Michigan 74, Northwestern 51

Michigan 74, Northwestern 51

Submitted by Ace on January 5th, 2014 at 2:32 PM


The "Game ... Blouses" dunk came early today. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]

After a rather aimless first ten minutes, Michigan poured it on against a hapless Northwestern squad, led by Nik Stauskas and an apparently healthy Glenn Robinson III.

The Wildcats were able to hang with the Wolverines early—as a late-arriving, weather-be-damned crowd slowly filtered into Crisler—thanks to the efforts of forward Drew Crawford, who had 13 first-half points, eight of which came in the first 11 minutes; his two-pointer at that juncture made it a 13-12 U-M lead after Nik Stauskas threw down his signature two-handed slam off a beautiful feed from Spike Albrecht. Michigan immediately went on a 6-0 run, and after a Crawford three-pointer ended that streak, the Wildcats could get no closer than six points down the rest of the way.

GRIII's ankle looks just fine. [Fuller/MGoBlog]

Much of that was due to Michigan's defense against Crawford, who didn't score in the second half until there were just over five minutes remaining. No other Wildcat could consistently generate offense, and the second half featured the Wolverines stretching a comfortable lead into a full-on blowout.

Stauskas led the way offensively with 18 points scored in a variety of ways—3/5 two-pointers, 2/5 three-pointers, and 6/8 free throws—while also chipping in four rebounds and four assists. Robinson, who looked to be 100% after injuring his ankle in Thursday's win over Minnesota, scored eight of his 12 points in the second half as the team was able to get out in transition; he played a big part in that, playing active defense up top and helping shut down Crawford on that end.

In the early going, it was actually Jordan Morgan who stood out offensively, scoring eight points while hitting all three of his attempts—including a slick baseline baby hook. Morgan had a quiet second half, but Jon Horford stepped up and continued to produce at the five, getting six of his seven points in the latter stanza. Each big man pulled down eight rebounds and kept Northwestern seven-footer Alex Olah very quiet until the game was out of hand.

Derrick Walton also had a solid showing, taking advantage of Dave Sobolewski's, um, attempts to play defense by repeatedly blowing by him en route to 11 points on 3/4 FGs and and 5/6 FTs. Spike Albrecht only attempted one shot—a made three when Northwestern left him all alone at the top of the key—while making his presence felt as a passer, dishing out four assists to tie Stauskas for the team lead.

After the first ten minutes, the Wildcats simply had no answer for Michigan's combination of size and talent; the Wolverines dominated the boards (29.2 OReb% to NW's 13.3%), won the turnover battle, and shot 65.5% from inside the arc. Michigan did what they were supposed to do against a bad Northwestern squad; perhaps more importantly, it appears Robinson—who threw down two impressive dunks this afternoon—is back to full strength.

Michigan 63, Minnesota 60

Michigan 63, Minnesota 60

Submitted by Ace on January 2nd, 2014 at 10:03 PM


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.

Wave Your Tiny Flag And Sing

Wave Your Tiny Flag And Sing

Submitted by Brian on December 23rd, 2013 at 11:24 AM

CHRISTMAS NOTE: Everyone is off until Friday, except possibly Seth, a general in the War On Christmas. Enjoy the time spent with your family and do everything  you can to speed up 2013's untimely demise.

12/21/2013 – Michigan 68 – Stanford 65 – 7-4

No column, just bullets:

I'll take it. With Mitch McGary out and Horford fouling out in six minutes, Michigan was down to Jordan Morgan and Max Bielfeldt for big swathes of this game. Meanwhile, LeVert scores one point on seven shots. I will take a neutral court-ish win over a team that just beat UConn in that situation, even if it's by three points.

We Wisconsin'd 'em. Beilien did the thing again where you get to see him be first season Walter White in the locker room, and the brief snippet they played featured Beilein saying the word "solid" three times in one sentence in re: Michigan's defense. He got that.

He mentioned chests prominently. Michigan used them to annoy a huge Stanford team on a variety of post-up shots that ended up being bad looks because Michigan was committing that foul where you shuffle out, bumping your chest into the shooter as he goes up. Unlike everything Horford did, that never gets called and was not called. Stauskas in particular had a couple of "did I just see that" possessions where a dude got the ball on the low block against him and ended up with a heavily contested fallaway. IIRC he was on a 6'10" guy on those shots.

Stanford ended up shooting pretty well from inside the arc (47%), with their center Nastic going 5 of 6, but again a total of six minutes from Horford and no McGary. Given the circumstances, it was a good effort.

Hey, now I remember why I liked you. Been a huge struggle for Morgan for about half a season now but he really pulled Michigan's ass out of the fire, fronting posts for turnovers, boxing out (though he only had five rebounds himself that very large Stanford team was limited to 18% OREB), and following up his obligatory ARRRGH Y U NO FINISH moment by rebounding his missed bunny and putting it back in. He also put on his Mitch McGary hat on a couple of outlet passes that led to hockey assists. Without Morgan making a consistently positive impact, this is another loss and man things look grim.

Other sectors not often heard from. Michigan was miserable from outside the arc with the exception of Zak Irvin, who went 4 of 8 to prevent the rest of the team's 4 of 23 mark from tanking the season. This pops his season average up to 41%, which will shock you if you missed the Coppin State and Houston Baptist games.

Irvin is Just A Shooter. He's got a miniscule TO rate of 8, an even more miniscule FT rate of 7, and has taken about 70% of his shots from behind the line. But when he starts doing more things than shooting threes, people will not say he's Not Just A Shooter, because he's a black guy.

JUST SAY IT. Raftery teased all game and finally got out a "not just a shooter" near the end of the first half; announcers seem to have glommed onto the fact that the internet gently mocks them for saying Nik Stauskas is not just a shooter every time he adds to his enormous pile of free throws. They are trying not to say it.

Just say it, man. We like it when you say it, because it signifies Stauskas has just thrown down a dunk or somesuch other thing.

Speaking of Stauskas's growing pile of free throws. He had 87 all last year. He's going to blow through that in a couple games now as he's already got 71. The leap in his game is reflected in the statistics, in which he's made a Burke-like freshman to sophomore transition. His usage is up from 16 to 23; his assists have more than doubled while his TO rate slips, he's drawing almost six fouls a game, his FT rate has doubled, and his shooting is right on par with last season save a dip in FT% despite the increased usage.

Things will cool off as Michigan exits the bit of their season where Houston Baptist lets you sit in the corner by yourself and repeat your YouTube videos for a live studio audience, sure. Stauskas's emergence into the guy is undeniable. It was a palpable relief that Stanford wasn't going nuts overplaying him on the perimeter a la Duke.

Unfair expectations theater. Every missed Stauskas free throw engenders a tiny conniption fit from me, because I expect him to be Chauncey Billups at the line and he is not. Meanwhile if Mitch McGary hits a free throw I throw a tiny parade for him. (Tiny Mitch McGary parade: buy it for your small child today.) Good news: I have not had a tiny conniption fit for three games, in which Stauskas is 19/19 at the line, including the clutch pair at the end of this game to make the last-ditch Stanford three merely an alarming thing instead of an OH NO BACKBOARDS situation.

Neutral court-ish. Virtual home court again for Michigan. I mind these neutral court things less in basketball where you have a lot more games to play with and a lot fewer people you're trying to pack in. Also, there are a lot of Michigan fans in New York. This makes it unlike, oh, say, Dallas. It does suck that the nonconference home schedule was Arizona and hot garbage but Michigan probably thought they were getting a home game in the B10/ACC challenge and then got screwed.

I'm still boggled at the economics of playing a tournament like the Puerto Rico one, though, where you're playing all your games in a virtually empty arena. I guess Puerto Rico really wants to convince you that they have a gym in which the floor is always wet no matter what you do. Mission accomplished, land of enchantment.

Glenn. Hello. Second straight game in which Robinson has been very efficient, not only at throwing down monster alley-oops but at creating his own shot. Robinson had 17 and probably should have had a couple more as he went 4/8 from the line. If maintained this development bodes well, as it takes pressure off of the point guards even further.

Go team. (Other team.) FSU just picked up a good win against previously undefeated UMass. Their losses are in OT to Michigan, by one point to Florida, and by ten to Minnesota; Kenpom has them going 20-10 and 11-7 in the ACC, which would make them a win you'd see noted as a nice one when it comes time to parse resumes. Stanford has the look of a bubble team, but hopefully they get some thing straightened out and outperform expectations. There is almost no chance of that since Stanford is comparatively ancient as a team.

Arizona 72, Michigan 70

Arizona 72, Michigan 70

Submitted by Ace on December 14th, 2013 at 3:48 PM


Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

"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.

Michigan 107, Houston Baptist 53

Michigan 107, Houston Baptist 53

Submitted by Ace on December 7th, 2013 at 2:19 PM


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:

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.

Stymied

Stymied

Submitted by Ace on December 4th, 2013 at 2:01 PM


Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Duke's gameplan was obvious: don't let Nik Stauskas touch the ball, let alone shoot it, and force the rest of the Wolverines to find a way to score. Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones spent most of the game face-guarding Stauskas, limiting Michigan's leading scorer to four points—all on free throws*—on 0/2 shooting while the rest of the team faltered, save for a late push from Caris LeVert.

The 79-69 final score is rather deceptive; Duke led by double-digits for most of the game and pushed the margin as high as 18 points in the late stages, with Michigan unable to get closer than six points behind in the second half. The Wolverines scored 19 fruitless points in the final two minutes to carve eight points out of the deficit; by that time, Duke was content to keep Michigan at arm's reach with their free-throw shooting.

Simply put, this game was a major indictment of Michigan's supporting cast—at this point, it's clear that Stauskas is the offensive star, the rest playing supporting roles. Glenn Robinson III's woes on both ends of the court showed up at the worst time. He was nearly invisible offensively and ineffective when he attempted to get aggressive, scoring eight points on nine shots—with half those points coming after the game was well in hand—and failing to get to the free-throw line. He couldn't create a clean look for his jump shot or get around defenders to attack the basket. On the other end, he was pulled from the game at least once for repeated failures to box out his man, and when Michigan got lost on perimeter switches he was often involved.

Until Caris LeVert decided to put the team on his back in the second half, when he scored 20 of his team-leading 24 points, nobody else stepped up, either. Duke's aggressive hedging against the pick-and-roll made it difficult to get the ball to Mitch McGary in the post; even when he was open, the guards failed to get him the ball in good position—eight of his 15 points came in the final two minutes after Duke basically stopped boxing out. Derrick Walton had a couple very nice takes to the hoop in transition en route to seven points on 3/6 shooting; in the halfcourt, however, he couldn't facilitate the offense, tallying just one assist to three turnovers, one of which was a what-was-that pass deep into the Cameron Crazies. Zak Irvin was limited to 14 minutes and managed five points on five shots.

LeVert was certainly a bright spot in the second half, slicing his way into the lane with regularity, finishing well, and getting to the line; after going 2/5 in the first half with no free throw attempts, he shot 6/13 from the field in the latter stanza and knocked down all seven of his shots from the charity stripe. If there's one positive to take away from this game, it's his apparent willingness to be the go-to guy when Stauskas is rendered ineffective; after waiting on Robinson and McGary to be the guy, he had to step up and did so. Yes, he's occasionally overmatched by bigger players on defense; he's also very effective at the top of the 1-3-1 and is clearly the team's second-best offensive player this year.

His emergence in this game was too little, too late, unfortunately; Michigan needs more than one of their perimeter players to score consistently if they want to beat good teams, and they didn't have an answer when Duke took away Stauskas. I don't think this is a coaching issue; when an opponent is flat-out turning their back to the play and solely focusing on denying one player the ball, the rest of the offense should be able to create open looks while playing four-on-four. Aside from LeVert, nobody could manage this as Duke funneled everything inside—Michigan was 3/13 from beyond the arc—and forced the perimeter players to beat them off the dribble.

A loss to Duke at Cameron is nothing to be ashamed of, but the way this game played out should be very worrisome for Michigan. Stauskas has been identified as the main threat, and now there's a blueprint for stopping the offense cold unless someone else—not just LeVert—raises their level of play. This is still a young team that can improve dramatically over the course of the year; it's clear they're going to have to if they want to compete for a Big Ten title.

--------------
*To further emphasize how much Duke took Stauskas out of the equation, three of his four free-throw makes came after Blue Devil technical fouls, not anything he did offensively.

One Frame At A Time: A Weekend Of Moments

One Frame At A Time: A Weekend Of Moments

Submitted by Ace on November 27th, 2013 at 10:53 AM

Brennen Beyer won't forget that moment. Long after Al Borges is just a name from a past that may or may not haunt us as fans, the Canton native who stayed close to home will delight in telling his family and friends about the time he—a defensive end—scored a touchdown; he'll have the football to prove it, and the final score of the game will be largely irrelevant.

These moments have been frustratingly few and far between this season, especially this month; even in the shadow of defeat, however, they provide fleeting flashes of joy, even when we're doing our best to detach emotionally.

When Devin Gardner rolled out, couldn't reach the corner, then threw aside Tanner Miller like a defective Weeble-Wobble before hitting A.J. Williams for his first career reception—in the end zone, no less—my reaction wasn't to slump back onto the couch, muttering something about Al Borges's doomed waggles; it was "F*** YEAH, DEVIN." Maybe not so profound or eloquent, but damn if it didn't feel good.

Then Michigan lost, miserably, and I drove home in a funk. But they had their moments, and so did I.

[After THE JUMP, basketball moments.]

Michigan 82, Florida State 80 (OT)

Michigan 82, Florida State 80 (OT)

Submitted by Ace on November 22nd, 2013 at 8:20 PM


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 93, South Carolina State 59

Michigan 93, South Carolina State 59

Submitted by Ace on November 12th, 2013 at 9:38 PM


Photo via Dustin Johnson/UMHoops

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.

Michigan 69, UMass Lowell 42

Michigan 69, UMass Lowell 42

Submitted by Ace on November 8th, 2013 at 9:49 PM

First, the most important thing:


Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

Michigan raised their 2013 Final Four banner today, and if I can say so myself it looks pretty damn good up there. Josh Bartelstein, Corey Person, and a late-arriving Eso Akunne were in attendance to receive their rings; Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had some pressing business matters to attend to, I'm told. (Burke's parents were here, though, and got a large ovation when shown on the jumbotron.)

Nothing that could happen against UMass Lowell, a Division I newcomer, was going to top that. For the first 20 minutes, however, Michigan looked like they were trying their best overshadow the ceremony in the worst way possible. From the opening possession, during which Jon Horford missed a what-are-you-doing three early in the shot clock, to the final first half possession, when Horford ignored a wide-open Glenn Robinson III on a backcut and jacked up a long two, the Wolverines looked totally flat offensively. (This makes it seem like it was all Horford's fault; it was very much a team effort.)

The Crisler Center crowd could only look on in shock as the Wolverines went into the tunnel tied 23-23 at halftime. Michigan hit just 6/23 field goals (1/9 threes) and 10/15 free throws while turning the ball over five times to just two assists. While the team looked good defensively, they played disjointed basketball on the other end, never able to get much momentum going. Even when they put in points, it wasn't necessarily pretty; Robinson scored six of his ten first-half points from the free-throw line, Stauskas four of his seven, mostly on forced dribble-drives that ended in hacks.

In the second half, it was a totally different story. The Wolverines opened the second stanza on a 21-2 run that took nearly 11 minutes; from there, they cruised to victory, again with a big push on the defensive end—an aggressive Michigan D forced ten second-half turnovers while the offense coughed it up just twice.

Caris LeVert (above, Fuller) led the way with 17 points, 11 coming in the second half, on 6/11 shooting—he hit all five of his second-half attempts—while also chipping in five rebounds, a nifty assist on a pick-and-roll with Horford, and two steals. LeVert's assist total belied his impressive passing, as Michigan bungled good looks set up by his passes on multiple occasions in the first half. He once again worked his way into the lane with regularity and hit a couple nice pull-up jumpers—if that shot is consistently falling this season, he'll be a very dangerous player.

Robinson finished with a workmanlike 15 points (4/8 FG, 7/10 FT), seven boards, four assists, and three steals. While his on-and-off aggression didn't result in many made baskets, it got him to the line frequently, and his teammates missed a few opportunities to hit him on backdoor cuts that should've resulted in thunderous dunks.

Derrick Walton once again started at point guard, and while he didn't look to create his own offense too much (6 points, 1/4 FG, 4/4 FT), he dished out four assists and was a disruptive defensive force, tallying four steals in addition to forcing a jump ball—he knew the right times to get aggressive and go for the ball, and it paid off handsomely. Fellow freshman Zak Irvin also played a big part in Michgian's second-half run, scoring all of his ten points (1/3 2P, 2/4 3P, 2/3 FT) in the final 12 minutes of play.

Nik Stauskas didn't have his best shooting night, going 1/5 from the field, but he grinded out nine points due to his willingness to drive and absorb contact—he ended up 6/8 from the line and played with the right amount of aggressiveness. While Horford also had a hard time putting the ball in the hoop (5 points, 2/8 FG), he still looked like the team's best center option without Mitch McGary, hauling in 12 rebounds (5 offensive), blocking a shot, and generally making life difficult for Lowell players trying to get clean looks in the lane.

Jordan Morgan, meanwhile, played just 12 minutes, putting up two points and three rebounds but also drawing two fouls—the change in the way charges are being called is a major negative for his defensive style if early returns hold. Max Bielfeldt fared worse, making a four-minute cameo as a center in the first half that included this sequence: missed layup followed immediately by a turnover, then a late rotation on the other end resulting in an easy bucket.

While it took a full half to gel, Michigan eventually got their act together offensively, and it was nice to see the defense carry the day even against an overmatched opponent—Lowell finished with just four fast-break points and rebounded only ten of their 35 missed field goals while yakking up 15 total turnovers. Let's go ahead and chalk up the first half performance to post-banner malaise and never speak of it again.