hoops game recaps
Sometimes you just have to tip your cap.
After a forgettable first half, Michigan and Villanova put on a show, trading big runs and phenomenal plays in one of the best college basketball games of this young season. Unfortunately, one of them had to lose.
The decisive play was representative. With five seconds left, down by a point, Michigan inbounded the ball from the Villanova baseline. John Beilein drew up a beauty of a play, freeing up Zak Irvin for what looked like an uncontested layup. Out of nowhere, JayVaughn Pinkston contested it, emphatically. The Wolverines were good; the Wildcats a hair better.
What cannot be lost is how encouraging this game became from Michigan's perspective, especially considering the first half and change. From the 7:13 mark of the first half until the 17:21 mark of the second, they didn't score a single point, allowing Villanova to turn a one-point deficit into a 13-point lead. John Beilein rotated through all four centers in the first half to poor results and lots of foul trouble. With 20 points on 30 possession at the break and an ugly start to the second stanza, a young M squad easily could've packed it in; this game would stand as last year's Duke game did, a learning experience via rote blowout.
Instead, they hit Villanova back. Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert, and Derrick Walton made consecutive baskets to make the game tight in a flash, and Spike Albrecht's triple with 11:19 left gave Michigan a lead they would tenuously hold until Dylan Ennis tied it up with a dagger from the corner with 2:36 on the clock.
The teams would trade buckets until Pinkston scored the eventual winning points with a strong—some might say too strong—move down low for a lay-in with 13 ticks left; moments later, his clean block of Irvin all but ended it. Michigan's last hope to tie it up faded ingloriously when Max Bielfeldt threw away a long inbounds attempt, but that shouldn't take away from a tremendously exciting game.
Yes, Michigan let a shot at a signature win slip away. That they were in position to get one in the first place against a much more experienced, and quite talented, Villanova team was a victory in and of itself, however; those bemoaning the loss ... well, "can't see the forest for the trees" comes to mind.
Admit it, that was a hundred times more fun than any football game this season. There will be bumps in the road, but this team is pretty darn good right now, and I can't wait to see what they're going to look like come March.
An externality of Michigan’s ascent has been its ability to simply run overmatched non-conference opponents out of the beautiful Crisler Center. Bucknell has been a solid mid-major program for a few years now and their kenpom rank entering the night (177) suggested that they may be game for a fight. That notion was quickly disproved after Michigan ran out to an early 10-0 lead, capped by a three-pointer from little-used reserve Max Bielfeldt. The rest of the first half was much of the same: Michigan led 10-2 at the under-16 timeout, 24-7 at the under-12, 34-13 at the under-8, 41-17 at the under-4, and 48-19 at halftime.
With the game’s outcome fairly secure, the story quickly became about Bielfeldt – the veteran had yet to make a significant contribution in his time at Michigan and many (including myself) projected that three freshmen would be above him on the depth chart. It was a surprise to see Bielfeldt replace Mark Donnal as the first big man off of the bench, but—as usual—John Beilein made a wise decision in playing the senior center.
In Bielfeldt’s first four minutes on the court, he made two three-pointers (both assisted by Kam Chatman) and was the beneficiary of an excellent drive-and-dish from Spike Albrecht; those eight points doubled his previous career high. He finished with 18 points total on an efficient 7-9 shooting and made each of his three-point attempts. With Michigan’s impressive cadre of lethal offensive weapons, it’s hard to imagine that Bielfeldt was scouted much by the Bison, but Bielfeldt was outstanding. In the end, he finished second on the team in scoring (behind Zak Irvin’s 23 points) and looks like he’s another factor in Michigan’s uncertain hierarchy of big men.
Irvin got his points efficiently – 23 points on 8-13 shooting (4-5 from three) – and seemingly scored at will. His characteristic quick-trigger was on full display, though he did also have a nice assist to Mark Donnal on a screen-and-roll action and had a nice take in transition. Derrick Walton chipped in with 15 points, managed to pull down 8 rebounds, and was extremely aggressive in transition.
The third member of Michigan’s high-octane triumvirate, Caris LeVert, was notably quiet, though his production wasn’t needed. LeVert was 2-11 from the field and eventually just managed 6 points on the night (along with 6 rebounds and 6 assists). Spike Albrecht didn’t shoot well (1-5) but did have six assists; he was so masterful with the ball in his hands and it seemed like he was able to do whatever he liked against the Bison defense.
Beilein did give minutes to six freshmen and they were variably effective: Mark Donnal got the start but was quiet (though he did have two blocks); Ricky Doyle had a few nice post moves; Kam Chatman had a few opportunistic steals on defense but conceded a few open looks because of his inexperience, while contributing little offensively; D.J. Wilson looked a little bit lost on offense and didn’t play much until garbage time; Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman got a little run in the first half but didn’t do much; Aubrey Dawkins was relegated to mop-up duty at the end of the night.
Graphic from Ace Anbender
Michigan just overwhelmed Bucknell from the opening tip. The Wolverines’ shooting regressed to the mean in the second half and Bucknell’s numbers were bolstered by a flurry of late, inconsequential threes from Chris Hass. Michigan’s defense—normally not known for its ability to force turnovers—flustered Bucknell in the half-court and the Bison turned the ball over 17 times. With Michigan’s dominance on the offensive glass, it was a comprehensive win.
These types of games tend to blend together over time, but Bielfeldt’s breakout performance, in particular, was very memorable. If he eventually becomes a key cog on this Michigan team, we’ll look back on this game on an unseasonably wintry November weeknight as the catalyst for something bigger.
They stuck to the script.
Michigan raises banners on opening day now. They did so again today, hoisting the 2014 Big Ten title banner to the rafters and handing out rings in a pregame ceremony. Continuing tradition, the biggest names from that championship squad weren't able to attend due to professional obligations; Glenn Robinson III was absent, and the parents of Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas, and Jordan Morgan stood in for their sons who've taken the next step.
After all the hubbub before tipoff, a familiar scene for the returners but not for the squad's six freshmen, the Wolverines came out flat, allowing Hillsdale to ride hot outside shooting to a 15-6 lead. Then Michigan roared back by doing what they do best: shooting the rock. Three consecutive triples tied the score before M took the lead for good with a Kameron Chatman basket with 8:59 to go in the half.
Michigan leaned heavily on their veterans for production, and they came through in a big way. Caris LeVert flirted with a triple-double, posting a 20-8-9 line while hitting 4/6 three-point attempts. Derrick Walton may have been even better, leading the team with 22 points (5/8 FG, 9/10 FT), dishing out four assists, and masterfully running the Michigan fast break. Zak Irvin diversified his shooting a bit, adding several midrange buckets and even a few strong drives to the hoop on his way to 21 points on 8/12 field goals. The three stars lived up to the billing.
The rest, as expected, is a work-in-progress. Hillsdale knocked down 10/23 three-pointers in large part because the new faces in the lineup struggled on defense, especially working through the myriad off-ball screens set by the Chargers.
The freshmen showed their talent and their youth. Mark Donnal earned the start at center, had a couple nifty layups, worked hard on the offensive glass, hit a nice-looking mid-range jumper in the second half, and defended quite well for the most part, but also allowed a couple of easy buckets. Kam Chatman went 1/7 for 4 points in 30 minutes and allowed too many open shots; he also passed the ball well and had a stellar crossover in transition that led to an and-one opportunity.
Aubrey Dawkins sunk a three and seemingly reached into the upper bowl to rip down an offensive board in his limited time on the court. Ricky Doyle scored seven points in eight minutes but didn't look as quick to rotate on defense as Donnal. DJ Wilson played the entirety of his nine minutes at the five and pulled down four boards but didn't make a major impact otherwise. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman missed his pair of shots in four minutes of play, though he did display the ability to blow by defenders.
While the victory was hardly in doubt for most of the game, Michigan wasn't able to truly put it away until around nine minutes remained, and the Wolverines extended a 12-point lead all the way out to 30 over the course of the next several minutes.
In the end, it felt like an early-season cupcake game should for such a young team. The team won comfortably while getting enough of a test to have several areas of improvement to emphasize before Monday night's game against Bucknell, this squad's first against D-I competition. In the meantime, Michigan fans can rest comfortably knowing that this team can still shoot (11/19 from three) and the stars look ready to shine.
Postgame locker room, via @umichbball
67 of the 68 teams that make the NCAA Tournament have their seasons end in heartbreak. For the second straight year, Michigan came excruciatingly close to being that lone exception, only to lose in a classic game.
Even though it's exceedingly likely your team will be one of the unfortunate 67, it's impossible to prepare for a moment like this. We got to bask in the glory of the Tennessee win for, oh, half an hour before fretting about the next opponent. From the moment Kentucky emerged over Louisville, we've spent our time worrying about that matchup.
From the moment of tipoff this afternoon, two of the most talented teams in the country played an incredible back-and-forth affair. And until Nik Stauskas's prayer thudded harmlessly against the backboard, we held out hope. Then it hits, the realization that this amazing run is done—and another shot at that elusive, ultimate banner has gone with it. It's like having your breath return after holding it for two days, only for the first inhale to precede a deep sigh, or perhaps a body-shaking sob.
For Jordan Morgan, there are no more shots. He'll be fine when the shock wears off—Michigan engineering grads tend to do okay after college—but in the interim, I ache for him. To a lesser extent, that goes to the rest of the players and the coaching staff, but I wasn't ready to see Morgan's pundit-defying career end.
I've got no more to offer in the way of words or feelings; after three weeks on tilt, I'm completely spent. Thank you, Kentucky, for giving us a whale of a game. Thank you, Michigan, for being a source of joy all season, again. Thank you, Jordan Morgan, for everything.
After the charge. [Dustin Johnston/UMHoops]
As it turned out, the Sweet Sixteen matchup between Michigan and Tennessee was determined by mismatches up front.
Jeronne Maymon couldn't handle Glenn Robinson III without fouling—or stay in front of any of Michigan's perimeter players—while Jordan Morgan outscored and outrebounded Jarnell Stokes, then all but sealed the victory by taking a charge when Tennessee called Stokes's number with a chance to win the game.
It started with Robinson, who opened the game with an easy blow-by against Maymon for a layup, stymied his post-up opportunity on the other end, and then drew the Tennessee big man's first foul. That set the early tone—Tennessee couldn't hang with Michigan's offense while playing two bigs, but their lack of depth meant going without one also hurt them dearly.
When Maymon checked back in, he quickly picked up his second foul on a Morgan and-one. After another stint on the bench, he allowed Caris LeVert to swoop by him for an easy two and found himself on the pine once again. Maymon would finish with two points, three rebounds—just one offensive—and four fouls in 17 minutes. Robinson scored 13 on nine shots, pulled down five boards (two off.), and held his own in the post for 39 minutes.
With Maymon neutralized, it appeared Michigan would win with ease. Tennessee's defense opened up, and the Wolverines took advantage, hitting 7-of-9 three-pointers in the first half; their 45 first-half points were the most ceded by the Volunteers all season. Uncharacteristically, the only significant category Michigan didn't win in the first half was turnovers; that'd turn out to be an omen, and not a good one.
I'll assume you watched the game, and therefore spare you the gory details of Tennessee's second-half run that, based on my Twitter feed, drove everyone not obligated to write a game recap to drink heavily. (Don't worry, I'll join you degenerates soon.) The turnovers kept coming. Nik Stauskas, who'd score 14 points on 13 shots, went cold from the outside. Jordan McRae, who finished with a game-high 24 points, kept finding his way to the basket.
A blown out of bounds call that somehow held upon review, a turnover after Robinson couldn't handle a lob to halfcourt, and another inbounds turnover when LeVert caught the ball with a foot on the line; that sequence set up the Vols, once down 15 in the second half, with the ball down just one point with nine seconds on the clock.
That's when Morgan, who led Michigan with 15 points and seven rebounds, made a play reminiscent of last year's Syracuse game. Tennessee's plan was simple: post up Stokes. That plan backfired when Morgan anticipated Stokes's drive, beat him to the spot, and planted his feet as Stokes lowered his shoulder into Morgan's chest. In the most Jordan Morgan play of them all, Michigan's lone senior drew a charge, refusing to allow his career to end on this night.
Michigan's early shooting bonanza—helped mightily by the freshman duo of Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin, who combined to hit 5-of-5 triples—allowed them to survive a late storm that they helped create with sloppy play. It wasn't pretty. A lot of it wasn't fun. But they survived.
On the backs of two of the more scrutinized players to come through this program—Morgan, too soft/untalented/unskilled to center a real contender; Robinson, too soft/one-dimensional/reliant on his athleticism to live up to his five-star billing—Michigan made the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season. In the regional final, whether they play Louisville or Kentucky, they'll face a mismatch or two; they might just create a couple themselves, too.
Um, Texas? You there? [photo via Dustin Johnston/UMHoops]
The scouting report favored Michigan, and this game played to the scouting report.
The Wolverines advanced to the Sweet Sixteen by outshooting Texas considerably, hitting a team NCAA Tournament record 14 of their 28 three-point attempts. The Longhorns connected on less than 40% of their two-pointers, and while they managed to make a second-half surge by overwhelming Michigan on the boards, they simply couldn't keep pace.
After the Longhorns took an early 6-3 lead, Michigan went on a tear, eventually gaining a 30-12 advantage after a Zak Irvin triple—the seventh Wolverine three-pointer in the first 13 minutes. Texas's attempts to push the pace backfired, leading to several open shots for Michigan and a bunch of missed jumpers on the other end. One could only watch agape at the display of offensive firepower:
— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) March 22, 2014
Said firepower, when combined with a returned aversion to turnovers—Michigan committed just four all game—proved impossible to overcome.
While Texas managed to close the gap to 13 points by halftime, Michigan threatened to blow the game open entirely when the Longhorns opened the second half in a 2-3 zone. Michigan scored eight points in three possessions, with a couple Derrick Walton bombs over the top sandwiched around a Jordan Morgan dunk after gorgeous passing shredded the defense.
Them something strange happened. Rick Barnes called for a slight alteration to the 2-3, shading the backside guard over the middle, and then mixed in a fair amount of 1-3-1. Michigan went without a field goal for nearly six minutes. After Michigan had managed to mitigate Texas's size and rebounding advantage in the first half, the Longhorns dominated the boards in the second, and they pulled within six after an Isaiah Taylor jumper.
That's when Glenn Robinson III made two of the biggest plays of his career, first blowing by Connor Lammert and finishing with an impressive floater, then connecting on a three from the wing on Michigan's next possession to stretch the lead back to 11 with 6:45 to play.
A corner three by Spike Albrecht and a four-point trip after Jordan Morgan drew an intentional foul—while making a basket that was waved off, no less—put the final nails in the coffin. While it took them a while, Michigan eventually took advantage of the holes in the Longhorn zone, and once they did the proceedings were academic.
In addition to Robinson (14 points, 5/10 FG, 5 rebounds) and his second-half heroics, two performances really stood out for Michigan. Nik Stauskas led the team with 17 points on 15 shot equivalents while tying a career high with eight assists; his passing was key in picking apart Texas's zone. Then there was Morgan, who scored 15 (5/7 FG, 7/8 FT), pulled in ten rebounds (5 off.), dished out two assists, and recorded two steals. He limited Cameron Ridley to six points and nine rebounds while giving the Texas behemoth all sorts of trouble with his quickness on the other end.
While Michigan's offensive lull in the second half got a little scary, John Beilein had a response for every one of Rick Barnes's adjustments—yes, this was expected—and it's tough to get worried about the offense when they still managed to score 1.4 points per trip. This was another slow-paced game—just 57 possessions, one more than the Wofford slog—with a score that often belied the comfortable gap between the two teams.
With Duke off the board, Michigan awaits the winner of tomorrow evening's Tennessee/Mercer game. Either way, they've cleared the path for a deep run, and they've already accomplished a lot—did anyone imagine this team moving on to the Sweet Sixteen without much resistance after Mitch McGary went down?
Now, with McGary competing for the role of top cheerleader from the bench, Michigan will be favored to play for a spot in the Final Four regardless of who wins tomorrow. Take a bow, John Beilein.