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December 14, 2013

What To Watch For: U-M vs. Arizona

The wait is over: Michigan will host No. 1 Arizona today at noon, with a chance to knock off the Wildcats and usher in the fourth top-ranked team of this young season.

How can the Wolverines slow down Arizona and escape this nationally televised game with a victory?

1. The transition game

According to a great post by our own MHoops1, "Arizona is a great transition team on offense with their high flying athletes (better than 62 percent effective field goal percentage), and U-M is currently in the bottom 10 percent nationally in transition defense."

Arizona has some very athletic pieces that can get out and pressure the Michigan defense out of turnovers or rebounds.

Nick Johnson is averaging 15.7 points per game; Brandon Ashley is right behind him with 12.3 points per game; and freshman sensation Aaron Gordon is chipping in 11.9 points per game.

That trio could cause big problems for the Wolverines in this game.

Freshman point guard Derrick Walton, sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III and sophomore guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert have to be committed to getting back quickly and slowing down the onrush as best as possible.

If the Wolverines get into a habit of allowing the Wildcats to push the pace out quickly, it won't be pretty.

They're best bet is to get back on defense and force Arizona to run its halfcourt sets.

On the other end, Michigan also has an offense that thrives when it can break out in transition. Last weekend, Houston Baptist had no answer for Michigan's transition game in a 107-53 Wolverine win. Earlier in the week, Duke was very effective in shutting down transition opportunities for Michigan, winning 79-69.

The Wildcats are out-rebounding opponents by an average of 41.5-27.2 per game. Chances are, the Wolverines won't find many transition opportunities off rebounds.

But turnovers are another story.

Arizona has coughed up 124 turnovers this year (12.4 per game). The trio mentioned above have been responsible for 60 of them, so Michigan's guards could make some things happen. If Robinson, who has 13 steals on the year, can trip up Gordon (16 turnovers), that would be big.

And the Wildcats' big man, seven-footer Kaleb Tarczewski, has 20 turnovers, compared to 15 steals in just seven games from sophomore Mitch McGary.

Create some turnovers, get out in transition - and Michigan might be able to break Arizona's stalwart defense.

2. Michigan Three-Point Shooting

At Friday's media availability, Stauskas mentioned that, when the Wolverines are hitting shots from outside, it usually means they're playing pretty well.

He's not wrong.

Here is a breakdown of how the Wolverines shot from downtown in their three losses:

Duke: 3 of 13

Charlotte: 5 of 23

Iowa State: 8 of 29

That's a combined 16-of-65 from three-point range (24.6 percent).

In its six wins this season, Michigan has hit 69-of-155 three-pointers (44.5 percent).

That's a huge swing.

The Wildcats have been terrific on the perimeter this season. Their opponents have hit just 44-of-162 attempts from three-point range in 10 games (27.2 percent).

If Michigan finds its stroke from downtown, it will be a very good sign.

And a lot of that will come down to Stauskas, and whether he can find good looks. The sophomore has hit exactly half of his 48 attempts this season. Against Duke, however, he was heavily face-guarded and got just one three-point attempt off, a shot-clock buzzer beater that missed off the rim.

The Wolverines have to get Stauskas some work against Arizona.

3. Rebounding

In the early going this year, rebounding was a huge concern, especially considering Wayne State out-rebounded the Wolverines in a preseason game.

But Michigan has actually been pretty good on the glass.

The Wolverines are out-rebounding opponents by 17.9 rebounds per game this season. They're averaging 11.6 offensive rebounds per game and surrendering just 8.7 offensive rebounds per game, too.

But Arizona is a whole different beast. The Wildcats have a ton of size and length, and they know how to use it, ranking second nationally in rebound margin this season (27.8). They're also averaging 13.4 offensive rebounds per game, keeping possessions alive.


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