Michigan (4-0) vs. Kansas State (5-0)
Time: 4:30 ET
Place: Madison Square Garden--New York, NY
Line: Michigan -4
Michigan enters the championship game of the NIT Season Tipoff at 4-0 after grinding out an ugly but encouraging 5-point win against Pittsburgh. If you care about meaningless preseason tournaments, Michigan can win one with a victory in the World's Most Famous Arena today against 5-0 Kansas State, now led by Bruce Weber.
When Michigan went down by seven early in the second half, it wasn't hard to revert to the default state of Michigan fan pessimism. It was easy to wonder if maybe all this preseason hype was unwarranted, and that maybe we are underestimating the loss of valuable players like Stu Douglass and Zack Novak, just as we did in 2009 with David Merritt and C.J. Lee.
Well, those fears were squashed via flourishes of freshman brilliance, with Trey Burke having somewhat of an off night. Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III took turns hitting bit shots, while Tim Hardaway Jr. caught fire down the stretch; he went 1-7 from three, the one make came with six minutes to go to put Michigan up by four.
Once again, Michigan comes in with the proverbial bullseye on its back. I typically hate these sorts of sports clichés, but I think Michigan will find that as long as they have that top-five ranking next to their name, teams will give them their best shot. Translation: SPORTZ! Clearly the turkey stupor has lingered into today.
Kansas State enters this one at 5-0, with mostly no contest victories against North Dakota, Lamar, Alabama-Huntsville and North Florida before eeking out a 3-point win against Delaware in MSG on Wednesday. So, a pretty standard early season slate, which we will unfortunately need to extrapolate wildly from in order to say things about this game.
Based on the numbers alone, it would appear that KSU doesn't exactly have a star player; however they do get some balanced scoring. 5'11'' G Angel Rodriguez leads the way for KSU with 11.2 ppg and a team high 4.6 apg.
Next up is 6'4'' G Rodney McGruder, who leads the team in field goal attempts with 54. McGruder is averaging 10 ppg. Luckily for Michigan, Rodriguez and McGruder haven't exactly been all that efficient thus far; in a combined 100 attempts, the two Wildcats have shot 39% from the field (and a terrible 28% from beyond the arc).
Rounding out the top five are 6'2'' G Will Spradling (9.8 ppg), 6'7'' F Thomas Gipson (9.2 ppg) and 6'6'' G Shane Southwell (7.4 ppg). Of note, Spradling and Southwell are the top 3-point gunners for the Wildcats. Spradling has shot 9-20 (45%) from 3 thus far and Southwell is 7-10 (70%).
This will be an entirely different test, personnel-wise, than Pitt presented. Kansas State's starting five from the Delaware game in MSG Wednesday ran as such: 5'11'' Rodriguez, 6'6'' Southwell, 6'5'' Nino Williams, 6'1'' G Martavious Irving and 6'3'' G Omari Lawrence.
After giving up some second chance opportunities on Wednesday night, Michigan for the most part dominated the glass against a formidable Pitt front court. Needless to say, it would be somewhat of a disappointment if Michigan didn't dominate the glass against an undersized KSU lineup.
Despite being coached by former Illini coach Bruce Weber, Kansas State actually has a 34th-best in the nation assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.34. If you watched Illinois attempt to run offense last year, this is somewhat of a surprise. Despite having Brandon Paul and lottery pick Meyers Leonard, the Illini offense looked downright incompetent, and basically required historic performances from Paul to beat anyone of worth in the Big Ten.
Is this is a product of the competition? Probably. To be honest, if Michigan can't force the same "dribble around the perimeter for 30 seconds then jack up a long two or a three" that became an Illini staple like the throwback screen in Al Borges' offense, I'd be a little disappointed in Michigan's team defense.
Whereas the Panthers where slightly slower than an already fairly slow Michigan team, the Wildcats are a bit faster; they're averaging 69.2 possessions per game (to Michigan's 66.0). This should be another battle waged mostly in the half court, with occasional bursts of transition ball. That's the sweet spot for this Michigan team.
Really, Michigan won't need to do anything special to win this one. The Wolverines won on Wednesday despite: a) shooting 3-17 from beyond the arc, which would have seemed like an inconceivable outcome for a Beilein team as recently as last season and b) Burke shooting 5-16 from the field. I don't see either of those things happening again.
- Prolific pilferers. KSU is tied for 67th in steal percentage at 13.0%.
- Offensive rebounding. Despite the general lack of the size in the KSU starting lineup, three reserves --Jordan Henriquez, Adrian Diaz and D.J. Johnson-- are all in the top 13 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. Six foot ten inch freshman Adrian Diaz is right behind Mitch McGary, who is #2 nationally at 25.8%.
- Block party. Again, KSU's bench is far bigger than its starting lineup; the aforementioned Henriquez, a 6'11'' senior, is 41st nationally in block percentage at 11.9%.
Ending Thoughts, Predictions, Etc.
Simply put, I don't see enough top end scoring on KSU's part to keep up with Michigan, who should presumably bounce back after a poor effort from the field Wednesday night. Not only that, one wouldn't exactly be crazy to be skeptical of Bruce Weber's chops when it comes to coaching up a functional offense.
Michigan simply has a more talented, better coached team than KSU does. This one probably goes a little smoother than Wednesday's game.
Score: Michigan 72, Kansas State 61.