The Michigan Wolverines face their stiffest challenge of the 2013-14 season this coming weekend (Dec. 14), with the No. 1-ranked Arizona Wildcats coming to Ann Arbor.
Head coach Sean Miller's Wildcats hang their hats on rebounding and defense. Regarding the former, they rank No. 1 in the nation in rebounding percentage (58.7), No. 2 in rebound margin (14.1) and No. 11 in offensive rebound percentage (41.3).
Miller's massive front line of Kaleb Tarczewski (7'0"), Aaron Gordon (6'9") and Brandon Ashley (6'8") represent a tough matchup for just about any college team. U of A holds its opponents to an effective field-goal percentage of 40.9 (No. 6 in the nation) and a stingy 27.8 percent from beyond the arc.
On the offensive end, Arizona relies upon balanced scoring led by shooting guard Nick Johnson (16.6 PPG), Gordon (12 PPG) and Ashley (12 PPG).
Michigan head coach John Beilein will have to decide how exactly to counterattack the top-ranked team's size and skill.
One option to strongly consider is to "go big" and increase the minutes of both Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan alongside Mitch McGary.
By consistently playing two bigs at all times, the Wolverines could better battle under the boards and try to neutralize the Cats' strength inside. But even with Horford or Morgan up front, Michigan will still lack length and bulk compared to Arizona.
A better option is to put its five most versatile offensive players on the court and turn them loose.
The five Wolverines who log the most minutes (Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Derrick Walton Jr.) account for 80 percent of the team's scoring and 64 percent of its rebounding.
McGary is steadily playing his way back into being the beast that took last year's March Madness by storm. The 6'10" sophomore leads Michigan both in rebounding (8.9 RPG) and steals (2.1 SPG).
Stauskas is having a stellar second season in Ann Arbor. After being the team's third-leading scorer behind Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. in 2012-13, it's no surprise that he leads the team in scoring (18.9 PPG). He's also dishing out the most assists (3.3 APG) of any Wolverine.
LeVert has gone from being a lightly used reserve a year ago to a serious scoring threat (13.9 PPG). He matched his career high recently by putting up 24 points against Duke.
This Arizona matchup would be the perfect game for GR3 to erupt. To date, he has shown flashes of the excellent play that everyone is expecting from this dynamic combo forward.
Keys to the Game
Sharing the ball and limiting turnovers will be especially important when the Wolverines match up against the Wildcats this weekend. Beilein's bunch has one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios (1.76; No. 6) in the nation.
Being aggressive on the offensive end will help Michigan best utilize its capable scorers.
Staying out of foul trouble—especially McGary—will give this young team (four sophomores and one freshman as starters) a chance to pull off the early-season upset.
Michigan has the talent. Beilein just needs to put it all together on Saturday.