Sunday, January 13, 2013

Michigan’s undefeated season ends in heartbreaker in Columbus

Quick Recap: The Wolverines lost a heartbreaker in Columbus in a game featuring many ups and downs from both teams. The 56-53 defeat at the hands of the Buckeyes is Michigan’s first loss of the season. This loss strikes especially hard at the hearts of the Michigan fans with the #1 ranking in the country in sight, as #1 Duke was taken down in Raleigh by NC State yesterday.

A Game of Runs: This game was truly a game of mega-runs, as Ohio State jumped out to a 29-8 lead in the first 14 minutes. Michigan methodically clawed their way back engineering a 38-17 run to tie the game at 46 with 5:58 left in the game. Ohio State outworked the Wolverines over the final stretch, as Michigan only managed two field goals, settling for 8 three-pointers, only one of which was converted.

What Went Wrong: The execution to begin the game was horrific. Michigan, averaging just over 9 turnovers per game, committed 8 in the first 10 minutes. Trey Burke struggled early on defense against Aaron Craft. He also struggled moving the ball and running the offense for much of the game, as he appeared to be forcing his own offense a little too hard against a top-tier perimeter defender in Craft. Nik Stauskas was an absolute no-show in his first true road test, scoring zero points on 0-3 shooting. Tim Hardaway also struggled on both ends of the court, shooting 5-15 for 12 points.

What We Learned: Spike Albrecht was the key player that stopped the Ohio State run to start the game. His 7 points mid-way through the first half were key in switching momentum. His defense on Aaron Craft halted OSU’s easy-flowing offense that catalyzed the early run. In addition Mitch McGary is becoming the superior option at center compared to Jordan Morgan. It’s been obvious throughout the year that McGary is a better defender. However, his presence on offense in the pick-and-roll is having more of a positive impact because McGary’s ability to finish at the rim has improved as he’s become more comfortable with the offense. Finally, Michigan played its best 25-minute stretch of defense of the year, holding Ohio State to 27 minutes in that stretch, allowing for the comeback.

Big Picture: On the whole, Michigan probably outplayed Ohio State for most of the game. To come back from a 21-point road deficit against a top-15 team nationally takes resiliency, mental toughness, a steady coach, and high-quality execution under pressure in difficult conditions. Michigan displayed all of these in coming back from that deficit, even while shooting under 40% overall. While the execution down the stretch of this winnable game was poor, Michigan lost this game in the first 10 minutes, not the last 10. This was the first true tough road test the Wolverines faced and Michigan was simply not ready for it. I would expect a better effort out of the gate at The Barn on Thursday. This was definitely a tough one to swallow for Michigan fans. But before the fan base panics, road losses are going to be common in the Big Ten this year, and at 16-1, Michigan is sitting very pretty and their ceiling is still sky-high.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wolverines push past Nebraska, remain undefeated for showdown in Columbus

Quick Recap: On a night when Michigan did not play its best basketball, the Wolverines put forth a gritty performance to outmuscle the Nebraska Cornhuskers 62-47. Neither team shot over 40% from the field, but the size, length, physicality, and toughness of the Wolverines allowed them to outwork their opponent as Michigan attempted 19 more free throws than the Cornhuskers. Michigan is now 3-0 in the Big Ten and 16-0 overall, matching the best start in school history, set in the 1985-1986 season.

Player of the Game: Tim Hardaway Jr. put the team on his back on both ends of the floor tonight, scoring 15 points while adding 11 rebounds. He also spent most of the game guarding Nebraska’s best player, Dylan Talley, holding him to 4 of 12 shooting good for only 12 points. Hardaway showed the progress he’s made from last year, as most of his shot attempts were taken on drives to the basket as opposed to jump shots.

Game Changing Moment: With Michigan leading 45-39 with just under 8 minutes left in the game, Glenn Robinson III came up with two thunderous dumps on consecutive possessions. The first dunk occurred on an uncontested breakaway following a steal. On the following possession, Robinson was untouched in his put-back dunk off of a Caris LeVert missed 3-pointer. These dunks effectively ended the game, as the crowd erupted and Michigan carried that energy to the finish line.

Negatives: There was a lot of ugly in this game. Michigan shot 17-26 from the free throw line. Trey Burke was not as effective moving the ball and controlling the offense in his usual manner, as he was held to only 3 assists. Jordan Morgan had zero points and took only 1 shot. Michigan’s 38.9% shooting against a lower-tier Big Ten team is a concern, especially since they have lead the country in offensive efficiency thus far this year.

Big Picture: Despite that, this was one of Michigan’s best defensive performances of the year, as Nebraska shot only 34% from the field. The offense also remained turnover free, committing only 4 turnovers. It was encouraging to see the Wolverines grind out a win on a night when they did not play their best basketball. They will need a better effort on Sunday in Columbus. Beat Ohio.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Wolverines Improve to 2-0 in Big Ten Play Behind Another Explosive Offensive Performance

Quick Recap: The Wolverines withstood a competitive Hawkeye team early, behind a dominant second half performance and another shooting masterpiece. With the score tied 29-29 with just over three minutes to play in the 1st half, the Wolverines engineered a 17-6 run to close the half and ultimately pulled away in the 2nd second half, cruising to a 95-67 victory over Iowa (11-4, 0-2) and improving to 15-0 on the season.

Game Changing Moment: The engineer of the 17-6 run to close the first half was Mitch McGary, particularly on the defensive end. With Michigan leading 31-29, McGary emphatically rejected an Aaron White shot attempt in the post, leading to a Trey Burke layup. McGary added a dunk and 2 rebounds in that stretch, one of which led to a fast-break layup by Glenn Robinson III right as the 1st half buzzer sounded.

Freshman Sensations: Four of Michigan’s fabulous freshman put up big numbers today. Glenn Robinson III registered a double-double, with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Nik Stauskas had 13 points and three point shot looked sharp again, shooting 3 of 6 from behind the arc. Caris LeVert added 9 points off the bench. However, the most impressive performance this afternoon came from Mitch McGary. He contributed 5 points, including a smooth fourteen-foot jumper, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks, with many other shots altered. The future is indeed very bright in Ann Arbor.

Best Point Guard in the Country?: The orchestrator behind Michigan’s 58.1% shooting seemed to fly under the radar today. However, Trey Burke consistently put his freshman teammates in wonderful positions to the score the basketball, as Burke notched 12 assists to go along with 19 points. It is really nice to see Burke operate with a myriad of offensive weapons. His talent has been on display night in and night out, and he is becoming the consensus top point guard in the country as performances like these continue.

Developing Before Our Eyes: The criticism of Tim Hardaway Jr. in his first two seasons at Michigan has revolved around the tendency for his numbers to dip once Big Ten play starts. It appears this trend might disappear this year. Today, Hardaway scored 19 points in addition to 5 rebounds and 5 assists. He has been more aggressive with the basketball these past two games compared to earlier this season, but his decision-making with the basketball was better than ever today, as he only committed 1 turnover.

Big Picture: Michigan is now 2-0 in conference play. They must continue to hold serve at home. The next matchup is Wednesday against Nebraska at Crisler Center. The Wolverines need to take care business.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Michigan rolls past Northwestern in conference opener

Quick Recap: The Wolverines opened conference play with a 94-66 rout of the Northwestern Wildcats in Evanston. Michigan controlled the game from start to finish, jumping out to a 20-4 lead early and coasting to their 14th straight win to begin the season. Northwestern could not sustain any momentum without Drew Crawford and Reggie Hearn, their top two scorers, falling to 9-5 on the season.

Player of the Game: Trey Burke once again led the Wolverines with 23 points, along with 5 assists. He was the catalyst on Michigan’s 20-4 run to open up the game, shooting 5 of 6 for 13 points during that stretch.

X-Factor: Tim Hardaway Jr. showed no ill effects after sitting out the previous game with an ankle injury. Hardaway scored 21 points on 8 shots including 4 of 5 from beyond the three-point arc. His aggressiveness in transition and quick and confident trigger on his three-point attempts proved that his injury would not be of any concern moving forward, a major relief for many Michigan fans.

Positives: Jordan Morgan looked great finishing in the post in his workmanlike 12-point, 13-rebound performance. His finesse moves appeared sharp and his ball awareness was better than usual. In addition, he did not fumble the ball down low as much as he has in the past, something that will need to continue against tougher big men in the Big Ten. Glenn Robinson III also looked very poised and aggressive at the same time, finishing high in transition on a couple of alley-oops, while continuing his spectacular work off the ball and on defense. He finished with 10 points on 4 of 4 shooting.

Negatives: Nik Stauskas’s shot looked a little flat today, as he only shot 2 of 7 from deep. Despite his lackluster shooting, Stauskas still figured out a way to grind out 10 points on an off night. Expect him to shake this performance off and come back strong on Sunday.

Big Picture: Road wins are hard to come by in the Big Ten. Credit Coach Beilein with having his boys focused and ready to play against an inferior opponent. This was the 1st of a critical 3-game stretch of winnable Big Ten games that Michigan must sweep if they wish to contend for the title. The next matchup is Sunday against a pesky Iowa squad who came very close to upsetting Indiana in their conference opener.