So, I guess, let's start at the beginning and see if we can get a read on what should be one of the most interesting games of the day: Midwest Region, (7) Michigan against (10) Oklahoma State in Indiana.
- Let's start with something good: at 85.0 points per game, they are the third-highest scoring team among power conferences
- But, also, something bad: at 77.8 points against per game, they are the second-worst team that qualified for the tournament (maybe even the worst, because the only team that gave up more points per game was play-in loser Wake Forest)
- Their offensive prowess comes primarily from the fact that they are fifth in the entire country (third in the tournament) in free throw percentage and tenth in the country (eighth in the tournament) in three point percentage
- You might worry about a team like this relying too much on threes and fouls to score, but OSU is surprisingly balanced; 31.8% of their points come from three pointers (138th out of 351 schools) and 21.7% of their points from from free throws (76th)
- Overall, their offensive efficiency (sabermetrics) is eighth in the country and sixth among teams that qualified for the tournament
- BUT, however, their defensive efficiency is 243rd in the country, which is worse than every tournament team except Virginia Tech and Wake Forest
- Quick rebounding breakdown: they out-rebound opponents 36.7 to 33.2, grabbing 35.5% of available offensive rebounds (13th in the country, which is good) and 70.5% of defensive rebounds (266th, which is bad)
So that leaves us with a few questions that should really tell the whole story of today's first game. Can Michigan slow Oklahoma State's offense down at all? Can Michigan take advantage of Oklahoma State's poor defensive efficiency? Is either team going to dominate the boards? And, most importantly, where does Michigan's plane crash factor in to the game's intangibles?
Can Michigan slow Oklahoma State's offense down at all?
Short answer: maybe.
- UM does a good job of limiting free throw attempts, limiting opponents to 10.1 free throws made (6th in the country) and 14.7 free throws attempted (12th)
- Even when you adjust for the slower pace of play in the Big Ten, Michigan allows just 0.275 free throw attempts per field goal attempt (27th in the country, 12th among tournament teams)
- Michigan allows the fourth-fewest three point attempts per game in the country (and the 23rd-fewest makes), which is a great sign for their hopes of slowing down OSU
- Bad news though, that a Big Ten skew, because opponents shoot 37.8% from three against the Wolverines (305th in the country, only Wisconsin and Kansas State are worse among tournament teams)
So it seems like Michigan should be able to hold the free throw portion of Oklahoma State's offense in check. But what about from beyond the arc? What if we look at Big Ten teams that have a similar profile to Oklahoma State (score a lot, shoot three pointers well) to see how Michigan did against them?
- Ok State: 85.0 points per game, 40.3% on threes, 9.0/22.4 3FG/game
- Indiana: 79.7 points per game, 54.1% on threes, 8.7/22.8 3FG/game
- Iowa: 80.2 points per game, 37.3% on threes, 8.6/23.1 3FG/game
- Purdue: 80.1 points per game, 40.7% on threes, 9.0/22.1 3FG/game
I am absolutely floored at how well that idea played out. That's three teams (and five games) worth of data to dissect. Let's jump in:
- 1/1: Michigan 83 @ Iowa 86 - Iowa shot 11/19 from three and 47.8% overall
- 1/27: Indiana 60 @ Michigan 90 - Indiana shot 7/13 from three and 54.5% overall
- 2/12: Michigan 75 @ Indiana 63 - Indiana shot 4/19 from three and 49.0% overall
- 2/25: Purdue 70 @ Michigan 82 - Purdue shot 5/16 from three and 49.2% overall
- 3/10: Michigan 74 @ Purdue 70 - Purdue shot 8/19 from three and 45.9% overall
That's three games that were inarguably bad for Michigan's three point defense, one that was okay, and one that was pretty good. I think those odds favor Oklahoma State, especially considering their offense is overall more efficient than any of those three teams.
Can Michigan take advantage of Oklahoma State's poor defensive efficiency?
I mean, probably. Right? I just told you that OSU is the second-worst defense in the whole tournament. And Michigan, though they score 10 points per game less than Oklahoma State, is still a very efficient offense:
- True shooting percentage - 120.0% (7th in the country)
- 2FG percentage - 56.7% (8th)
- 3FG percentage - 38.1% (44th, 19th among tournament teams)
- Free throw percentage - 77.5% (11th)
- Overall offensive efficiency - 1.143 (7th)
One thing that might hurt Michigan and help Oklahoma State is Michigan's general lack of getting to the foul line. They shoot just 16.6 free throws per game and 0.305 free throws per field goal attempt, which is good for third-fewest and eighth-fewest among tournament teams. Oklahoma State's defense generally gives up a TON of foul shots, but Michigan's record this season means that shouldn't really be able to take full advantage of that.
Is either team going to dominate the boards?
First, let's look at the rosters.
- Jeffrey Carroll, 6'6", 28.9 minutes, 6.6 rebounds
- Mitchell Solomon, 6'9", 19.7 minutes, 5.2 rebounds
- Leyton Hammonds, 6'8", 22.4 minutes, 4.8 rebounds
- Jawun Evans, 6'1", 29.0 minutes, 3.3 rebounds
- Cameron McGriff, 6'7", 16.0 minutes, 3.1 rebounds
- DJ Wilson, 6'10", 30.1 minutes, 5.4 rebounds
- Derrick Walton, 6'1", 34.6 minutes, 4.7 rebounds
- Zak Irvin, 6'6", 35.2 minutes, 4.5 rebounds
- Moritz Wagner, 6'11", 24.0 minutes, 4.2 rebounds
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, 6'4", 30.0 minutes, 2.8 rebounds
From a pure size standpoint, you'd rather have the 6'11 and 6'10 guys who play 24 and 30 minutes per game than the 6'9 and 6'8 guys who play 20 and 22. But, as Jawun Evans and Derrick Walton will show you, rebounding isn't all about height.
- I mentioned before that Oklahoma State recovers 35.5% of available offensive rebounds (13th in the country) and 70.5% of defensive rebounds (266th)
- Michigan recovers 23.2% of offensive rebounds (290th) and 72.2% of defensive rebounds (207th)
That's advantage Cowboys, who should have the advantage on their own defensive glass in addition to a sizable advantage on their offensive glass.
Where does Michigan's plane crash factor in to the game's intangibles?
I have no doubt that they will cram this angle down our throats, but it's undeniable that Michigan has been a different team since their March 8th runway incident. They ran through the Big Ten tournament, blowing out Illinois before defeating tournament teams Purdue, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
In those four games (which were all 500 miles away from home in Washington DC), Michigan either shot 50% from the field or hit at least 18 free throws. In the Minnesota game, they did both. They also chucked 96 threes in those four games, and made 33 of them for a 34.3% number that actually fell below their season average of 38.1%. So, really, they should have dominated the post-plane-crash run even more than they did.
The one thing I would worry about if I were a Michigan backer is the rebounding battle in the Minnesota and Wisconsin games. Michigan allowed 15 and then 14 offensive rebounds in those games. It's honestly a miracle that they won either of those games, and it's a testament both to Michigan's defense and to how fucking awful the Big Ten was this year.
Let me just repeat: Minnesota is an average rebounding team on both ends of the court (184th and 139th in the country). Wisconsin is a good rebounding team on both ends (20th and 14th). But still, 15 and then 14 offensive rebounds in back-to-back games? The worst teams in the tournament (Arkansas) and the whole country (Savannah State) allow 10.6 and 13.2 offensive rebounds against, respectively.
Considering Oklahoma State is better on the offensive glass than anyone Michigan has played since Thanksgiving, that moves the needle a whole hell of a lot toward the black and orange. And oh by the way, that November game was against SMU, who tallied 18 offensive rebounds and still lost. 18!
Oklahoma State is getting three points. I love it. I also love their +130 moneyline. Bingo mango, fire in the hole.