On Monday and Tuesday night, Michigan plays Oregon and then the winner of the Villanova-VCU game. All three teams present unique challenges, and the level of competition goes up significantly from Hillsdale, Bucknell and Detroit. Michigan had stretches where they struggled against all three, especially Detroit, and will need to play complete games both nights to have a chance to win. We break down the teams below and what Michigan can do to win these games.
Oregon's offseason was filled with transfers, arrests, and "violations of team rules", leaving the Ducks with a depleted roster and a lot of freshmen having to play big roles early on (sound familiar Michigan fans?). Mark Titus hilariously breaks down the scholarship situation here, but the bottom line is that Dana Altman still has enough talent to win a lot of games in Eugene.
Oregon's main scorer is Joseph Young, who is averaging 26 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds for the Ducks so far. Young has taken at least 13 shots in every game, including an ugly 7-23 game against Detroit. Oregon goes as Young goes, and it will be interesting to see whom John Beilein chooses to play against Young. He's only 6'2, but I could see Beilein opting to play LeVert on him to limit the amount of attempts Young is able to get off.
Besides for Young, Oregon starts forwards Elgin Cook, Dwayne Benjamin and Dillon Brooks, and guard Ahmaad Rorie. No player in the lineup is taller than 6'7, which could present a similar problem that Michigan had went Detroit went smaller. Expect the Ducks to try to run out and create as many fast break opportunities as possible.
The key for Michigan will be to limit these opportunities, and jump out to an early start. Michigan has looked sluggish to start a lot of the games, and should have a crowd advantage with a large Michigan alumni base in New York. If they can run the Ducks off the court early, and Kameron Chatman can finally pick up his play against his home state school, Michigan should be able to win this one.
Unlike Oregon, the Wildcats have a ton of experience and arguably one of the most talented teams in the country. Senior JayVaughn Pinkston, a rangy 6'7 forward who can guard multiple positions and is the glue guy for Jay Wright, leads the Wildcats. Pinkston has modest averages of 9 points and 6 rebounds per game, but plays an integral role on this team.
Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono (arche-dee-ak-ano) is the classic J.J. Redick/ Eric Devendorf player that opposing fans love to hate. Jay Wright absolutely loves him, even though he tries to take over games at times with bad shots and unnecessary drives to the basket. At times, Arcidiacono can be the best player on the court, but his shaky play (4-14 shooting against Lehigh) makes him a liability at times also. This would prove to be a tough matchup for Derrick Walton or Spike Albrecht based on his size, but Arcidiacono can definitely be contained.
Villanova also starts forward Daniel Ochefu and guards Darrun Hillard II and Dylan Ennis. Behind them, the Wildcats don't have much depth and play veterans Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart off the bench. All the starters are either juniors or seniors, and the two bench contributors are sophomores, a rarity these days in college basketball. Villanova would prove to be a tougher game than VCU based on scoring ability and experience, but I think Michigan has the ability to pull it off if the three-headed monster trio of LeVert, Zak Irvin and Walton have great games.
Most college basketball fans know of VCU based on their Cinderella run to the Final Four in 2011. But Shaka Smart is the last person to be living off of past accomplishments, and he has a very talented team in Richmond, Virginia this season. Smart has implemented a Havoc, pressing style that suits his teams.
The Rams are led by Treveon Graham, a 6'6 senior who plays a downhill, attacking style that fits VCU's personality. He is averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds in three games this season, and will likely play the majority of the minutes at power forward. He will be a very tough matchup for Kam Chatman, but a great test for the types of players Chatman will be playing every game in the Big Ten.
VCU also starts guards Jordan Burgess, Melvin Johnson and JeQuan Lewis, and forward Mo Alie-Cox. Johnson has been sensational this season, averaging over 18 points as well, including a 23 point performance against a quality Tennessee team. Burgess and Lewis do not take as many shots, but are very good in their role as well. Down low, Cox is a 6'6 beast weighing 250 pounds, and mostly collects offensive rebounds and gets easy opportunities from driving guards.
Smart also has a few contributors off the bench, including 6'8 rangy forward Terry Larrier who has contributed nearly 11 points per game, including a 21 point game on 7-10 shooting in their most recent game. Sophomore Doug Brooks could also see some decent playing time, as Brooks is a deep threat who plays very good defense as well.
The key for Michigan to win this game (if VCU beats Villanova) is making sure that their guards outplay VCU's. The Rams will try to get a ton of fast break opportunities and shoot a lot of 3's, very similar to Michigan. If Walton and Albrecht can play well, and I expect to see both of them together for long stretches of the game, Michigan should win this game.
Overall, Michigan has enough talent to win both games and take the Legends Classic title back to Ann Arbor. The biggest question marks are still about the freshmen, especially Kam Chatman and who will take the majority of the minutes at center between Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle and even D.J. Wilson. If Beilein can get enough out of each of these guys, and probably a good amount of Max Bielfeldt against smaller centers, Michigan should be able to come home champions.