Michigan trailed Duke for 40 minutes but this was not an empty performance for the Wolverines. John Beilein’s team simply dug itself too great of a hole to overcome despite an extremely impressive second half offensive barrage. Despite failing to advance to the final, there’s little doubt that this relatively unproven Michigan team left this game as a better team than it was this morning.
Defensively, Michigan simply wasn’t good enough. Duke shot the ball extremely well – 60% on twos, 52% on threes, 69% eFG% – and the scary part is that those numbers aren’t that much better than their six game averages. The end result was Michigan surrendering 1.28 points per possession, its worst per possession output allowed since the tail end of its six game losing streak last season. To Michigan’s credit, the Wolverines actually did a good job of rebounding, grabbing 75 percent of the few shots that Duke did miss. Duke’s free throw rate was buoyed by Michigan’s intentional fouling at the end of the game but the Wolverines still gave away too many fouls around the hoop. Michigan’s most effective means of getting a defensive stop in this game might have been drawing charges. This is a Duke team that can really shoot it against anyone but Michigan’s defense will need to play better going forward.
This was a tale of two halves for the Wolverine offense. Michigan scored 22 points on 28 first half possessions (.79 per trip) compared to 53 points on 38 possessions (1.39 per trip). As bad as Michigan’s first five possessions were in the first half (2 missed FGs, 5 TO), the first six to start the second half were equally impressive (6 FGM). Michigan shot the ball very well with an effective field goal percentage of 55% (57% on twos, 33% on threes) and turned the ball over just three times in the final 37:45 of the game. This was the best offensive performance of any team versus Duke this year as Michigan scored 1.17 points per trip, significantly better than the 1.01 PPP Duke surrendered to Belmont in its opener. Michigan’s offense has improved with each game and seems to gradually have found a groove.
John Beilein emphasized before the Wolverines left for Maui that this tournament was designed for him and his staff to learn more about this team. The first two games have definitely served that purpose. The win over Memphis proved – I would argue perhaps most importantly to Michigan’s players – that the Wolverines are capable of playing with the nation’s top teams. Tonight’s loss to Duke was a concrete sign that this Michigan team has some backbone in the face of adversity that last year’s team demonstrated down the stretch. Michigan played timid out of the gate and took Duke’s best shot to the chin but was able to answer almost every Duke run and cut the deficit to four points in the second half.
The final test will be playing a third game in three days, the third place game (likely) against a struggling UCLA team. UCLA has some talented pieces but is a team that the Wolverines are very capable of beating. Scheduled to tip off at 7:30 ET on ESPN2 and if Michigan is able to bounce back and execute it will leave Maui with a third place finish and a successful 2-1 record.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway had 19 second half points and was a key reason that Michigan was able to fight back in this game but Michigan can’t afford Hardaway to have first half performances like we saw today (0-6). Duke tailored its entire defensive game plan around Hardaway – denying him the ball for 35 seconds – but even when Hardaway had a few open shots and looks down late in the half he rushed and missed them. As bad as he was in the first half, he was dominant in the second scoring 19 points on 6-8 shooting (2-4 3pt). He was aggressive, attacking and also hitting his perimeter jump shot. That’s the player that he can be which is what makes his first half performance so frustrating.
- Trey Burke: Trey Burke is player. It was clear to me when I saw him play against St. Edward’s last winter and it’s even more clear after five college games. He’s not going to be perfect and made his fair share of mistakes but he’s definitely a competitor and one of the two true playmakers on this Michigan roster. He had 17 points, nine assists, three rebounds, a steal and three turnovers tonight in his fifth college game, against Duke. It was his career high scoring output but I was most impressed with how quickly he’s developed in the screen-and-roll game on offense. It’s a different look than Morris due to his size but Burke had nine assists and was instrumental in the majority of Jordan Morgan’s 12 points.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan was very good today, scoring 12 points on 6 of 7 shooting and grabbing six rebounds in 30 minutes. The one thing that really stood out about his game tonight was how well he ran the floor. That ability will be extremely important if Michigan is matched up against UCLA and not-very-well-conditioned Josh Smith on Wednesday. Morgan also did a great job finishing around the basket, switching hands a few times including on a nice quick drop step bucket.
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz was important in this match-up because of Duke’s size at both the four (Kelly) and five (Plumlee) and his two fouls before the first TV timeout really cost Michigan. He clearly received a pep talk at halftime and came out very aggressive with probably the best drive of his career to open the second half. He finished with five points, five rebounds, a steal, a block and two turnovers in 12 minutes. There’s some production in those numbers but right now he’s stuck in that gray area between diversifying his game but failing to do it consistently.
- Zack Novak: He missed a couple important shots and had a foolish intentional foul but at this point in his career you can guarantee you are going to get everything out of Novak. Novak had 11 points on 4 of 10 (3-7 3pt) shooting with 5 rebounds (2 off.), two steals, two or three drawn charges, an assist and a turnover in 39 minutes. He spent the majority of those 39 minutes chasing either the jet quick Austin Rivers or 6-foot-11 Ryan Kelly – neither player which he’s necessarily suited to guard.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass was a calming force early, scoring five points when Michigan still looked shell shocked, but went cold from behind the arc afterward and finished 1 of 4 from long range. He did grab four rebounds and finished with nine points thanks to 3-3 two point shooting (!).
- Jon Horford: Horford gave Michigan some great production against Memphis but struggled today. He played just four minutes, missed two shots (a little hook and a put back) and grabbed an offensive rebound. Right now his biggest concerns are reacting quickly enough to the game and having stronger hands when grabbing rebounds.
- Matt Vogrich: Michigan needs Vogrich to provide a scoring spark off the bench with his three point shooting or his energy. Right now that production isn’t there. He also got burnt helping way too far off of Duke’s shooters in the second half.
- Colton Christian: After a great stretch against Memphis, Christian struggled today by giving up an offensive rebound on a missed free throw and having a shot blocked in transition – both by Ryan Kelly. The fact that Kelly utilized his size advantage over Christian so easily also says a lot about Novak who, at three inches shorter, battled Kelly for a majority of the game.