Men’s Basketball: Controlling Athletic Hardaway A Big Key For Bobcats

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We'll keep it brief, as we know you have plenty of studying up to do for tomorrow's clash between Ohio and Michigan. Go ahead, rewatch Bobcat and Wolverine games on, read every feature story possible, crunch the numbers…it's the time of year when you can get away with it.

In the spirit of March, here are some more numbers and match-ups to digest.

– It became clear to us, as we watched Michigan's Thursday shoot-around and caught some prior UM games, that Tim Hardaway Jr. will be a tough task for whatever Bobcat draws the assignment of guarding him. Hardaway is not only 6-foot-6, but he weighs in at 200 pounds and has scored in double figures in each of his last eight games. The Miami, Fla native has averaged over six free throws in that span, too.

John Groce had difficulty comparing Hardaway Jr. to any other player the Bobcats have faced this season (he stretched to name Akron's Quincy Diggs as a comparable player). We tend to think Hardaway is built more like Toledo's Rian Pearson but shoots it more like Louisville's Kyle Kuric. Ohio's Ivo Baltic guarded Pearson well in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals, and the 6-foot-8 junior may draw the assignment.

– Even more interesting defensive match-ups happen when Michigan substitutes Evan Smotrycz (21 minutes per game) into the Friday's contest. UM will frequently play a four-guard lineup (Groce called UM's style "unique"), but Smotrycz is the stereotypical hybrid between guard and forward.

He's tall – 6-foot-9 – and is the best three-point shooter on the team at 42 percent. The lineup of Smotrycz, Hardaway, Trey Burke and Zack Novak may be the most problematic for the 'Cats. With that lineup on the floor for Michigan, 6-foot-4 Ricardo Johnson (perhaps Ohio's best pure defender) may see more time than normal.

– Another defensive match-up to watch, this time on the other side, is Ohio's Dj Cooper against Michigan's Trey Burke. If Michigan goes man-to-man, which it doesn't do often (choosing to play 1-3-1 trap-zone instead), Cooper shouldn't have much trouble seeing over the Wolverine freshman – Burke is listed at just 5-foot-11. Cooper's least effective offensive play (there wasn't much of it) in the MAC Tournament, came when Akron's Quincy Diggs (about 6-foot-5) was guarding the tournament MVP in the second half of the tournament final.

If Michigan does indeed go man-to-man, and Burke guards Cooper, that could be a formidable match-up for Ohio.

– More on Burke and Hardaway: The combo has been the number-one and number-two shot-takers in 27 of Michigan's 33 games. The Wolverines offense goes through the two of them, as Burke has taken the most field goals and free throws (Hardaway is second in both categories) and Hardaway has shot the most threes (Burke is second).

– Outside of Hardaway Jr., who will be the most athletically gifted player on the floor Friday night, Michigan won't out-athlete Ohio.

Burke is extremely talented, but could be neutralized by Cooper's wingspan and quickness. There certainly is a reason why this is being looked at as the best-possible-opponent for the Bobcats. Ohio's length could bother the outside shooters of the Wolverines.

– Groce mentioned in his media day press conference that he's fortunate to have a team that is "trending upward" at the perfect time of the year to do so. Ohio has won eight of its last nine, dating back to a February 15 win against Bowling Green.

Michigan isn't trending down by any stretch, but the Wolverines certainly aren't playing their best ball. Ohio State stomped UM in the Big Ten Conference Tournament semifinals five days ago, and Michigan has a 14-point home loss to Purdue on its record from February 25. Lowly Minnesota took the Wolverines to overtime in the Big Ten quarters, Penn State hung around to the tune of a 71-65 UM win on March 4 and Michigan needed overtime to beat Northwestern on February 21.

– All the talk of Michigan's three-point shooting is more about how many threes the Wolverines take, not necessarily how good they are at putting the ball in the hoop. So let's go on the averages: In games where Michigan has shot above 35 percent from three-point range, the Wolverines are 12-2.

When they shoot lower than 35 percent, John Beilein's crew is 12-7.

Ohio is the 14th best team in the country at defending the three-point shot, allowing its opponents to shoot just 29.4 percent for the year.

– That statistic makes Reggie Keely's role infinitely more important than normal. Keely's resurgence is well-documented, and he probably played the best three games he's played as a Bobcat during this year's conference tournament, but he'll be matched up with Jordan Morgan – Michigan's only true post presence. Morgan averages 24 minutes per contest and is Michigan's leading rebounder…plus, he's a man-child, listed at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds.

If Keely, Smith, Baltic and Ohio's cast of rebounders can take advantage of Michigan's lackluster inside game, which is only 309th in the country in offensive rebounding and 243rd nationally in defensive boards per game, Friday night's match-up could be another to remember for Bobcat faithful.