The Detroit News’ James Hawkins breaks down three keys for Michigan in Saturday’s game against Michigan State at the Breslin Center (8 p.m., ESPN/WJR 760, WWJ 950).
The setting and the stakes have changed, but Michigan’s top priority in the rivalry rematch hasn’t: Contain Michigan State guard Cassius Winston.
The Wolverines failed to do so in the first meeting on Feb. 24 in Ann Arbor and paid the price. Winston was masterful in dissecting Michigan’s ball-screen defense and excelled at making reads against it, whether it was using his deceptiveness to get into the lane or his vision to get his teammates open looks when the Wolverines were a step slow to recover.
Winston played the entire game and looked every bit worthy of being the Big Ten player of the year. He finished with 27 points on 7-for-13 shooting, dished out more assists (eight) than Michigan’s entire team (six), drew eight fouls and went 13-for-14 from the free-throw line, with seven straight makes coming in the final 50 seconds. And that all happened with the Spartans being down two starters.
There’s no simple fix for Michigan to cancel out Winston’s wizardry. But if the Wolverines are able to cut his numbers from the first encounter in half and put more of the scoring pressure on his teammates, that would bode well for their chances of leaving East Lansing with at least a share of the Big Ten title.
Turn it up
When Michigan coach John Beilein stood at the podium after the first showdown two weeks ago, the one stat he couldn’t get over was Michigan State’s six turnovers.
“The bigger thing was they've been turning it over 12 a game,” Beilein said at the time. “Their fast-break is tremendous, and they couldn't get out and run because we had two guys back, but we only turned them over six times. We've been turning everybody over 11 or 12 (times) and they only turn it over six times? That was a bigger story of the game.”
The six turnovers ended up being a season low for the Spartans and only led to five points for the Wolverines. Adding insult to injury was the fact Michigan State committed three fewer turnovers in the game than Michigan, which is the best team in the nation at taking care of the ball.
While much of that had to do with Michigan State’s effectiveness on offense, Michigan’s defense — and its ball-screen coverages in particular — will look to make necessary adjustments for the rematch. And getting the Spartans to turn it over closer to their average of 13 per contest, which ranks 12th in the Big Ten and is tied for No. 172 in the nation, could not only offer more fast-break chances for Michigan but, more importantly, would take away precious possessions from Michigan State.
Dial it in
The biggest flaw for Michigan has been its inconsistencies from 3-point range. Simply put, the perimeter shooting has been up and down all season and the past 10 games pretty much sums it up: 37 percent, 24.2 percent, 47.8 percent, 23.5 percent, 35 percent, 26.9 percent, 46.4 percent, 26.9 percent, 54.5 percent and 30 percent.
For the Wolverines, the clear-cut benchmark for 3-point shooting is 35 percent. Shoot better than that number, they’ve won. Shoot below, they’ve been vulnerable to lose.
In the first clash against Michigan State, Michigan finished 7-for-26 from deep. Sophomore guard Jordan Poole and freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis went a combined 3-for-12, junior center Jon Teske didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers was the only Wolverine who made more than half his 3-point attempts.
The Wolverines can ill afford to have Poole and Brazdeikis replicate a similar stat line and can’t have Teske, who is shooting 46.7 percent (7-for-15) from deep over the last four games, not get looks out of pick-and-pop plays. And regardless if redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews is able to return from injury, Michigan needs to keep getting more outside shots from Livers, who is shooting 47.2 percent (17-for-36) over the last 10 games and has made six of Michigan’s 18 3-pointers the past two contests.