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Can Michigan Stop Houston’s Rob Gray?

The Wolverines are looking for consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Purdue vs Michigan Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

John Beilein’s squad this season has improved greatly on the defensive end.

They’ve worked themselves into a top 5 KenPom defense with suffocating perimeter stops, especially from sophomore Zavier Simpson. The 6-foot Ohio-native has improved immensely throughout the season and sets the tone for Michigan’s defensive makeup.

Enter Houston’s, Rob Gray.

The 6-foot-1 senior put up 39 points in their First Round matchup against San Diego State. He averages 19.2 points per game this season and will be the top priority in Michigan’s defensive game plan. Let’s take a look at the matchup and what Michigan will need to do to shut down Gray.

Michigan’s Backcourt Defense vs. Rob Gray

Gray is going to let it fly.

No matter the game plan from Michigan, Gray will get his shots up. The Houston Cougar has put up at least 15 shots in 19 of 34 games this season. In the last six games, Gray has an average of 19 shots over his last six games. Houston is 5-1 over those six games, so it works for them, but Michigan will look to make Gray’s shots as difficult as possible. And Gray has been prone to inefficient games this season.

Houston is just 3-3 this season when Gray’s shot attempts outpace his point production. He is a 43 percent shooter overall, and scores on 35 percent of his three-point attempts. He has 10 games this season of games in which he’s shot under 40 percent. When you also consider that he is coming off of the late-game heroics from Thursday, Gray will be looking to try and replicate that against the Wolverines.

What Michigan must look to do is force Gray into tough, contested shots, while also not fouling. Gray feasts at the foul line, averaging nearly six attempts a game at 80 percent shooting. In their First Round victory, Gray was 11-13 from the line. Keeping Gray out of the lane and into long two-point shots will probably mean the Wolverines will advance on.

Easier said than done. How good is Michigan in actually doing that?

As mentioned, Michigan is fourth overall in KenPom defensive efficiency. They do a nice job of keeping people off the three-line (sixth in the country in three-point attempt percentage). The Wolverines allow 46% shooting on two-pointers, good for a top 50 rating in the country. On long two’s Michigan gives up an average of 30% from the floor.

From the mid-range section of the floor, the Wolverines still only give up an average of 34% shooting. Houston averages north of 45% from the floor on long two’s, especially liking the right-side of the floor. Something will have to give in this game. Michigan is capable of making Gray’s life difficult shooting the ball. They must keep him out of the lane. The Wolverines give up nearly 52% around the rim and lack a true rim-protecting presence.

Overall

The defensive game plan for Michigan against Houston keys in on one of the hottest players of the tournament so far. Stopping Gray outright might be too much to ask, but the Wolverines can make him inefficient.

Houston is not afraid to shoot long two’s, and Michigan excels in keeping shooting percentages low. How that dynamic plays out might ultimately decide who advances to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.