Go Michigan Go Michigan Go
Time: 9:30 ET
Place: Madison Square Garden--New York, NY
Line: Michigan -3.5
Michigan heads to the World's Most Famous Arena tonight to take on an undefeated but unranked Pitt Panthers squad. The Panthers started last season 11-2, but those two losses came at the hands of Long Beach State and Wagner; it's perhaps no surprise that the Panthers collapsed from that point forward (i.e. the Big East schedule), finishing the regular season 17-16 (5-13) and missing the NCAA tournament entirely for the first time since 2001.
Pitt has defeated Mount St. Mary's, Fordham, Lehigh (the 15-seed that defeated Duke) and Oakland. The Panthers handled the first three by an average of 27 points, but the fourth game against Oakland was a bit trickier. The Panthers trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half, only to rally back and take the game to overtime, where they ended up winning by 10. The halftime deficit of 14 points was the largest ever overcome by a Pitt team.
Michigan, on the other hand, has handled each and every overmatched early season opponent with ease. The Wolverines have completely eviscerated Slippery Rock (sorry guys, we still like you), IUPUI (all those letters couldn't save them) and Cleveland State. Is there much point in discussing these games with any sort of depth? Probably not, but it is worth noting that Jon Horford has seen time after missing most of last season with a foot injury. He provides invaluable depth and rebounding to the Wolverines, despite the fact that the Wolverines have seemingly acquired both over the span of one offseason.
Otherwise, Trey Burke is still Trey Burke. Tim Hardway Jr. (known here as THJ, for the uninitiated) has shot a hilarious 73% from 3 (8-11) and 62% from the field overall and the freshmen (minus LeVert) have all flashed their certain sets of skills that made them one of the best basketball classes to come to Michigan in some time.
Pitt is averaging 79 points per game (to Michigan's 89 ppg), paced by three double digit scores in 6'9'' F Talib Zanna (14.0 ppg), 6'0'' G Tray Woodall (13.8 ppg) and 6'6'' F J.J. Moore (13.3 ppg).
Moore is the most efficient 3-point shooter on the team, having gone 6-13 to date (46%). However, Woodall has taken by far the most on the team, taking 27 and making only 8 (30%).
As a team, the Panthers have shot 52% from the field, good for 13th in the country. Luckily for Pitt, however, missing shots has been an "I ain't even mad, though" propostion: the Panthes have rebounded 50% of their misses thus far this season (55 offensive rebounds). Now, take with a sizable grain of salt given the level of competition, but Michigan will of course need to be ready to handle its toughest test on the glass this season by far.
As far as eFG% goes, Zanna is the only Panther who currently checks in within the top 100, sitting at 71.4% (awesome NB: Nik Stauskas currently leads the nation with an eFG% of 96.2).
Against Oakland, Pitt rolled out a starting lineup of Zanna, Woodall, G James Robinson, G-F Lamar Patterson and freshman 7'0'' center Steven Adams, a 5-star recruit from New Zealand.
Like Michigan, the Panthers are capable of dipping into their bench and finding some quality play. The aforementioned J.J. Moore actually comes off the bench himself, so Michigan's second-teamers will need to be ready to be aware of his presence on the 3-point line.
Trey Zeigler, a familiar name for Michiganders, also comes off the bench; he went 2-4 for 5 points and also pitched in 3 rebounds and a steal in 20 minutes against Oakland. 6'9'' 235 lb. F Dante Taylor logged the most minutes of any second-teamer for Pitt against Oakland, putting in 28 minutes and scoring 12 points on 6-7 shooting.
Offensively, Michigan will be able to put up points. However, the step up in size with this Pitt front court will take some adjusting to, especially for a youngster like Mitch McGary, who has been a giant amongst men thus far. Jordan Morgan has been playing against guys taller and more athletic than him for a while now, and should be okay. This is a game where a guy like Horford could prove immensely useful.
i would imagine despite the similarity in height between Tray Woodall and Burke, either THJ or Vogrich will draw him on the defensive end (this is speculation, of course). Woodall is a redshirt senior who can fill it up from outside. He's only shooting 42% from the field --he shot 2-14 from the field against Oakland-- but leads the team in overall attempts with 48.
From the bits and pieces of highlight videos and other miscellaneous things on the Internet, he doesn't strike me as an exceptionally explosive guy. However, he can transition from the bounce to the jumper with relative ease, and he does not seem shy about launching it from beyond the arc. Burke/whoever will need to be ready to chase him around screens. In addition, Woodall is a more than capable distributor, averaging 7.3 assists per game thus far (and an assist percentage of .
6'3'' freshman James Robinson runs the point for the Panthers. He is definitely a classic point guard but hasn't been much of an active playmaker (that's been all Woodall) based on my limited exposure to Pitt basketball thus far. Then again, he is a freshman. With that said, and with all due respect to Robinson, a Rivals 4-star recruit, Burke should be able to have some serious success against him on the offensive end of the floor. I can't see Robinson hanging with him on the pick and roll and, really, off the dribble in general. Woodall has a bit more hop in his step than Robinson, so maybe he gets matched up on Burke after all.
Otherwise, the Panthers have some solid bigs that can score and hit the glass, but given the new look Michigan squad, Pitt's trio of 6'9''-and-taller players (Zanna, Taylor and Adams) shouldn't be able to have their way with Michigan like bigger teams have done in the past.
- Possessions per game. Like Michigan, the Panthers aren't exactly the most up tempo team in college basketball: they average 62 possessions per game (to Michigan's 68). Michigan shouldn't really ever be out of its comfort zone in this one, pace-wise.
- Also like Michigan, the Panthers boast a nice and shiny assist to turnover ratio of 2.03 (Michigan is sitting at 1.66), good for 4th in the nation.
- Block party. Pitt is 64th in the nation in block percentage at 9.1%.
I realize that basing most of my perception of the relative quality of Pitt's team and individual players on the aforementioned Oakland game might not be the most wise thing to do, but it's pretty much the only somewhat meaningful data point to work with at this point.
Pitt doesn't shoot the three all that well but they do seem to take care of the ball for the most part, in addition to getting on the offensive glass fairly effectively. If this were an NCAA game, Woodall is definitely one of the guys getting the "star player" designation; he makes things happen for Pitt, whether he's coming off a screen for a jumper or distributing the ball elsewhere (he has a 38.3% assist percentage).
Again, Pitt has some bigs, and freshman 7-footer Steven Adams can even step out and hit a mid-range jumper if you let him. Still, I don't feel as I did in the past when Michigan was going up against a physical team with multiple bigs, mostly because, hey, Michigan has multiple bigs too. It is a nice feeling, indeed, analogous to the feeling that I get when I watch the football team play defense these days after wandering in the darkness that was the Greg Robinson era.
This will be a good test for Mitch McGary due to the uptick in the level of quality of the opponent's bigs, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. A put-back or two on his first shift would certainly do wonders for his confidence, which is already pretty high to begin with.
Michigan probably won't blow out this Pitt team unless everything turns up Milhouse in a major way, but a 10-15 point victory is not out of the realm of possibility. Jamie Dixon's Pitt squad is an experience one, and will absolutely put up a better effort than it did against Oakland.
A lot of it comes down to whether or not Tray Woodall can have a decent night from the field and whether, conversely, THJ can even halfway continue his torrid shooting pace to date. For THJ, this also includes prudent shot selection, especially in an arena often known for its unforgivingly callous rims.
Score: Michigan 78, Pitt 70.