Bittersweet. UConn pulls away from Michigan in a 64 possession game. Michigan weathered the first UConn run, a quick 8-1 UConn start, and took it to the Huskies for most of the first half.Â Unfortunately the Huskies were too much down the stretch as they pulled away for the 8 point win.
I am not going to deny it, I didn’t think Michigan had a chance to win this game. UConn had a size advantage at every position, Michigan struggles against big teams, and Connecticut has been playing the best basketball in the country. Not to mention the fact that Michigan played a game Thursday night and had little to no time to prepare for the #1 team in the nation.
I loved the way this team played Saturday night. They weren’t in the game because of hot shooting or a lucky barrage of three point shots, they were in it because they matched UConn’s physical play and came out with toughness and intensity. Michigan needs to find a way to bring that intensity every night down the stretch if they want to make the tournament. The offense has been running more smoothly the last several games and it is great to see Michigan get some of those easy backdoor looks.
Despite the grit and effort this one still stings. UConn is a great team but this game was there for the taking. Michigan had several chances to cut the Huskies lead to one possession with less than 4 minutes to play but three point attempts clanged off the rim before UConn pulled away. In a lot of ways there are some similarities between this and the Maryland loss; a tough road game where Michigan plays great in the first half but can’t finish the game. Connecticut is a much better team than Maryland but once you have played 35 minutes it doesn’t matter that the other team is #1 in the country, you just have to make plays. The positive here is that the Duke win came right after the Maryland disappointment.
Looking at the four factors, it came down to offensive rebounding and free throws. Connecticut had a free throw rate of 48.1% compared to Michigan’s 21.1%. The Huskies also rebounded 51.5% of their misses while Michigan only pulled down 21.1% of their misses. Michigan stayed in the game by forcing UConn to turn the ball over on 26.6% of their possessions and while they didn’t shoot it that well their eFG% of 46.5% kept them in the game. Michigan is going to need better shooting down the stretch, everyone not named Stu Douglass combined to shoot 3 of 21 (14%) from three point range.
Hasheem Thabeet is huge. He blocked a lot of shots, had a few easy dunks, and got a lot of offensive boards. I don’t know how Michigan could have stopped any of that. They took a similar approach to the Penn State game: let the big man get his and try to stop everyone else. I loved the way that Michigan mixed up the defenses, going with a 2-3 zone as well as their typical 1-3-1 and man to man looks. Adrien was frustrated all night (although he did pull down 14 boards) but Jerome Dyson was the guy who gave the Huskies the big lift as he hit 3 of 4 three point shots.
Tuesday is huge, there is no other way to put it. Beyond the rivalry it is a chance to get another quality win on the NCAA tournament resume. Michigan’s RPI moved up to 45 after last night and their SOS is at 15, these numbers should continue to move up as the season goes on. There will be tons of coverage of the MSU game here including some collaboration with KJ from the Spartans Weblog, a guest post on MGoBlog, and a typical game preview and recap.
- Stu Douglass: A spectacular game for Douglass: 32 minutes, 20 points on 7 of 10 (6-8 3pt), 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 block, 1 steal, 2 turnovers. Stu has been playing well over the last couple games and it is a good thing with LLP’s disappearing act.
- Manny Harris: Manny is starting to find his game again: 15 points, 5 of 16 shooting, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, 2 turnovers. The shooting percentage isn’t glorious but Manny kept this team in the game for a while and also did a pretty good job holding onto the ball.
- DeShawn Sims: Peedi was giving up so much size that it was tough to expect much. I loved how active Sims was in the first half, he got a couple easy buckets off cuts and Michigan penetration. This disappeared down the stretch and the shot that everyone is going to remember is the late three pointer that hit off back iron.
- Zack Gibson: I loved Zack Gibson’s effort: 21 minutes, 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block. Obviously a tough match up for all of our big men but I thought Zack battled in there as best he could against Thabeet.
- Zack Novak: Zack is starting to hit the freshman wall: 18 minutes, 7 points on 2 of 7 (0-4 3pt) shooting and 2 rebounds. I think Zack has tired legs and it is affecting his jumper, hopefully he can get it back because Michigan needs some production behind the arc out of Novak.
- Laval Lucas-Perry: Not pretty. Laval continues to struggle and I don’t know what the deal is. It seems like Beilein will give him a chance at the start of the game and then cut his losses. If Stu keeps playing this well he will continue to see most of the minutes at the 2.
- CJ Lee: 31 minutes, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers. Not spectacular for CJ but I think his veteran leadership is a calming force for this team, especially on the road.
- Dave Merritt: Not really giving Michigan much on offense but I thought he looked solid overall.
- Anthony Wright and Jevohn Shepherd: Shep picked up a bunch of fouls and that spoiled his chance at serious playing time. Anthony Wright stepped in and hit a big three point shot in transition in the first half (although he traveled).
- Kelvin Grady: Kelvin is not going to play until he plays the kind of defense he needs to. I would assume that this starts in practice. If you are a 5-foot-9 guard you can’t get blown by and you have to do everything the right way on defense. CJ Lee’s defense has been impressive, Kelvin’s not so much.