Watching Michigan play at the Kohl Center over the last four years has been a sometimes exciting but helplessly frustrating and empty experience. The early lead is surprising and slightly encouraging but the sense of impending second half doom is inescapable. Then it happens – almost like a car crash in slow motion. A couple big shots by a talented point guard and a couple frustrating fouls – the lead is gone. Then someone you have never heard of makes a handful of plays that put the game out of reach – last year it was Rob Wilson and this year it was Brett Valentyn. When all is said and done you leave the Kohl Center with the same thing as just about every other visiting team: a loss.
It’s never encouraging to see a team collapse down the stretch, especially for the second time in three games. However, it’s better to collapse versus good teams than bad teams. Wisconsin and Purdue qualify as good teams. Not many would have expected a team that started three freshmen in their first Big Ten road game to travel to Madison and pull the upset.
The difference in this game was Wisconsin’s three point shooting. The Badgers shot 47% from three point range on nineteen attempts, almost equal to their two point field goal percentage of 48%. It was Wisconsin’s third best three point shooting effort of the season and they just aren’t going to lose when they hit that many threes.
As you would expect in a battle of perimeter oriented teams, there weren’t many turnovers or offensive rebounds for either side. Wisconsin did have a slight advantage in each department – rebounding 22% of their misses and turning it over on 14% of their possessions — but neither factor made a huge difference in the game. Wisconsin’s 18-8 advantage at the free throw line did play a part, even if a handful of those came down the stretch with Michigan fouling intentionally.
The game was just 55 possessions long, the slowest that Michigan has played this year, and when a game is that slow you just can’t throw away the number of possessions that Michigan did. I praised Michigan’s execution down the stretch versus Penn State but today they were manhandled after they cut the lead to 4 points with 8:21 remaining. From that point on, Wisconsin outscored them 18-6 to close the game.
Defensively, as we have repeated time and again this season, it was a tale of two halves for Michigan. The Wolverines held Wisconsin under a point per possession in the first half before giving up over 1.4 points per trip in the second. The Badgers connected on all cylinders in the second half and it didn’t matter what defense Michigan threw at them as they tried the man, 2-3, and 1-3-1 zones. The 1-3-1 zone appeared to show the most promise but Michigan was just a second late and almost certain steals ended up as easy layups or uncontested jumpshiots.
Michigan doesn’t have long to regroup as Kansas is coming to town on Sunday afternoon. Kansas is 14-0 and they are rolling right now with Josh Selby in the lineup. A win over Michigan would give them a perfect non-conference record and as far as I can tell they should be the Big 12 favorites.
- Darius Morris: This was easily his worst game of the season. He ended up on the bench in the first half after picking up 2 early fouls and never really played well while he was in the game. He was 3 of 6 from the field but had 4 turnovers to 3 assists. Even more disappointing was how badly he struggled on the defensive end as he couldn’t stop Jordan Taylor. Taylor really seemed to get going after Morris made a couple of mental lapses early in the second half and then he took over from there.
- Zack Novak: It’s encouraging that Novak had another hot shooting night — 5 of 8 (5-7 3pt) — and hopefully he can continue to build on it. Michigan didn’t have a lot of options offensively and Novak provided the scoring boost that they needed, he just didn’t get much help.
- Stu Douglass: While he did a decent job of handling the ball with Morris on the bench (3 ast/1 to), Stu was awful shooting the ball – 1 of 7 (0-4 3pt) – and a majority of his attempts exhibited horrible shot selection. Stu attempted a rash of rushed and awkward three point attempts and I’m not sure he had his feet set properly on any of his shots tonight. I don’t know if he was trying to force things for one reason or another, but the end result was not pretty.
- Matt Vogrich: Vogrich came into the game during the second half and hit a couple of huge three pointers. Both were with a hand in his face and both were quick efficient releases. With Hardaway struggling in the second half, it was nice to see Vogrich provide a spark yet again.
- Evan Smotrycz: He shows flashes and has proven that he’s an able three point shooter – 39% on threes for the season – but he needs to continue to influence the game in other ways. 2 rebounds and 0 assists in 30 minutes doesn’t quite quality in that regard, although he did come up with one of Michigan’s two offensive rebounds of the game on a nice scrappy play.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway started out hot as he found his way into the middle of the Wisconsin defense and got to the foul line a few times. He actually hit three of his first five shots before missing his final five shots of the game. Shot selection is an issue but so is consistency, which is hard to figure out. Hardaway’s jump shot looks effortless and consistent but he’s just not finding the mark.
- Jordan Morgan: Jon Leuer was too much for Morgan to handle but I thought he provided a valiant effort defensively. On the offensive end, Morgan couldn’t get anything going around the paint and obviously struggled with Wisconsin’s size and strength inside.
- Jon Horford: While Morgan looked overmatched, it was Jon Horford that looked out of place for the first time in a while. Horford just didn’t have the strength to fight down low against Wisconsin’s bigs – the most physical post players that Michigan has faced all year.