle of last season, Irvin was a complete black hole, but he’s now able to do some things off the dribble and created for others…he has about a 2.5:1 assist to TO ratio and he’s averaging better than 3 assists per game total on the season. Offensively, even if I’m right and he’s not 100%, he’s playing well enough that he creates a serious matchup issue for MSU.
The one true post who starts is 6’9″ Mark Donnal. He was a guy who up until about a month ago looked to be a waste of a scholarship. He was touted as the kind of skilled big man Beilein likes but hadn’t shown much of that or anything else in Ann Arbor. When conference play hit, for whatever reason a lightbulb switched on and he’s been pretty effective ever since. He’s averaging 10.6ppg and 5.9 rpg in conference games, with both numbers significantly up from his seasonal averages. He’s giving Michigan major help in two areas…he’s an effective offensive rebounder (3 per game in league play) and he’s able to effectively catch and finish in the pick and roll game, something which has been a glaring problem ever since Jordan Morgan left town.
Off the bench, Ricky Doyle and Moritz Wagner both still see some time but have seen their roles sharply reduced. Doyle was decent as a freshman starter last year and seemed headed to a long term role but he’s struggled with conditioning and he’s been really bad in terms of his ability to catch passes and convert in pick and roll stuff, and that’s really all Beilein asks a big man to do in his offense. Wagner has shown flashes of skill and energy but fewer of them since conference play started. A lack of strength is primarily what’s holding him back at the moment.
MSU is faced with a very interesting problem in this game. Lately, freshman Deyonta Davis has been starting at the 4 alongside senior big man Matt Costello and has played very well. Yet, this might be about as bad a matchup for him as one could envision, given what Irvin’s game is like. I think this might be a game where we see more of Kenny Goins, who is a bit better suited IMO to guard Irvin’s off the dribble game. Might also be one where we see more of Bess and/or Marvin Clark if Marv has shown some strides defensively in practice. The flipside of this is that Irvin has no chance to guard DD well in the post…so how does it play out? Are you in essence trading 2s for 3s? Can DD hang with Irvin enough to limit his looks?
Costello against Donnal should be an advantage for MSU. Donnal can’t guard well in the post and Matt has shown a steady level of effectiveness in the paint since conference play began. On the defensive side for Matt, it’s pretty simple…play effective hedging defense on the pick and roll and don’t let Donnal get easy catches for layups.