Bobcats defense faces unique challenge from Wolverines
Michigan lineup full of 3-point shooters
By Lonnie McMillan / Contributor
Thursday, March 15, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ohio’s defense has risen to the occasion throughout most of the season, but it faces one of its toughest challenges of the year in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Michigan.
The Wolverines rank as the most efficient offense the Bobcats have played against this season.
“They've got great personnel,” Ohio coach John Groce said. “They space the floor, as you just said. They really spread you out. They've got guys who play off ball screens very well and make great reads.”
Fourth-seeded Michigan (24-9) is not like most power-conference schools, which often overpower teams with their size. Instead, the Wolverines’ lineup is full of shooters who can knock down shots from beyond the arc.
They are led by freshman point guard Trey Burke, who averages 14.8 points and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 35.5 percent from the outside. Rating just behind him in scoring is the versatile Tim Hardaway Jr., who at 6-6, can play inside and out. He averages 14.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
“Burke and Hardaway have very good instincts,” Groce said. “Their coaches do a great job of putting them in position to be successful, and then they execute, they screen well, they move the ball, very efficient on offense.”
After that, Michigan is balanced with four players, Zack Novack, Stu Douglass, Evan Smotrycz and Jordan Morgan, averaging between 7.3 and 9.5 points per game. All of them but Morgan have excelled from outside the arc, especially Smotrycz and Novak, who both shooting better than 41 percent from 3-point range.
As a team, the Wolverines make 35.2 percent of their 3-point shots, which account for 44 percent of the shots they take from the floor. Something will have to give against the Bobcats’ highly-efficient defense that has held opponents to just 29.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
“They'll let you catch the ball, but afterwards it seems like they try to eat you up,” Novak said. “They force a lot of turnovers. … I think if we execute, we should be able to get some good looks.”
Morgan, at 6-8, is Michigan’s one true post player, while Michigan often plays small with four guards. Although Smotrycz gives the Wolverines size off the bench at 6-9, he excels more away from the basket.
Another strength-on-strength battle will be Ohio’s turnover-causing defense going against a Michigan offense that has done a good job of taking care of the ball.
Just as the Wolverines are led by their point guard, so are the 13th-seeded Bobcats (27-7). D.J. Cooper leads the team in points (14.6), assists (5.7) and steals (2.4) and he picked up his game as the Mid-American Conference tournament MVP.
“D.J. Cooper is a tremendous talent at the point guard and the left handers, it's just a little bit different where everybody spends their whole time trying to keep people from going right, all of a sudden you got a guy who's exceptional both ways but really effective going to his left,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
Also like Michigan, Ohio has a balanced offense with four other players averaging 8.9 points or more. Walter Offutt ranks second on the team at 11.7, with Reggie Keely (9.2), Ivo Baltic (9.0) and Nick Kellogg (8.9) ranking close behind.
Offutt excels at getting to the hoop and drawing fouls, Kellogg is a deadly 3-point shooter at 41.8 percent, Keely is tough in the post and Baltic has a strong mid-range game.
Keely said the Bobcats need to take advantage if they find themselves with more size on the floor.
“We realize we have a size advantage,” he said. “We got three post players in rotation and we're all capable of having big games. We got to come out ready to play. We realize they're smaller on their side and we got to use our physicality and our size to our advantage.”
And although it struggles some on the defensive glass, Ohio excels at getting second-chance opportunities. Not surprisingly, Michigan rates as a below average rebounding team all around.
Two years ago, Ohio shocked the nation by knocking off Georgetown in its opening game of the tournament. This time, the Bobcats are a trendier upset pick, and the Wolverines say they are not taking them lightly.
“We're not going to bypass them; we're not going to look ahead of them,” Hardaway Jr. said. “They're a very good team. If you get selected to be in this tournament, you're here for a reason. So we're just going to go out there and try to play as hard as we can and try to limit their opportunity of trying to win the game.”
Another storyline is the fact that many players between the teams have ties, having played together or against each other in high school or during AAU competition. Keely should have no factor on the game, however.
“We can't get caught up in personal battles,” he said. “It's not one person against another person just because you know each other. You got to stay focused and come out and play our game plan and hopefully get the win.”
Groce said the winner will be determined simply by execution.
“This is Ohio versus Michigan, and it's about two teams competing and that want the same thing and that's to survive and advance, and every guy on our team needs to be focused on their role to help Ohio do well,” he said.
Tip-off is set for 7:20 p.m. ET at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.