When this game was scheduled earlier this summer, I knew it would be a great match-up between two top 20 teams. While both teams already have 2 losses, both also have pieces to fill and have not completely gelled yet. Michigan travels to Cameron Indoor, which continues to be one of the most raucous, hostile environments in the country, and an important December game will have the "Crazies" even louder than usual. With so much at stake, let's preview Michigan vs. Duke:
So far, freshman have stolen all the headlines for the early part of the 2013-14 season, and Duke freshman Jabari Parker is no exception. Parker has been an offensive machine so far, scoring 20 points each in his first 7 games, and 19 against Arizona on Saturday night. At 6-8, he can defend any position, has the quickness of a point guard and a silky, smooth jump shot that looks NBA ready. My only gripe with Parker is shot choice and shooting percentage. In the two biggest games of the year against top 10 opponents, Parker has shot 16-39 for a 41% shooting percentage. Against Arizona, he looked to force shots too many times, settling for long 2's and bothered by Arizona's length. If Parker takes better shots and plays within the offense, Michigan could be in serious trouble. If guys like Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III can force Parker into tougher shots, Michigan could have much better luck.
Another excellent performer for Duke this season is Rodney Hood. Hood is shooting 62% on the year, along with 5 rebounds and 1 steal per game. Duke doesn't use a true point guard, but rather Hood and Parker act as point-forwards and run the offense, and their combined versatility makes them the best forward combination in the country. Duke's one glaring issue, however, is the front court. Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee are Duke's rotation post players, but they have done nothing so far. Combined, they average 32 minutes, 8 points and 6 rebounds. Their front court was decimated by the loss of seniors Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, and it's been showing so far. Arizona manhandled them with a huge front court (that this Michigan team will have in 2 weeks) and both Mitch McGary and Jon Horford need to stay out of foul trouble and have big games against a smaller, weaker, Duke front court.
Thank you, Coppin State. The Eagles provided Michigan with a much needed confidence boost and rest for breakout star Nik Stauskas, who was nursing an ankle injury that Coach Beilein did not want him to reaggravate. This left an opening for Zak Irvin, and he made the most of it, knocking down 6 3's en route to a career-high 24 points. While Michigan does not need 20+ points from Irvin every game, it's a luxury to bring in someone with Irvin's touch as the 6th or 7th man. Against Coppin State, the Wolverines were in control of the game from the start, and it's clear they needed a blowout victory before Duke. This Duke game will be the biggest test of 2013 and will give both Coach Beilein and Wolverine fans an idea of how good this Michigan team can really be.
Unlike college football, sometimes early season losses are not the worst thing for a team. Michigan rebounded and refocused after a nail-biting loss to Charlotte, and they must play their best game of the season to win this game. The keys for Michigan are going to be the Michigan vs. Duke wings. The Parker-Hood vs. LeVert-Robinson matchup will provide excitement and tons of length. LeVert will most likely be asked to guard Hood, a matchup that someone like LeVert has the capability to shine in. If he can harass Hood and force him right, it will slow down the flow of the offense and make it that much harder for Parker to get going as well. I think in a hostile environment, Beilein will lean on his "veterans", if sophomores are considered the veterans of this team. Spike Albrecht should play in crunch time if it's a close game down the stretch, and Michigan will have to rely on McGary and 4 wings/guards for the majority of the game. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say Duke 76-72, but Michigan is playing Duke after a near loss to struggling Vermont and a poorly played game against Arizona. The Wolverines will rely on the 3 point-shot heavily as they've done all season, and I'm hoping for at least one thunderous Stauskas dunk to silence the crowd. Needless to say, I cannot wait for tomorrow night.
As always, Go Blue!
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