clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Michigan at UCLA Game Preview: A Battle of Tempo

The Wolverines will look to slow down the fast-playing Bruins.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Kentucky
UCLA basketball is back in action Saturday night after being vaulted to #2 in the AP Poll
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA dropped 97 on Kentucky in their last game a week ago, while Michigan just barely squeaked out 53 in a tough win against Texas at home on Tuesday night. The Wolverines are averaging only 69.2 points per game this season, and at 7-2, it’s been both a result of a slightly struggling offense and a super slow tempo.

Whereas the Bruins are pushing the tempo enough to be playing basketball at the 10th fastest pace in the country, per Ken Pomeroy’s advanced stats, Michigan has been playing slower—much, much slower—coming in at 348 in tempo (there are 351 teams in college basketball).

But Michigan head coach John Beilien would prefer to be playing a bit faster. "We’re playing too much half-court basketball," he told reporters this week. "We have to get up the court."

Don’t look for them to run and try to keep tempo with the Bruins, though. Beilein wants them to be able to push and take advantage of opportunities when they are there, but they’ll try to force the Bruins to play good half court basketball—still probably the best formula for beating this team; as we saw last week, UCLA can run with anybody.

"We're certainly going to run when we can, but at the same time, we have to make sure we take good shots and that we make them take guarded shots," Beilein said.

Here’s your other major profile contrast between the two teams: scoring offense vs. scoring defense. While the Bruins are #2 in scoring offense at 97 ppg, Michigan is 10th in the country in scoring defense, allowing only 58.2 ppg—more a result of their slow tempo than their defensive efficiency, which ranks 34th nationally by Ken Pomeroy’s measure—good but not great. UCLA is third nationally in offensive efficiency.

The Wolverines are lead by a duo of senior guards in Zak Irvin, who leads the team in scoring at 13.6 ppg, and Derrick Walton, Jr., who leads the team in assists with 4.0 apg (don’t laugh, Lonzo). Beilein called out his two seniors for their poor performance after the Texas win:

"(Zak) and Derrick did not have a good game," Beilein said. "They’re so much better than that. Derrick’s trying to shoot over length when he can drive. Zak there was nothing about his game other than that three-pointer (tying the game with four minutes left)."

UCLA returns to action a week after the nation tuned in to see Ball, Leaf & Co. hang 97 on Kentucky at Rupp Arena, the most points allowed against the Wildcats in the epoch of Calipari. While many basketball fans who may not pay close attention to the program had seen highlights or heard about this true freshman PG in Westwood, the Bruins now have everyone paying attention, and sitting at #2 in America, will play a game for the first time against a quality opponent with the hype-train throttling at full-speed ahead and a standing room only bandwagon in tow.

How will the Bruins handle their new hype, attention, and buzz? Against a good enough team to punish a few too many turnovers, and that will force them to play half-court basketball?

Statistically, Michigan most similarly resembles the Texas A&M team that UCLA knocked off 74-67 to win the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim. Michigan is #27 in Kem Pomeroy’s rankings, while the Aggies are #30. UM’s offense is only twelve spots better than A&M’s, their defense only ten spots worse, and their tempo is only 14 spots slower. While the Aggies held UCLA to a season-low 74 points in scoring, they could muster only 67.

Even if the Wolverines could hold UCLA at or near their season low in scoring, they would have to exceed their own average of 69.2 points per game.

Pauley Pavilion is nearly sold out, though more walkups may be available depending on student attendance—classes finished up this week in Westwood. And with the basketball team hot again, a big name opponent, and Saturday night in prime time, you know there will be some celebrities: