somehow we're only 124th
hoops game recaps
Photo via Marilyn Indahl/USA TODAY Sports
It looked for all the world like a road loss. Zak Irvin, with just five made shots, led the team in scoring. Nik Stauskas finished just 3/7 from the field. Glenn Robinson III left the game early in the second half with an apparent ankle injury, finishing with six points. Caris LeVert played easily his worst game of the year. Michigan was outrebounded by a whopping 44.1% to 17.9% on the offensive glass. Oh, and Minnesota's last-gasp shot even caught the backboard.
Somehow, some way, the Wolverines clawed their way to a three-point win to open Big Ten play. Irvin's five three-pointers on eight attempts kept Michigan in the game after Robinson fell awkwardly following his fourth block of the night; while GRIII eventually returned from the locker room, he never re-entered the game. While Stauskas struggled from the field, he made play after play down the stretch, dishing out a game-high seven assists—including two in the waning minutes to set up Jon Horford dunks—and throwing down his signature "Game ... Blouses" dunk to give the team a late three-point lead.
With Jordan Morgan in early foul trouble and Mitch McGary spectating in a suit, Horford came up huge, scoring 14 points on 6/8 shooting and pulling down nine rebounds—five more than anyone else on the team—while adding in two steals and a block. While Horford made a few defensive errors guarding Elliott Eliason, who finished with ten points and ten rebounds, his tireless effort in the middle was the difference in this game.
Minnesota took advantage of Horford's occasional mishap and Robinson's absence on the interior, but they couldn't get it going on the perimeter, hitting just five of 19 three-point attempts. They had a tough time finding a clean look on the outside, and Michigan also forced 15 turnovers, eight of those steals.
The end of the game got a little nerve-wracking, to say the least, as the officials initially botched an out-of-bounds call—not to mention missing at least one obvious foul—when Minnesota tried to pressure Stauskas down three points with 22 seconds remaining. While Michigan got the ball back after a review, they ended up with Derrick Walton going to the line instead of Stauskas, and Walton missed both free throws. Fortunately for Michigan, the Gophers' Andre Hollins couldn't tie it up on the next possession, and a Horford free throw extended the lead to four.
Even then, the game wasn't quite over, as Stauskas committed the cardinal sin of fouling a jump shooter, stepping under Malik Smith on a wayward three-point attempt. Smith drilled all three freebies with six seconds remaining to make it a 61-60 game; after a pair of Stauskas free throws, the Gophers had one last chance to tie with five seconds to play. Deandre Mathieu managed to get a decent shot for the tie on the run at the top of the key; to the considerable relief of Wolverines with still-raw wounds from Evan Turner and Ben Brust, Mathieu's prayer wasn't answered.
It wasn't pretty, and there's lingering concern about Robinson's health to boot, but it's tough to overstate the importance of a conference road win for this team. Michigan is 1-0 in the Big Ten (and UNDEFEATED IN 2014) after a game in which the tired coachspeak platitude of "facing adversity" very much applied. Not a bad start to the new year.
"The devil's in the details," said John Beilein after the game, describing the difficulty of winning against good teams.
For 38 minutes, Michigan did enough of the little things to hold a lead against top-ranked Arizona. They shot the ball well, played tough defense on the interior, and didn't allow an athletic Wildcats squad to get into transition at all. Throughout the game, however, they couldn't keep Arizona from owning the offensive boards, and once they started converting putback opportunities down the stretch the Wolverines couldn't hold on—after scoring just two points off nine first-half offensive rebounds, the Wildcats had six critical second-chance points from their eight second-half opportunities. Boxing out, as it turns out, is a critical detail.
Michigan led by 11 points after the first possession of the second half on the strength of an outstanding performance by Glenn Robinson III (right, Fuller), who had 16 points on a perfect 7/7 mark from the field at halftime. For the first time all season, Robinson consistently created his own offense, beginning with a nifty head fake in the post that led to a layup for his first points of the game. Robinson was a non-factor in the latter stanza, however, adding just three points on 1/2 shooting, and the team managed just 12 points—three on a desperation Spike Albrecht shot with two seconds left—in the final 7:55.
The Wolverines still had their opportunities in the late going. The teams played dramatic back-and-forth basketball in the final couple minutes. After Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's three-point play gave Arizona their first lead since the opening minutes with 2:32 to play, Mitch McGary retook control with a pair of free throws, then Brandon Ashley and Nik Stauskas traded quick baskets. Then, when Michigan looked to have the Wildcats scrambling for a good look, McGary picked up a very questionable touch foul on the perimeter; Arizona's Nick Johnson, who played outstanding defense against Stauskas all afternoon, rattled both free throws home with 24 seconds left.
Michigan then tried pushing it up the court for a quick shot; Stauskas got a decent look at a long two but couldn't get it to fall, and the Wildcats had the possession arrow when McGary tied up Aaron Gordon for the rebound. Johnson sunk another pair of free throws, Albrecht managed just a split after Arizona intentionally fouled him with seven seconds left, and Johnson essentially iced the game with a third consecutive perfect trip to the line. While Albrecht made it interesting with a pull-up three with two seconds left, the last-gasp prayer by Stauskas after a missed Arizona free throw only found backboard.
Despite the loss, there were many encouraging signs for Michigan. Robinson's first half certainly qualified, as did another strong second half from Caris LeVert, who finished second on the team with 15 points on 6/15 shooting, ten of those coming after the break. Jon Horford played 25 strong minutes, tallying four blocks—all in the first half—and throwing down a huge dunk on Gordon for his only points of the game. While Derrick Walton was limited to one point in just 14 minutes, Albrecht ran the offense well, dishing out four assists in addition to hitting three of his four attempts from downtown.
In the end, though, Arizona's size and athleticism simply overwhelmed; seven different Wildcats had an offensive rebound (five with 2+), and the massive front line of Gordon, Brandon Ashley, and Kaleb Tarczewski combined to score 46 points on 21/37 shooting.
"It gives us great confidence," said Beilein, referring to hanging in there against a team he praised highly. "But also an attitude to come back and get better now."
The path to improvement, of course, begins with the details.
Photos by Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog. Optional, highly recommended soundtrack.
While most of you were probably watching football, Michigan blasted an overmatched Houston Baptist squad this afternoon, tying a school record with 16 three-pointers en route to posting an absurd 1.64 points per possession and winning literally every statistical battle.
Nik Stauskas led the team with 25 points, shooting a scorching 6/9 from downtown and looking quite spry on his previously-injured ankle after being rendered completely ineffective Tuesday at Duke. Glenn Robinson III scored 17 points on 6/9 shooting, mostly getting his buckets in transition, including a couple of spectacular alley-oops. Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin each posted 14 points; Irvin was very effective wit his perimeter shooting (2/2 2-pt, 3/5 3-pt) while Walton was a perfect 3/3 from downtown.
The story of the game, however, was Mitch McGary, Fast Break Point Guard Extraordinaire. The master of chaos finished with a stat line of 14 points, nine rebounds (one off.), six assists—tying his career high from last year's Syracuse game—four steals, and a block; five of his six dimes came in transition, as did a couple of his buckets.
#10's face pretty much says it all (Fuller)
"He's one of our better push men," John Beilein said in the post-game radio interview, referring to McGary's ability to start the fast break. "I don't think anyone wants to take a charge from him."
No kidding. I can't describe the experience of watching McGary charge down the court any better than The Wolverine's Andy Reid:
Mcgary leading a break is like seeing a car skitter uncontrollably down an icy hill, then whip around perfectly into a parallel parking spot
— Andy Reid (@AReid_Wolverine) December 7, 2013
For a brief moment in the second half, it looked like McGary's day had skittered to a halt; after attempting to block a Houston Baptist shot, he fell hard onto his back and lay on the court in what appeared to be a good deal of pain. Being Mitch McGary, however, he popped up to his feet, attempted to wave Jon Horford away from the scorer's table, and waved for the crowd to cheer louder as he skipped—no, seriously, skipped—to the bench. The crowd obliged.
From there, McGary continued to put on a show, a freakily-skilled bull on parade leaving terrified defenders in his wake. Yes, it was a rote blowout against a bad team—the 54-point final margin was the largest for Michigan under Beilein—but it was a pleasure to watch. If this is Mitch McGary still rounding his way into shape, I can't wait to see what he looks like at full strength.
Via Diehard Sport
The first half confirmed everyone's worst fears. Michigan couldn't handle Florida State's size on either end of the floor, repeatedly getting caught in mismatches defensively while failing to get to the rim offensively. The Wolverines trailed 37-27 at the break, and a 6-0 FSU run to start the second half had the game on the verge of blowout territory.
Michigan gradually worked their way out of the 16-point deficit, however, thanks to three things: John Beilein's defensive adjustments, Mitch McGary rounding into form, and Nik Stauskas leaving no doubt regarding the identity of this team's go-to scorer.
It started defensively, as Michigan switched from playing exclusively man-to-man in the first half—allowing FSU to exploit their significant size advantage—to a brief dalliance with the 2-3 and a full-blown love affair with the 1-3-1, which led to seven second-half turnovers and got the offense going in transition. It also allowed Caris LeVert, who was attacked repeatedly on the interior in the first half, to become a disruptive force at the top of the zone; he was credited with two steals and generally wreaked havoc defensively.
McGary finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds (7 offensive) with three assists and two blocks, and aside from some trouble finishing at the basket (6/15 from the field) he looked like the McGary of last season's NCAA tournament, crashing the boards with aplomb, affecting shots at the rim, and even leading the fast break. He even tallied an assist with a behind-the-back pass in transition that bounced twice before reaching Stauskas, who calmly sunk a three to cut the Seminoles lead to six; naturally, the fast break opportunity came off a McGary steal.
Then there was Stauskas, who finished with a career-high 26 points despite shooting just 7/16 (3/8 3-pt) from the field. After forcing some questionable perimeter shots in the first half, Stauskas found his rhythm in the latter stanza by repeatedly attacking the basket and taking contact—he finished 9/12 from the line. When Michigan found themselves down by two with 11 seconds to play in regulation, John Beilein entrusted Stauskas to make a play, and his trust was rewarded: Stauskas declined a high ball screen from McGary when he saw an opening, drove hard to the baseline, and finished with a layup to send the game to overtime.
Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, who had a relatively quiet game otherwise, led the way in the overtime period. Stauskas buried a three and added four points from the charity stripe, while Robinson sunk two pull-up jumpers to account for 11 of Michigan's 13 points in the extra period. The Wolverines had to sweat out a desperation heave after Derrick Walton missed two free throws with a chance to ice the game; while FSU's prayer hit the backboard (ack!) it harmlessly bounced well wide of the rim.
The concerns brought forth in the first half still stand, of course; Michigan has traditionally had trouble with very big teams, and Florida State was no exception. The fact that they adjusted so well in the middle of the game this early in the season, however, cannot be ignored; it's entirely possible that the Wolverines just stumbled upon their ideal defense going forward. McGary is doing better than anyone could've reasonably expected while playing his way into shape, Stauskas has taken the mantle as the team's go-to scorer, and a young team showed plenty of fight when they could've simply folded. We may look back at the second half as a critical turning point en route to another special season.
First, however, Michigan must get past Charlotte on Sunday at 6:30 EST to take home the Puerto Rico Tipoff title.
Michigan jumped out to a 7-0 lead against an overmatched Long Beach State squad and, despite allowing the 49ers to hang around for much of the game, never really allowed it to be much of a contest, pulling away late for the critical KenPom cover. The Wolverines repeatedly exploited LBSU's attempts to play zone, shooting 14/30 from downtown; Nik Stauskas (24 points, 4/6 three-pointers) and Caris LeVert (20, 4/7) led the way offensively. Michigan will face the winner of tonight's game between VCU and Florida State (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPNU) tomorrow at 5 p.m. EST.
A few scattered thoughts from a 24-point win over a pretty bad team:
- At this point, there's no question who the go-to guy is on this team: Stauskas, the only player who can consistently create his own shot inside and outside the arc. He didn't just knock down spot-up jumpers; he had a nice step-back three with a man in his face, hit three of his four two-pointers, and repeatedly got to the free-throw line (6/8).
- LeVert obviously played a big role in this win, too, and he did it mostly by working his way into the middle of the LBSU zone and becoming a triple-threat: from there, he could pull up for a short jumper, continue working to the basket, or dish it to an open shooter. He finished 8/13 from the field with four assists and no turnovers, facilitating the offense as well as anybody on the floor. His ballhandling/passing could be the key in a potential matchup with VCU, since...
- Derrick Walton had a very up-and-down game. He knocked down 3/7 three-pointers, but missed all four of his two-point shots—IIRC, all on drives to the hoop in which he either anticipated contact or had his shot blocked. Spike Albrecht did a better job getting the offense going, and the team may need his steady hand at the point tomorrow if they're facing the HAVOC press of VCU. Walton did rebound very well, leading the team with seven boards; he had some issues defensively, however, especially contesting shots after switches—a better team would've capitalized more on some wide-open looks.
- Mitch McGary didn't have to do too much in this one; when he was out there, though, he made a major impact, hitting all three of his shots—including a flying one-handed putback off a miss by Glenn Robinson III—and pulling in four rebounds. It's pretty clear he's still working his way into game shape, but despite the back injury he's still starting from a better place than he was last year.
- Two major areas for concern from this game: Michigan did a very poor job of boxing out on defense, even though LBSU didn't always take advantage, and they still have a lot of work to do on their transition defense. These are little issues against bad teams that become very big issues against good ones.
- Wanderin' Jon Horford missed a three-pointer off the backboard in the first half. I thought you should know this, especially since he's making a bit of a habit of it. He also beat a 2-3 with a slick cut behind the back line of the defense for an open 8-footer from the baseline. More of the latter, less of the former, please.
The three different stat-trackers I tried during the game (SCACCHoops, CBSSports, ESPN) all have slightly different numbers, at least when it comes to offensive rebounds and minutes played. ESPN has the most readable box score, so I'll link that if you'd like to peruse more stats from the game.
South Carolina State tried trapping Michigan at halfcourt, packing the paint, and daring Michigan to knock down outside shots.
Challenge accepted. Caris LeVert hit his first five three-point attempts and finished with a career-high 24 points to lead the way for Michigan, while Nik Stauskas, often left all alone in his favorite corner, finished with 23 points and shot 5/6 from beyond the arc. Michigan's 15 made threes (on 28 attempts) came up one short of the school record as the Wolverines cruised from start to finish—they tallied assists on 19 of their 31 made shots, and just four of those came from the team's two point guards.
LeVert's stellar outing wasn't limited to his shooting; he added four rebounds, three assists, a steal, and two blocks while playing totally in control—he didn't record a turnover. Even when accounting for the opponent, he looked like a star in the making, building on his strong play in the two exhibitions and opener against UMass Lowell. While the photo above is representative of SCSU's perimeter, um, defense, LeVert created his shots in a variety of ways, including knocking down a couple threes off the dribble.
While Glenn Robinson III struggled from the field (4/12), he nearly brought down the house on two different dunk attempts that ended in fouls, and a 4/5 night from the charity stripe gave him 13 points to go along with nine rebounds and three steals; even when his shot wasn't falling, he was active on both ends. That said, he looks like the #3 option on this team, and that's without the presence of Mitch McGary; this isn't a bad thing as long as Stauskas and LeVert keep up their current level of play, but if either fall off the questions remain about GRIII's ability to create his own offense.
Jon Horford, meanwhile, has locked down the starting center spot in McGary's absence. In 24 minutes, he finished with nine points (4/8 FG) and 15 rebounds (5 offensive), and his lone block belied his ability to affect shots at the rim—SCSU shot just 15/45 from inside the arc and Horford played a big part in that. Jordan Morgan had four points, six rebounds (one off.), and two blocks of his own in 15 minutes of action; the team functioned much better on both sides of the court with Horford, however, and there's no question which player brings more from an athletic standpoint.
The freshmen had their ups and downs in this game. Derrick Walton had 12 points (5/10 FG) and an assist while creating a couple putback opportunities with aggressive takes to the hoop; he also got caught leaving his feet a couple times on defense and turned the ball over three times. Zak Irvin played solid positional defense but couldn't get his shot to fall, missing a couple open threes from the corner early and finishing with five points on 2/7 shooting. Spike Albrecht added three assists in 14 minutes and didn't record a stat otherwise; Max Bielfeldt contributed a late banked-in three.
Most importantly, the rotation sans-McGary has begun to take shape. Once again, the starters were Walton-LeVert-Stauskas-Robinson-Horford; Irvin was the first man off the bench when Robinson picked up an early foul. Albrecht and Morgan were the next two off the bench, coming in after the first media timeout. Nobody else saw the floor until Bielfeldt came in with just over four minutes remaining, quickly followed by the four walk-ons—if Bielfeldt is holding on to a spot in the rotation, it's by a thread.
It's early and Michigan hasn't played a team capable of posing a real threat; so far, however, it looks like the team's two hyped-up lottery picks may be the #3 and #4 offensive options, and that's quite a remarkable development.