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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.
Michigan didn't earn any style points in their NCAA Tournament victory over Wofford, but those don't really matter this time of year. A substandard offensive performance didn't prevent the Wolverines from advancing with relative ease.
The Terriers certainly helped in that regard, erasing any good that came from hitting 50% of their twos by going just 1-for-19 from beyond the arc despite generating good looks. They played like a 15-seed, and on a night when Michigan sat below one point per possession for much of the second half, that was fortunate.
Nik Stauskas cracked the career 1,000-point barrier with a second-half triple en route to a team-high 15 points on ten shot equivalents. Glenn Robinson had 14, albeit on 14 shots, while adding seven rebounds. Jordan Morgan played the best all-around game of any Wolverine, tallying ten points (4/6 FG), ten boards, two assists, a steal, and a block.
The numbers tell the story here. In a very low-possession game—just 56, a slog even by Big Ten standards—the shooting gap made an enormous difference, one that wasn't so easy to see due to the pace and some uncharacteristic turnovers. With the officials letting the teams play (hooray!), it was all about which team could generate buckets, and Wofford was just as likely to get the ball stuck above the backboard—yes, this happened—as they were to connect from the outside.
Michigan can't hang their hat on this defensive performance; Wofford's inability to make shots was due to their inaccuracy more than anything the Wolverines were doing. By the same token, the offensive performance wasn't as bad as it looked at times. Caris LeVert isn't going to get held to six points very often, and Zak Irvin missed all four of his three-point attempts despite getting some decent looks.*
It wasn't a fun game to watch, and Michigan will need to step it up offensively if they want to make a run in the tournament. After they ran out to a double-digit lead against an overmatched opponent in a somnolent atmosphere, however, the ugliness of this game is at least understandable.
Now the Wolverines await the winner of Texas/ASU, which is happening right now on CBS.
*Admittedly, also some not-so-decent looks.
Michigan opened the Big Ten title game with consecutive three-pointers.
That was the good. From there, the game became a slog. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford each picked up two fouls early in the first half, leading John Beilein to play Max Bielfedt for 12 critical first-half minutes. Morgan's absence proved especially integral; without him on the court, the interior defense suffered, MSU dominated on the boards, and Michigan couldn't find a rhythm offensively.
The officiating didn't help matters; while both teams were victimized with early foul trouble, the Spartans weathered it much better than the Wolverines. Mostly, the constant whistles just made the game unbearable. Both teams were in the bonus around the midway point of the first half; in the second half, neither team got there until the waning minutes. The inconsistency was maddening, albeit not determinative.
The real problem for Michigan was the offense; the Wolverines shot 36% from two and made just six of their 23 three-point attempts. Given the numbers, it's frankly surprising that the final margin wasn't larger. Nik Stauskas went just 4-for-14 from the field with three turnovers, needing six free throws to reach 17 points, a team high. Caris LeVert shot 2-for-10 with three turnovers of his own. Glenn Robinson III went 2-for-8, and didn't hit a field goal until the second half. Aside from Derrick Walton's 11 points on eight shot equivalents, Michigan got almost nothing in the way of secondary scoring, either.
Michigan got outplayed, plain and simple. Those hammering the panic button, however, should keep last year's Big Ten Tournament—and subsequent run to the NCAA title game—in mind. Now the Wolverines wait to see if today's loss cost them a one-seed.
It was hilarious. Then it was gut-wrenching. Then it was hilarious again.
Michigan came out swinging against Ohio State, jumping out to a 32-16 lead with a shooting display reminiscent of the game at Illinois—the Wolverines shot 8-for-13 from beyond the arc in the first half. Where the Illini folded, however, the Buckeyes fought back, cutting the 16-point Michigan lead down to four by halftime.
Once again, the Wolverines landed early blows, hitting their first three attempts from downtown in the second half to extend the margin to 12. Once again, Ohio State recovered, this time clawing their way to the lead on an alley-oop slam by Sam Thompson with eight minutes to play.
Background image via Dustin Johnston/UMHoops
From there, the teams traded blows. Jordan Morgan tied the game by splitting a pair of free throws, then Caris LeVert hit a triple that Shannon Scott immediately answered. LeVert split free throws, LaQuinton Ross came back with a layup. A Nik Stauskas pullup jumper followed a Sam Thompson putback. With 2:55 left, two Glenn Robinson III free throws gave Michigan a one-point lead.
Until this point, Aaron Craft, saddled with four fouls, had spent much of the second half on the Ohio State bench. He re-entered the game and immediately picked up a questionable call on Jordan Morgan, the fourth on the Wolverines center. Craft missed both ensuing free throws, however, and Stauskas gave Michigan a three-point lead with a gorgeous up-and-under layup after Craft gambled for a steal.
After the bitter rivals traded misses, Ross brought the margin down to two with a free throw with 44 seconds left after Morgan fouled out. Thad Matta decided to have his team play defense instead of give a foul. That backfired when LeVert flew in from the corner to rebound a missed three from Stauskas as the shot clock expired, forcing OSU to foul Spike Albrecht with six seconds remaining.
Albrecht hit the first and missed the second. Despite having a foul to give, Michigan didn't stop Craft as he charged up the court. Craft rose for the potential tying triple, only to have the ball slip out of his hands. Angels sang, the internet let out a collective belly laugh, and somewhere a single tear fell from the eye of Dan Dakich.
Michigan, winners of their last three matchups with Ohio State, advances to tomorrow's Big Ten Tournament title game. The winner of Wisconsin/MSU awaits.