Handicapping Michigan/Purdue and Three Key CAA Matchups

Handicapping Michigan/Purdue and Three Key CAA Matchups article feature image
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Jan 13, 2018; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach John Beilein reacts during the second half of a game against the Michigan State Spartans at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Today I’ll take a look at a Purdue team that continues to lay waste to the Big Ten and whether Michigan poses any matchup problems. I’ll also analyze three pivotal games in the jumbled mess of the CAA. Follow me on Twitter @jorcubsdan for injury, in-game, and second-half updates.


Michigan @ Purdue (-10)

7 p.m. ET

Purdue looks unparalleled in Big Ten play thus far, owning a +32.63 adjusted efficiency margin per KenPom. If that number holds, it would be the highest in the Big Ten since Wisconsin’s +33.72 in 2014-15, when the Badgers nearly won a national championship. The only team nationally with a higher efficiency margin in conference play is Villanova.

Offensively, Purdue dominates the post with Isaac Haas, Vince Edwards and Matt Haarms. Per Synergy, the Boilers run offense through the post at the seventh highest rate nationally while scoring at the 10th highest efficiency. Purdue has such a lethal offense because teams simply can’t double Haas in the post, as he always has four lethal shooters/slashers surrounding him in Matt Painter’s excellent motion offense. Where should the help defender come from on this Haas post feed at 19:13 in the clip below from the first meeting?

Purdue’s post offense involves more than dumping it inside to Haas, the country’s most prolific post player per Synergy. It involves constant off ball motion and screening, where Dakota Mathis, P.J. Thompson, Vince Edwards, Ryan Cline and Carsen Edwards all score over a point per possession. As a team, they score 1.12 points per possession off screens (91st percentile). Combining one of the country’s most efficient post offenses with four-out motion sets that produce high quality perimeter looks is patently unfair. As a team, the Boilers shoot 43.7% from 3, the highest percentage in the country. That number has risen to an ungodly 47% in Big Ten play.

Michigan’s defense is notoriously poor in the post, grading out in just the 14th percentile. They struggle even more defending off screens, allowing 1.17 points per possession per Synergy. Purdue shot 57% from 3 in the first meeting against the Wolverines, hitting an absurd 12-21. Terrifyingly, that ranks as just their third best effort from 3 in their last four games, as they have shot 48-90 from deep in the three games since seeing Michigan. Clearly, Michigan’s defense will not win this game for John Beilein.

Michigan made their hay in the first meeting on the offensive end, where Beilein knows how to pull the right levers. In that game in Ann Arbor, Michigan tallied 69 points in 61 possessions against a defense that currently ranks third nationally in defensive efficiency, allowing just .88 points per possession. Beilein’s two-guard, high-post offense methodically finds exploitable switches in man-to-man defenses — and Painter never goes zone (well, except for a brief flirtation a few seasons ago). I thought Moe Wagner’s mobility in Beilein’s offense would give Purdue fits in the first matchup. But he scored only 11 points on 11 attempts in the one-point loss, as Purdue switched on every single ball screen, forcing Wagner into contested jumpers. However, that constant switching opened up some exploitable mismatches for the quicker Zavier Simpson. At 32:26 in the clip below, 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms gets switched onto Simpson on the perimeter. You can guess how that went.

Since Michigan’s ball screen offense draws Purdue’s bigs to the perimeter, they can actually rebound some of their misses. Under Beilein, the Wolverines have largely eschewed the offensive glass in favor of stifling transition defense. However, three of their last five contests against Purdue have produced offensive rebounding rates well above their season average.

The Boilers will have no issues on offense. But Michigan will exploit ball screen mismatches and keep their turnovers down/crash the offensive glass to limit Purdue’s extra opportunities. The Wolverines can keep this game within reach.

The Pick: Michigan +10


CAA Notes

all start at 7 PM ET

Northeastern at Hofstra (7 p.m. ET):  A rematch of a barnburner in Boston from a few weeks ago. Northeastern has an overwhelming weakness defending in the post, while Hofstra is excessively bad defending ball screens. Hofstra runs one of the most prolific ball screen offenses in the country with Justin Wright-Foreman at the point of attack. However, Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich recognized a mismatch in the first meeting and fed big man Rokas Gustys in the post. Hofstra typically runs very little offense through Gustys, who is a major liability on the free throw line. Teams have been willing to kill possessions with a foul to put him at the stripe, where he’s shooting an abysmal 33% in CAA play. However, NU’s lack of post defense was too enticing, and Gustys went for 16 on 6-10 shooting. Of course, Wright-Foreman got his, scoring 27 efficient points, as the Huskies’ pick-and-roll defense isn’t much better than their post defense. On the other end, Northeastern runs one of the best ball screen offenses in the country (86th percentile, per Synergy) due to the outstanding Vasa Pusica, who effectively directs traffic off screens thanks to his 6-foot-5 frame. Hofstra grades out as an extremely poor ball screen defense. In fact, only four teams in the entire country allow more points per possession against ball handlers in pick-and-roll situations.

The Pick: Northeastern +2

William & Mary at Towson (7 p.m. ET): KenPom rates William & Mary as the luckiest team in the country by a significant margin. Make no mistake, the Tribe can shoot from 3 (second nationally) and the line (first nationally). They also have the league’s best big man in Nate Knight, who exploits mismatches on a nightly basis in Tony Shaver’s four-out motion offense. However, William & Mary has an abysmal defense. As a result, they sport a negative adjusted efficiency margin in CAA play despite a 6-2 league record. In their first meeting with Towson, the Tribe had their doors blown off 99-73, as Towson completely exploited their backcourt in ball screens. The Tigers shot well above their 3-point average (13-22), but even a routine shooting night will get it done. Pat Skerry usually gets a motivated effort from his Towson team after a CAA loss, which I expect after blowing a late double-digit lead against lowly UNCW. In fact, the first shellacking of William & Mary came after a home loss to Hofstra. Nate Knight will get his again for William & Mary, but Towson doesn’t need 1.52 points per possession again to beat this team. Simply put, Towson has too much athleticism and size 1-4.

The Pick: Towson -6.5

Charleston at Delaware (7 p.m. ET): Charleston has had a fairly disappointing season after entering the year as the undisputed CAA favorite. Their poor defense has surprisingly been the culprit. They hung their hat on stifling man-to-man defense last year, allowing just 1.0 points per possession in conference. This year, they allow 1.08 ppp. On the bright side, their yawn-worthy offense of last season has fired 1.14 ppp in CAA play. Per Synergy, Charleston’s revitalized offense, led by Joe Chealey and Grant Riller, ranks eighth in ball screen offense. A healthy Jarrell Brantley makes a difference as an efficient roller. While Martin Inglesby has proven himself as an outstanding game planner in his short time at Delaware (not surprising from the Mike Brey coaching tree), the Cougars are a brutal matchup. I mentioned earlier that only four teams in the country defend ball screens worse than Hofstra. Delaware is one of them. Charleston steamrolled to 1.43 points per possession in the first meeting, and Chealey, Riller and Brantley combined for 73 points. Inglesby has since mixed in more zone. However, the Cougars score more efficiently vs. zone than man.

The Pick: Charleston -5.5


Thursday Top Picks

YTD: 322-305-6

2H: 27-16

Michigan +10

Northeastern +2

Towson -6.5

Charleston -5.5

App St/Little Rock under 139

USA/ULL under 146.5

Photo via Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports