The Michigan Wolverines were supposed to be good. Just not this good.
Led by an explosive backcourt and a slew of talented youngsters, John Beilein's squad has won 11 straight games to start the season, including victories over Pittsburgh, Kansas State, NC State, Arkansas and West Virginia, and the No. 2 squad in the nation will look to keep the good times rolling on Thursday night against Eastern Michigan.
The Eagles, who haven't made it to the Big Dance since 1998, don't exactly serve a Michigan State-type rivalry for the Wolverines. But whenever two in-state institutions face off, especially in the basketball hot-bed of Michigan, it's something worth watching.
Let's take a closer look at this matchup.
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
When: Thursday, Dec. 20 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Watch: Big Ten Network
Listen: A list of the radio affiliates in the state of Michigan can be found here.
Live Stream: BigTen2Go
Eastern Michigan Injury Report (via USA Today)
None to report.
Michigan Injury Report (via USA Today)
F Jon Horford, Knee, Questionable
F Max Bielfeldt, Ankle, Questionable
G Josh Bartelstein, Ankle, out
Horford is technically listed as questionable, but don't expect Al's little brother to be out there after dislocating his kneecap in an ugly injury against West Virginia.
Still, not all hope is lost for the big man. The Wolverines seem to have dodged a major bullet, as he is only listed as week-to-week (via the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder):
Michigan's Jon Horford week-to-week with knee injury; return time uncertain freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/…— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) December 18, 2012
What They're Saying
One of the biggest storylines surrounding Michigan coming into the season was how Beilein would adjust to having a very different squad than normal.
Usually, he puts out a team with lots of shooters and just one post player, but this season has been very different. Most notably, the Wolverines, despite still playing a Big-Ten style pace, have been incredibly efficient in transition.
Dylan Burkhardt of umhoops.com takes a closer look at the numbers:
Michigan is running more often than we’ve seen in recent seasons. According to statistics by Synergy Sports, 17.2% of Michigan’s offensive possessions come in transition. That’s a 25% increase from a season ago when just 13.8% of Michigan’s offensive possessions came in transition. Despite ranking in the bottom quarter of the league in possessions per game, Michigan ranks squarely the upper third when comparing percentage of offensive possessions in transition.
Take a look at the entire article for more terrific information, but essentially, the Wolverines are putting together an incredibly unique season in terms of pace and transition play.
And it's working, too. Ken Pomeroy has Michigan ranked fifth in the nation in offensive efficiency.
Eastern Michigan Player to Watch: Daylen Harrison
The Eagles have struggled to put the ball in the hoop in an efficient manner this season (302nd in points per possession, 321st in field goal percentage), but that's not because of Harrison.
Granted, the 6'6" junior guard has been borderline terrible over his past three games with just six total points and eight total turnovers. However, in the first six games of the season, Harrison hit double-digits in scoring five times and rebounded the ball at a fantastic rate.
Despite the recent struggles, the Akron product is still shooting a tremendous 49.2 percent from the field and leads the team with a true shooting percentage of 60.1. He isn't a great long-distance shooter (4 of 12 from deep), but the Wyoming transfer has shown the ability to create off the dribble and get to the line.
If Eastern Michigan is going to have any chance of pulling off a miraculous upset, Harrison, a multi-dimensional wing player with ideal size, is going to have to get out of this little recent funk of his and put forth a huge game.
Michigan Player to Watch: Nik Stauskas
Pick a player, any player.
Trey Burke is making a very solid case for National Player of the Year right now. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been leaps and bounds better than last year. Glenn Robinson III is quietly a very fun player to watch. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary have shouldered the load down low.
But I can't go with anyone besides Stauskas.
Guys like Marcus Smart and Anthony Bennett are (deservedly) getting a lot of love around the country right now, but Stauskas is making a good case as one of the best true freshmen in the nation.
At the very least, one of the best offensively.
Stauskas, the latest in the increasingly long line of terrific players from Canada, is knocking down a ridiculous 50.0 percent of of his field goals, 54.7 percent of his threes and 90.3 percent of his free throws.
You've heard about the 50/40/90 club, but Stauskas is currently one of the very few in the 50/50/90 club. As a result, his true shooting percentage is an almost comedic 71.4 percent. That's 21st in the country, but only six guys ahead of the Ontario product have played more minutes and only seven are scoring more points per game than him.
Of course, Stauskas isn't just an elite shooter, either (via College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster):
Man, that was a pretty move by Stauskas. The handle, weaving thru the defense, no-look bounce pass. Beautiful. I thought he was a shooter?— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) December 16, 2012
Look for the talented youngster to easily continue his streak of 10 straight double-digit scoring games, even against a good defensive team in Eastern Michigan.
Matchup to Watch: Trey Burke vs. Anyone Who Tries to Guard Him
Let's just get this out in the open to start: Trey Burke is unguardable.
His elite quickness and ball-handling skills mean if he wants to get past you, he'll get past you. If he wants to free himself for an open jumper, he'll do that too.
Once Burke rids himself of his defender, he's shown to be a pretty good decision maker. In addition to shooting a healthy 53.5 percent from the field (up from 43.3 last year), he's dishing out 7.0 assists to just 2.1 turnovers per game. That's the 22nd best ratio in the country.
The 6'0" Burke will likely see a mix of 6'3" Derek Thompson, 6'3" Ray Lee and possibly 5'11" freshman Jalen Ross, and they will have their work cut out for them slowing down the dynamic guard.
Eastern Michigan has been terrible on offense and solid on defense. Michigan, however, has looked nearly flawless on the offensive end and good enough on D.
Moreover, the Wolverines take care of the ball (16th nationally in turnover percentage), rebound (26th in rebound percentage) and are at home.
With the way Beilein's squad is playing, I just can't quite dream up a way in which it loses to the Eagles on Thursday.
Eastern Michigan 52, Michigan 80