If CBS decides to do a Survivor show using college hoops coaches then Brian Ellerbe gets my vote for the Rudy role. HeÂs the guy you expect to see get the boot right from the start but somehow heÂs still on the island. Problem for Ellerbe is that this season may be the final Immunity Challenge and I think his hand just slipped of the pole.
ItÂs almost inconceivable that a major program from a respected school like Michigan would find itself in this position, but the Wolverines have hit just about every low point possible for a program. For the last four years weÂve all been treated to the Ed Martin story and heard rumors about payouts from the Fab Five days all the way up through Tractor Traylor and Louis Bullock.
For most schools that would be the whole story but last year the team lost their best player (arguably) in Jamal Crawford who may or may not have declared for the draft as a high school player. What he did do, at least according to the NCAA, was accept a $12,000 Mercedes from a Seattle businessman who was a close friend of the family. There was also an issue regarding Crawford living with the friend and accepting the use of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. In the end the NCAA decided that Crawford could regain his eligibility if he donated the equivalent the goods he received from the businessman to charity. So, for a mere $11,500, Crawford could remain an amateur. Bear in mind that as a scholarship player CrawfordÂs options for earning $11,500 were pretty limited. Not surprisingly Crawford declared for the draft. Surprisingly, he was taken in the eighth slot of the 2000 draft, a position much higher than where he was expected to go. Not surprisingly, the team that took him at what was generally considered to be too high of a pick was the Chicago Bulls. The most confusing thing about all that is- just what does a $12,000 Mercedes look like?
Of course none of that has anything to do with this yearÂs version of the Wolverines other than to explain CrawfordÂs absence. By the way, did I mention that Brandon Smith and Leland Anderson both transferred at the end of last season and that Kevin Gaines was dismissed from the team? All three of those players were involved in an incident where they allegedly stole another studentÂs Palm Pilot last winter. Smith and Anderson decided a change of venue was in order but Gaines decided to face the music in Ann Arbor. Gaines was on track to rejoining the team this fall when he was arrested on a DUI charge at which point Ellerbe decided that he had seen enough of Mr. Gaines.
So, after all that is it any wonder that the Wolverines have had a pretty disappointing season so far?
The trouble for Michigan started right out of the gate when they were on the wrong end of a major upset. Oakland University, a school playing its second year of Division I ball, posted a 97-90 win over the Wolverines to start the season. The Grizzlies took advantage of some weak perimeter defense on the part of the Wolverines to shoot 52% from the three point line.
Following the loss to Oakland the Wolverines posted wins over a pair of weak teams in Western Michigan and Wagner. They were unable to sustain that success when they faced some better teams and are currently in the midst of an 0-3 streak with losses to Wake Forest, Maryland, and St. JohnÂs. In a season with few bright moments, truly optimistic Michigan fans can look to the Wake and St. JohnÂs games as faint glimmers of hope.
ItÂs not much, but Michigan had the lead against Wake for a good deal of the game. It took a serious rally from the Demon Deacons to secure the win and had the Wolverines shot better than 12% from the three point line they may have been able to pull off the upset. That would have been a substantial victory given the way that Wake handled Kansas Thursday night. As it stands Michigan is still the only team to outrebound the Deacs this year.
The St. JohnÂs game was much tighter than the final score would indicate with the Red Storm pulling away in the end for a 14 point win. Michigan improved their shooting percentage from the outside but it was not enough to overcome a 27 point effort from Anthony Glover. Since that time the Wolverines have had an nearly an entire week off to prepare for Duke game. ItÂs likely theyÂll need it.
Duke enters the game sitting atop both polls despite some hot and cold shooting. TheyÂve had some tough games where they were not shooting well but were still able to grind out a win. TheyÂve also had some games where they were shooting extremely well and the results were explosive.
The Blue Devils are coming off a 42-point victory against an overmatched Davidson team. Despite the margin of victory the Devils didnÂt play terribly well, especially in the first half. Much of the half was a closer game than anyone in Durham, save the fat guy in the Davidson t-shirt behind their bench, would have wanted. With 8 minutes left in the first half Duke held a slim 4 point lead. They were able to stretch that out to 16 by the half but Krzyzewski was obviously displeased with the effort. The start to the second half was uncomfortably similar to the start of the first half with Davidson playing the Devils closely. Closely that is until Jason Williams and Nate James sparked a second half where the Devils methodically put the game away.
Despite having only 10 scholarship players on their roster, Michigan has a reasonable amount of depth on the team. Nine different players have started for the Wolverines. One of the constants in that changing lineup has been 6-9 junior Chris Young who has started at both power forward and center for the team. Young is a steady player who is the teamÂs second leading rebounder and best low post defender. Although he doesnÂt shoot often he is reliable when he does, converting on 70% of his shots. The result is that he has tripled his scoring average over last year and is rebounding at nearly 7 boards a game. On the negative side he doesnÂt have the best hands in the world and will turn the ball over in the low post.
When Young starts at the power forward spot itÂs usually because freshman center Josh Moore is in the post. Moore is a 7-2, 315 pound giant who has had a long strange road to Ann Arbor. MooreÂs odyssey began when he verbally committed to Rutgers but failed to qualify. After spending a year at a prep school he appeared headed for UCLA but instead ended up at Michigan. Along the way there are stops at a bunch of prep schools and community colleges that really complicate the story.
What the Wolverines hope to get out of Moore is a powerful inside presence who can intimidate on defense. ThatÂs not what they are getting. Six games into the season Moore is being described as soft and foul prone on defense. In the season opening loss to Oakland, Moore fouled out in 7 minutes of play. Part of his problem on defense (as well as offense) is that he lacks foot speed and consequently loses position on the low blocks. Offensively he is unpolished but can present some problems in the post due to his sheer size.
6-11 senior Josh Asselin rounds out the frontcourt power players for Michigan. He can have difficulty finishing around the basket but still contributes around 5 points a game. On defense he is not very aggressive and, like Moore, can be foul prone. He is a reasonably good shot blocker and is tied with Young for the team lead at around 1 block a game.
MichiganÂs power players (Asselin, Young, and Moore) all play a complimentary role on the team. They are expected to screen and rebound and none of them is considered a primary option on offense. ThatÂs a stark contrast to the Duke tandem they will be facing Saturday night. Carlos Boozer and Shane Battier are DukeÂs second and third leading scorers and can pace the team on any given night.
Boozer started his sophomore season in a big way and was the teamÂs leading scorer until the last game. Yet the 6-9 post man is still a work in progress and the coaching staff is constantly trying to push him to new levels. If any single player exemplified the coaching staffÂs frustration with the Davidson game it was Boozer. He left the game three minutes into the second half and didnÂt return the rest of the evening. Reports from the sideline were that the coaching staff had tried to push Boozer to dominate and were disappointed with his effort. For the game he tallied a season low 14 minutes, well off his 24 minute per game average.
How Boozer responds to his limited play will be of particular interest to the Duke staff. Krzyzewski is has often sat star players when he felt they were not performing up to their potential. Two years ago Elton Brand lost his starting spot in the Duke lineup when the team squared off against Michigan. He didnÂt return to the starting lineup until he had posted 22 points in 35 minutes against Kentucky several games later. The year before that it was
Roshown McLeod was limited to just 11 minutes of action in the Michigan game. The year before that it was McLeod again who lost his starting position in Â you guessed it Â the Michigan game. There is the off chance that the Duke staff wonÂt start Boozer or limit his play just because itÂs the Michigan game and they have a string to keep going. But itÂs probably more likely that Boozer received the message from Tuesday night and is ready to elevate his level of play.
Starting alongside Boozer is Battier who has his own memories of the Michigan series. In 1998 the Blue Devils started the season strongly, mixing a key group of veterans with a top notch recruiting class that included Battier, a McDonaldÂs All-American out of Michigan. Duke entered Crisler Arena undefeated including a victory over defending national champions Arizona in the Maui Classic. BattierÂs homecoming didnÂt go as he had envisioned it as Duke fell to the Wolverines 81-73. The loss was even more difficult for Battier as he scored just 2 points in 29 minutes while the Michigan frontcourt produced 50 points.
The anxiety that was so evident on his face four years ago is now gone as Battier has developed from a nervous freshman to one of the strongest leaders Duke has ever seen. This is Shane BattierÂs team beyond any question. While his teammates Boozer and Jason Williams may be contributing more points, the man in charge on the court is still Battier. Defensively he has improved from the previous season, a year in which he won his second Hank Iba Corinthian Award given to the nationÂs top defensive player.
DukeÂs defense can often leave a post defender without much help. Opposing coaches have seen Coach KÂs teams overplaying the passing lanes for 20 years and most will try and get good spacing on offense so as to limit the amount of help available. Even a superior post presence like Elton Brand is put at a disadvantage if an opposing center is able to get position down low and operate without any additional defensive help. What Battier is able to do is to anticipate and move so well on defense that he can offer that help to DukeÂs post defenders, nearly regardless of the location of his own man. It sounds pretty simple until you watch somebody try to do it. Great defenders have a distinct rhythm to the way they move. Chris Duhon shows signs of it. Grant Hill definitely had it. So does Shane Battier.
Until recently the book on Battier was almost exclusively a defensive story. Last year he began asserting himself on the offense and developed into a fine three point threat. This year his offense has been sporadic. He posted a 29 point outing against Princeton and a pair of 18 point performances against Villanova and Temple. However heÂs been held to single figures in two other games and scored just 11 points against Illinois. Battier has been exceptional shooting the three when facing a zone defense. He had a 9-12 night against Princeton and a 4-7 night in the second Temple game. But his performance against man defenses has not been in keeping with his status as a Player of the Year favorite. Against the tighter man defenses he appears to be rushing his three point attempts and reluctant to attempt closer shots off the dribble.
BoozerÂs limited playing time against Davidson allowed Duke to work on developing some much needed depth in the frontcourt. Casey Sanders, Matt Christensen, and Nick Horvath all played over 10 minutes against the Wildcats. Christensen was one of the surprises of the evening. The 6-10 junior played 12 minutes, over twice his average. Christensen responded with a steady game including a team leading 4 offensive rebounds. He did struggle in the areas where he traditionally has difficulty- finishing around the basket, fouls, and free throws. Christensen was 0-4 from the foul line including 3 airballs and also fouled out of game despite the limited time he played.
Casey Sanders too had a positive evening. The 6-11 sophomore finished with 10 points, 2 rebounds, and was 4-4 from the free throw line. SandersÂ slight frame works to both his detriment and advantage. He continues to have trouble finishing around the basket and holding rebounding position against stronger players but he can also get out and run in transition. That full court speed can benefit him greatly in DukeÂs transition game where the Duke guards make an extra effort to find him on the break. Sanders displayed a nice touch on a pair of 8-foot baseline jump shots in the Davidson contest. ItÂs a shot that he has hit on several occasions and it has the advantage of getting him away from the congestion under the basket where he doesnÂt do well with the contact. Still, the area where Sanders can make his best contribution is on defense. He leads the team in blocked shots per minutes played and has the potential to make a defensive impact on the team.
HorvathÂs stats werenÂt as solid as SandersÂ but he played well. Despite a tough 1-9 night from the field the 6-10 sophomore played solidly in other facets of the game. He finished with 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and a blocked shot in his 10 minutes of play.
What the Michigan team lacks in frontcourt scoring they more than make up for with their wing players. 6-7 sophomore LaVell Blanchard and 6-6 freshman Bernard Robinson, Jr. are the teamÂs leading scorers. That may be because they take nearly half the teamÂs shots but itÂs also because they are clearly the teamÂs best players. Blanchard is a name familiar to most Duke fans. The Blue Devils made a late recruiting run at Blanchard in the spring of 1999 after it appeared likely that Corey Maggette would declared for the NBA draft. Blanchard ended up choosing the Wolverines over Duke and UVa.
With his size Blanchard can play in the frontcourt, particularly when facing a team like Duke that uses their power forward on the perimeter. Last year he was the teamÂs leading rebounder as well as scorer. Many of those rebounds were on the offensive end of the floor where he converted them into points. He also likes to take the mid-range jump shot where he is very effective.
Blanchard is usually a pretty reliable member of the Wolverine team but he has had some problems in key games. He was 3-13 against Wake Forest and repeated the performance against Maryland. Still, the Big 10 Co-Freshman of the Year is the keystone for the Wolverine offense. The problem for the Wolverines is that whatever Blanchard gives them on offense he is likely to give up on the other end of the floor. He struggles on defense and has a particularly difficult time defending players off the dribble. If he does have a strength on defense it would be on the glass. He is able to keep his man off the offensive boards and finish the defense by getting the rebound.
Robinson came to the Ann Arbor from Washington, DC and immediately started off on the wrong foot. He was involved in the alcohol related incident that lead to GainesÂ dismal from the team. On the court however, Robinson has been anything but trouble for the Wolverines. HeÂs the teamÂs leading scorer at 17 points a game and the third leading rebounder. Offensively he likes to slash to the hoop and has good jumping ability that allows him to convert inside. HeÂs not much of a threat to shoot it from the outside and is only hitting 28% of this three point shot attempts.
Robinson is probably a little more athletic than Blanchard and is the teams best finisher in transition. He is a very good offensive player but is also apt to make poor decisions with the ball. Defensively his quickness gives him an advantage over many wing players and his jumping ability aids him in harassing opposing shooters. He still has the problems typical of many freshman defenders and can give up points to an experienced offensive player.
Michigan can also bring in 6-5 sophomore Gavin Groninger at the shooting guard or small forward slots. Groninger is clearly the best shooter on the squad and is hitting at a 46% clip from the three point line. He considered NC State for some time before selecting the Wolverines. When he is in the game he will demand the defenseÂs full attention as his unlimited range makes him very explosive. In the Western Michigan game he played just 13 minutes but still scored 20 points going 3-3 on the long ball. On defense he has trouble with quicker players off the dribble.
Duke will counter with 6-6 senior Nate James and 6-9 sophomore Mike Dunleavy. James is coming off another great game scoring 20 points and grabbing 7 rebounds against Davidson. He also had two steals in his 25 minutes of play and hit 9 of 9 from the free throw line. James has rounded his offense to compliment his solid three point shooting with slashing moves to the basket. James seems to have also increased his quickness this year allowing him to be a great perimeter defender. HeÂs currently the teamÂs fourth leading scorer at 14 ppg despite the drop off in his three point shooting.
Dunleavy continues to be the teamÂs most well rounded player and a very unselfish one as well. After a 21 point night against Illinois, Dunleavy followed it up by only taking 5 shots during DukeÂs blowout win at Temple. HeÂs shooting 42% from the three and 54% overall. On defense he is able to use his size and anticipation to be among the team leaders in both blocked shots and steals.
DukeÂs depth at the wing slots got a boost out of the Davidson game. In the first 7 games the Blue Devils have relied almost exclusively on freshman Chris Duhon for depth. Although listed at 6-1 heÂs closer to 6-3 and able to play both guard spots. His play so far this season has been nearly everything the coaching staff could have asked for. Duhon is still not hitting his shot as consistently as he would like but has shown improvement in recent games. More importantly, heÂs been more aggressive in looking for his shot. Every other aspect of his game has been superb from the start and his assist to turnover ratio is creeping upwards towards 3.0.
The depth at the wings that Duke found in the Davidson game comes from 6-6 Andre Sweet and 6-4 Reggie Love. Sweet singed with Duke in the spring and was widely thought to be someone that would be ready to contribute in a couple of years. Sweet has shown increasing comfort as he has seen more minutes working with the starters. He can hit the mid-range jumper and is a solid rebounder. Sweet can still appear tentative at times on the floor but that should only get better with playing time.
Love, a walkon from the football team, was making his first appearance in a Duke game. He could be a significant contributor to the basketball team. He was one of the top ranked players in the state as a high school senior and brings strength and athleticism to the team. His 40-inch vertical leap may be the best on the team. In his first game Love exhibited great defensive instincts that you wouldnÂt expect from a guy who had only been with the team a few days. He rotated and provided help within the team defense concept. He can use his strength and quickness to get to the hoop and shows promise as a slashing type player.
When the Wolverines want size at the point they turn to 6-2 freshman Maurice Searight. 6-2 might not sound like a big point guard but you have to consider that the other option, fellow freshman Avery Queen, is listed as 5-7. In reality heÂs closer to 5-3 than he is 5-7 but no matter how you slice it, heÂs small by basketball standards. Queen is usually the starting point guard and as you would expect he has great speed and quick hands. Unfortunately for the Wolverines Queen is a poor shooter, hitting just 38% from the field and 33% from the three point line. He duplicates that three point percentage from the free throw line and is consequently a liability for Michigan down the stretch in close games.
As a ball distributor Queen is below average and carries a mediocre 1.5 assist to turnover ratio. Much of that is due to the problems of being a young point guard on a young team. Defensively he can be a liability due to his size. He obviously tries to compensate for that with his quickness but nearly every player on the Duke team should be able to shoot over him.
Fellow freshman Searight has many of the same problems despite bringing more size to the position. His assist to turnover ratio is slightly lower than QueenÂs. He does give the team a little more offense although his range is very limited. For the season he hasnÂt made one three pointer. Then again he hasnÂt taken any either.
Ellerbe has a third option at the point with 6-4 junior Leon Jones. Like Queen and Searight, Jones doesnÂt bring much to the team offensively. HeÂs shooting 38% from the field and an incredibly bad 16% from the three point line although heÂs only taken 6 shots. That number is probably especially disappointing to Jones as he shot just over 40% from the three last year. But, like his fellow Wolverine point guards he is not doing much offensively and he has a rather poor assist to turnover ratio.
Similar to the frontcourt, the point guard spot for the Wolverines is stocked with role players who donÂt bring much to the team offensively. The same cannot be said for Duke. Jason Williams is arguably the best point guard in the NCAA right now. Over the last 3 games heÂs averaging 26 points a night. In the last two games heÂs 12-17 from the three point line. HeÂs had double figure games in assists on two occasions this year. HeÂs tied with Duhon for the team lead in steals. Williams has matured into a player who is able to identify what he needs to do for his team to win and he has the skills to carry out the task. One night heÂs breaking down the defense and distributing the ball to Boozer for easy buckets. Another night heÂs taking the ball to the basket and making the shot. Another night heÂs hitting the three point shot. Most nights heÂs doing a bit of all of that. Michigan, like most teams out there, will have a hard time finding someone to match up with him.
The first question about Michigan is which team will they put out there on the court? You can count on Young, Blanchard, and Robinson to get the start and itÂs a pretty good bet Queen will be out there with them also. If Ellerbe elects to go with his traditional lineup he will start Moore. However the Wolverines may be tempted to go with a smaller lineup by moving Young to the center spot and Blanchard to the power forward slot and bringing Groninger in at one of the wing spots.
The other decision facing Ellerbe is what defense to use. The Wolverines have a multitude of defensive looks including a man, a 3-2 zone, and a 2-3 zone. Regardless of which defense they opt to use itÂs likely that Duke will be able to score some points. Michigan is giving up 84 points a game while Duke is averaging 88 points. That doesnÂt bode well for Michigan.
Given what Duke has done to zone defenses this year you can expect the Wolverines to open up in a man to man defense and hope that Avery Queen can contain Jason Williams at the point. Even if Queen is up to that challenge the rest of the Michigan team faces some equally tough challenges. DukeÂs man offense is predicated upon dribble penetration. James and Dunleavy have both shown the ability to take the ball to the basket off the dribble.
If Michigan goes with the smaller lineup itÂs likely that Blanchard will match up with Battier while Robinson and Groninger would probably end up on Dunleavy and James. Blanchard, despite his defensive difficulties could possibly give Battier problems, especially if the Duke forward is content to float around the perimeter. BlanchardÂs biggest defensive liability is his difficulty in defending opponents who can put the ball on the floor. That just happens to be one of the weaker aspects of BattierÂs offense. If that defensive matchup plays out then Battier will have to push himself to contribute. Blanchard may be able to keep him in check on the offensive glass and has the size to harass the outside jump shot. Battier has a fine jab step move that allows him to push a defender back and open up the jump shot. He can also use that same move to set up a drive by using the jab step to force his man back and then pump faking the jump shot. If his man over-commits when he goes for the pump fake Battier is able to put the ball on the floor.
With the other matchups Michigan has one respectable perimeter defender in Robinson and another guy in Groninger who may lack the foot speed to defend either James or Dunleavy. Robinson would probably start off on Dunleavy to limit his effectiveness. ItÂs a tough decision for Ellerbe because both Dunleavy and James can hurt Groninger off the dribble but Dunleavy probably has the ability to create more shots, for both himself and his teammates, than James. However, if James starts make an impact like he did against Davidson, the Wolverines may be forced to rotate their defense.
Of course those matchups can become totally useless if the Wolverines opt for the big lineup with either Moore or Asselin at the center and Young at the power forward. If that happens then Young would end up on Battier with Blanchard and Robinson on Dunleavy and James. Battier, with his outside game, would be a very tough matchup for Young. Likewise, either Dunleavy or James would be in a better position to expose Blanchard on defense than if he were defending Battier.
In any event, it will be a long night for the Wolverines if they attempt to play a man defense and Duke is able to penetrate to the basket. Boozer could also have a big night. After the motivational move in the Davidson game Boozer could be primed for a big game. If the Duke perimeter players are able to get into the lane Boozer should have some high percentage shots in close.
The options donÂt get much more attractive if Michigan goes to a zone. Duke is able to surround the perimeter with 4 quality shooters and move the ball around to create some open looks.
Duke has stretched defenses this year with unselfish play characterized by great ball movement. For the year Duke is getting assists on over 63% of its baskets. (For comparison, Michigan is getting assists on 50% of its baskets.) There have been some games where that figure has been unreal. Against Temple, Duke scored 83% of their baskets off from assists and against Princeton it was 75%. Both of those nights were against zone defenses.
If Michigan plays either of their zone defenses Duke will launch away from the three point line. The Devils come into the game shooting 25 treys a contest, many of them open looks thanks to that ball movement. Michigan is allowing teams to take 18 three point shots a game and opponents are converting at a 40% clip. Some teams have had big nights against the Wolverines such as Oakland as mentioned earlier and St. Johns that hit for 50%. Oddly enough several teams have had big three point shooting second halves against the Wolverines.
If Michigan goes to their 2-3 zone Duke should be able to get several open looks from the wings and the top of the key. More likely theyÂll try the 3-2 zone which is a little more effective against a good three point shooting team. The 3-2 can put more pressure on the Duke ball handlers but is susceptible to a low post offense. Battier could be especially effective from the high post either feeding the ball into Boozer or hitting the little jumper in the lane. Either zone defense could be problematic for Michigan when Queen is in the game as his size would make it easy for other players to shoot over him.
For Duke the defensive key is to stop MichiganÂs wing players. Blanchard and Robinson account for account for 43% of the teamÂs points. Other than Groninger, Michigan does not possess a significant three point threat. Consequently the Duke defense may not be stretched too greatly which should help the Devils in their rotations. You can count on Nate James defending one of that pair, depending upon the lineup Michigan goes with.
The Duke trapping press could also be very effective if Jason Williams is able to slow Avery QueenÂs progress long enough for Battier to come on the double team. If Battier and Williams are able to get the double team on Queen they could cause him problems because of their size advantage. Conversely, if Queen is able to break the press the Wolverines may be able to score some points in transition and not have to face the Duke halfcourt defense.
Another key for Duke will be on the defensive glass. Michigan is not a strong transition defense team and the Devils will want to get out and run. Duke is most effective when triggering their break off from one of the 21 turnovers they are forcing each game. However the coaching staff would probably like to see Duke finish the defense more often and start the fast break off from a rebound. The Devils have allowed the opposition to post large numbers on the offensive boards on several occasions. Facing a Michigan team that may have trouble scoring, Duke needs to avoid that trend to both stop the Wolverines offense and to trigger their own fast break.
Michigan may be able to keep this game close but to win it they will need some help from the Blue Devils. Duke has had a few poor shooting nights and the Wolverines would like to see that repeated Saturday night. If that happens, Michigan would still need big nights from Blanchard and Robinson.
Right now the Duke team is starting to gel and find new contributors. They have a great leader, a terrific playmaker, and a bevy of scorers. That should be enough to carry them to a win against the Wolverines.