Bradley-Michigan Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 21, 2011
If 6-foot-9 forward Evan Smotrycz keeps shooting at this pace from 3-point range, Michigan could be an even more difficult team to defend when Big Ten play opens next week. Bradley would like to find some consistency from beyond the arc with the Missouri Valley Conference season approaching. The 20th-ranked Wolverines go for a season-high fifth consecutive win Thursday night when they meet a Braves team going for its first victory on a Big Ten court in 51 years. Beginning Dec. 10 when he hit four 3s and scored a career-best 20 points in a 90-80 victory over Oakland (Mich.), Smotrycz is averaging 17.7 points and has made 10 of 12 from beyond the arc in the last three games. He's also averaged 9.3 rebounds in that span. The sophomore is making a team-best 54.8 percent (17 for 31) of his 3s, and his overall shooting percentage has risen from 40.1 as a freshman to 56.2. "It's because his shot selection is much better," coach John Beilein said after Smotrycz was 3 for 3 from long range and posted his first career double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday's 87-57 win over Alabama A&M. "He's just got to let the game come to him. I think he's realizing that." Smotrycz isn't the only deep threat for the Wolverines (9-2), as starting guards Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke are tied for the team lead with 20 3s and senior Zack Novak has made 16 of 37. Michigan, which opens league play against Penn State on Dec. 29, has made half of its 76 3-point attempts in the last three games. Bradley (5-6), meanwhile, has hit just 4 of 18 on 3-point tries while losing two in a row. The Braves were 15 of 30 from beyond the arc over their previous two games and won both. "It's something we've battled with at times," coach Geno Ford said after Tuesday's 68-67 loss to Western Carolina. "Other times, we've shot it really well. So we just got to get back going in the right direction and be ready to go up to Michigan and hit some shots." Ford's team has shot 20.0 percent (14 of 70) from 3-point range in its five losses. Hitting free throws also could help Bradley snap a 10-game skid on Big Ten courts that dates to a 62-58 victory over Minnesota on Dec. 1, 1960. The Braves, who open MVC play Wednesday versus Wichita State, are shooting a league-worst 64.7 percent from the foul line after missing 10 of 23 attempts Tuesday. "We can't dwell on (the loss) now - we've got another game in a couple of days against a really good team," said guard Dyricus Simms-Edwards, who scored a team-best 17 points. Walt Lemon was held to 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting Tuesday after averaging 21.3 in the previous three games while shooting 68.8 percent. The Wolverines are 5-1 in this series. However, Michigan has vacated the records of the last three meetings from 1996-98 due to NCAA sanctions. Bradley's most lopsided loss of the season was its only game against a ranked foe, 66-43 to then-No. 11 Wisconsin on Nov. 25.
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