How Michigan's Shooters Can Match Kentucky's Blue-Chippers

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How Michigan's Shooters Can Match Kentucky's Blue-Chippers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan has a practice drill with the goal of making 36 threes in three minutes.

The other day, Nik Stauskas got to 36 on only 37 shots.

If there's a misconception going into Sunday's Elite Eight matchup between Kentucky and Michigan, it's that one side has a bunch of pros while the other—with no Mitch McGary, Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr.—has a bunch of shooters.

Well, that's (partly) true. Kentucky does have a bunch of pros. Seven UK players appear in the next two mock drafts at DraftExpress.com. They've been destined to go to the NBA since 5-star got pinned next to their names in high school.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

And the Wolverines do have a bunch of shooters. But they have pros tooguys who will eventually make a lot of money thanks to John Beilein's offense.

Stauskas is projected to go in the first round of the draft this year, Glenn Robinson III in the second round and Caris LeVert in the first round in 2015. Freshman wing Zak Irvin, who knocked in three treys on Friday against Tennessee, will likely see his name on a draft list someday as well. 

Out of those four guys, only Robinson was a top-20 recruit, according to Rivals.com, and LeVert wasn't even listed in the top 150 of his class. UK's five freshmen starters, in comparison, all ranked in the top 11 of the 2013 ratings. 

How have guys like Stauskas and LeVert made up ground in only two years on all the paper stars? 

Beilein has highlighted one feature that gets lost in the chase for the big and beautiful athlete: the flick of the wrist. 

"We want everybody to be able to shoot and pass," Beilein said of what he looks for on the recruiting trail. "Speed and quickness and all these other things are intangibles. But shooting is usually a prerequisite." 

Beilein has built the ideal lineup for his two-guard offense with this team, even more so than last year's team, which Burke carried to the national championship game. 

That team was extremely difficult to stop because Beilein put three shooters around Burke, but this one is harder to guard with four shooters who can all play creator. 

"The numbers say that," assistant coach LaVall Jordan said of this team's offense surpassing last year's.

And he's right. At Michigan, the coaches are smart enough to look at efficiency. 

According to Kenpom.com's adjusted and raw numbers, Michigan's offense this year has been superior, and it's pretty easy to see why. Three is more than two, and the Wolverines are shooting more threes and knocking down a higher percentage of them. 

Michigan's 2013-14 offense vs. 2012-13 offense
Off. Eff. Adj. Off. Eff. 3PA/FGA 3-point %
2012-13 115.3 120.3 34.2 37.9
2013-14 117.4 123.4 40.3 40.2

kenpom.com

*The fourth column represents the percentage of field-goal attempts that come from behind the three-point line.

This is no knock on Burke's Wolverines, because they were efficient as well. Michigan misses Burke in late-game situations like Friday against Tennessee, when the Wolverines nearly blew the game with turnovers late. Last year, Beilein was able to put the ball in Burke's trustworthy hands. 

But in the flow of the game, Stauskas, Robinson or LeVert or freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. can take over the playmaking responsibilities. 

A year ago, for instance, 59.4 percent of Michigan's ball-screen offense was initiated by Burke, according to Synergy Sports Technology (subscription required). This season it's much more balanced, with Stauskas getting most of those opportunities at 36.9 percent. 

"Last year, we had a lot of guys who were capable but a lot was going through Trey and Tim," Stauskas said. "This year it's more of a balanced attack and guys have a little bit more freedom to do what they need to do."

"We're unselfish," Jordan said. "So a guy's open, the ball finds him and there's no problem with whoever scores. It's just about Michigan getting points on the board. I think that's different that you can't load up on one or two particular guys...It's just a team thought. Whoever gets credit, nobody even cares."

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Wolverines had six different guys make threes in the last two games, and as a team, they've knocked down 25 of 48 treys.

When Tennessee started over-helping against those shooters in the Sweet 16, big man Jordan Morgan ended up leading the team in scoring with 15 points.

Morgan, who replaced McGary when he went down with a back injury, is the one guy in the starting lineup who will likely spend his post-college career making money outside of basketball. But he's a sneaky tactician in Beilein's offense.

"He is much better than you think," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "He understands how a big man in that offense has to play. He does a great job of screening. He does a great job of slipping. He will fly up and down the floor. He understands in pick-and-rolls how to get the man on his body yet fly down the middle."

Morgan, the lone senior on the roster, has undeservingly been labeled as the weak link of the Wolverines, but he's outplayed the bigger front lines of Texas and Tennessee in the tournament.

As long as he can at least contain Kentucky's huge front line, that will not be the biggest mismatch in Sunday's Elite Eight; it will be UK's freshmen trying to keep track of all those shooters.

"If you give them three, they're making them," Calipari said. "So your hope is to make them tough threes, and they may make them anyway."

Because that's what pros do.

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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