SMU lost star big man Markus Kennedy to a sprained ankle in the first minute of the game and didn't even miss a beat. It might have even worked to their advantage because it allowed them to play smaller and faster and spread out the Michigan defense because it's not like Michigan had the big men to punish them the other way. SMU is a great combination of new school and old school - they play a bunch of wings and spread the floor but still run a lot of offense by playing inside-out and running cutters out of the high post.
From an NBA draft perspective, the big story was Caris LeVert, who couldn't get anything going against an aggressive SMU defense that didn't give him any breathing room on the perimeter. Levert was averaging 19/5/4 on 52% shooting coming into the game and he wound up with 5 points and 3 assists on 1-13 (!!) shooting. It had to be one of the worst games of his NCAA career.
- The first key for SMU was they were playing 4-5 wings for most of the game and switching almost every screen-roll. Michigan gets most of their offense from spreading the floor and exploiting cracks in the defense from getting defenders in the two-man game but SMU had the length and the athletes to switch everything and never give LeVert any room.
- The guy who got the assignment on LeVert was Keith Frazier and he did a phenomenal job. At 6'5 190, Frazier doesn't have a great wingspan (6'6) but he's an elite athlete whose much faster and much quicker side to side than LeVert and he got right into LeVert's dribble and stayed in his jersey all night. Frazier is a real character - he was doing the Money Manziel finger signs after every made basket and he eventually got T'd up for talking in LeVert's face in the 2nd half. It's hard to blame him, though, when he so thoroughly whipped a future NBA first-round pick on both sides of the ball. He definitely made himself some money tonight although it didn't seem like the NBA scouts in attendance really appreciated the extra-curriculars.
- You kind of saw the limitations in LeVert's game tonight. He just doesn't have a lot of burst off the dribble and he struggles to create separation when elite athletes press up on him in defense. It reminded me a lot of a game he had last season against Arizona when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson hounded him all over the floor. The good news for him is that he's not going to be a primary option at the next level so he won't see that type of defense and he won't face other team's best perimeter defenders all that often.
- One thing I was wondering while watching this is whether he would be most effective as a 6'7 off-ball PG in the NBA and using his size advantage to post up smaller guards and create an all-switching defensive line-up. He could be like a post knee surgery Shaun Livingston with a much better 3-point shot. While he doesn't have great athleticism or quickness, the sheer amount of length he has means that faster guys probably won't be able to exploit him too much even at the next level.
- LeVert is a fundamentally sound player whose a great shooter and a good passer with a solid handle and a 7'1 wingspan so he's going to be a good NBA player for a long time regardless. He will be a pretty safe first-round pick but I think his only real chance to be a high-level NBA player is as a super-sized PG.
The problem for Michigan is they don't really have anything else when LeVert isn't going. Zak Irvin and Duncan Robinson are good 6'8 shooters who can attack a close-out but they aren't primary creators against elite defenses. Beilein plays 4-out basketball with the idea of moving the ball and attacking defenders in space but that can only be so effective when you don't have the athletic advantage at any position on the floor. They really missed Derrick Walton tonight.
The other problem is they don't really have any big men. The guys they have aren't quick enough to guard on the perimeter, not big enough to control the paint and not skilled enough to punish teams for going small against them. I'm not sure what they are going to do against guys like AJ Hammons and Nigel Hays in Big Ten play. LeVert and all their shooters should be able to get them into the Tourney but it's hard to see them making much noise if they can't find a 2nd option or a guy with a pulse on their front-line.
SMU doesn't have a definite NBA guy like LeVert but they've got a few maybe guys.
- I'm fairly confident that Frazier is an NBA player but the scouts haven't really come around on him yet and he's not quite statistically productive enough to make up for some of the red flags that have crept up around him off the court. He's a fan favorite at SMU but he's also a hot head whose academic issues nearly sank the entire program. What he has in his favor is that he's got NBA size, he's super quick, he can shoot off the dribble with a quick release with a soft touch and he has become a much more intelligent and much more skilled player in his three seasons with Larry Brown. It's kind of amazing to see how much he has grown since his freshman season when he came in playing like a bootleg Gerald Green. He knows how to read the defense and he knows how to find the open man on the move and make the correct pass. I expect him to have a huge senior season that moves him up NBA draft boards pretty quickly.
- Ben Moore is the other guy with the chance to play at the next level. He's a 6'8 combo forward whose a pretty great small-ball 4 at the NCAA level and his game fits perfectly with how the league is going. He's fast enough to switch screens, long enough to survive on the boards and he's a fantastic passer who can dissect a defense from the high post. The key for him is going to be stretching out his shot to the 3-point line because he's not going to be a primary option at the next level and secondary options in the modern NBA have to be able to shoot 3's if they aren't 6'10+ C's.
They lose Nic Moore and the fifth-year senior big man tandem of Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert but they have enough pieces coming back to where I expect them to be a Top 15 team anyway. The heart of the team will be three senior wings - Moore, Frazier and Sterling Brown - who can spread the floor, move the ball, put it on the ground and defend multiple positions. They have two more freshman wings - Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster - who look pretty good and Milton has a chance to be a real player. He's a 6'4 PG with a well-rounded game who was recruited by just about every school in the country. They can run out a line-up that goes 6'4 - 6'5 - 6'5 - 6'6 - 6'8 and switch everything, basically an NCAA version of the Warriors.
Moore isn't quite as thick as Draymond so they will need some extra beef on the frontline, whether that comes as a freshman or a graduate transfer. If they can find just one 6'10+ guy who will allow them to survive against bigger frontlines and give them more depth upfront, they could be as good as any team in the country next season too. Larry Brown ain't dead yet, let's just put it that way.