Photo: Dustin Johnston / Gallery
No students in the crowd, Christmas carols during pre-game warm-ups, travel plans arranged to return home and the allure of Big Ten play on the horizon. Holiday games are a recurring nightmare for college basketball coaches. It’s impossible to deny that Michigan was in at last a bit of a holiday funk to open this game. The Wolverines got off on the wrong foot and never really seemed comfortable, battling back and forth with Bradley, until a Tim Hardaway Jr. alley-oop catalyzed a Michigan run and stretched a five point lead to 15 midway through the second half. The end result was a 77-66 Michigan win, securing a 10-2 pre-conference record for Michigan heading into Big Ten play.
Michigan’s offense was humming along as it has more often than not of late. The Wolverines scored 1.14 points per possession, the best mark against Bradley this season. Michigan has scored the first or second most points per trip against six of its 11 Division I opponents this season. When the Wolverine offense is running smoothly it really is fun to watch. Michigan’s attack was balanced and precise as 25 of its 31 field goals (81%) were assisted on the night. Five Wolverines reached double figures and four players handed out at least four assists compared to just six turnovers as a team.
Geno Ford might have a losing record in his first season at Bradley but he still knows his basketball. In his post game remarks, Ford emphasized that rebounding was the difference between the first and second halves and he couldn’t have been more correct. Bradley rebounded 39% of its misses in the first half compared to just 7% in the second – that’s nine first half offensive rebounds to one second half offensive rebound. The half time message to attack the defensive glass was well received and the Braves finished with a mediocre 27% offensive rebounding rate for the game.
Michigan’s defense was relatively average in the other three factors. The Wolverines held Bradley right around their season averages shooting the basketball and managed to avoid sending them to the free throw line. However, as we’ve seen all too often this year, the Wolverines struggled to force a turnover prone Bradley team to give the ball away.
John Beilein noted that the Michigan staff hadn’t seen any 3-2 zone from Bradley on film and that Trey Burke had never faced a 3-2 zone in his career. Both of those points were obvious when Bradley first switched to the zone the first half. Michigan’s offense stagnated, scoring two points in the final 3:45 of the first half, and U-M players were content to settle for mediocre three point attempts. Similar to the defensive end of the floor, John Beilein’s halftime adjustments worked. Michigan made 5 of 16 (31%) two point field goal attempts in the first half compared to 16 of 21 (76%) in the second. Michigan attacked the zone in the half court and combined that production with easy baskets in transition.
Michigan’s pre-conference slate was relatively unremarkable. The Wolverines took care of business, winning the games they should, but left opportunities on the table versus Duke and Virginia. Next up is a quick three day holiday break with morning practice on the 23rd followed by an evening practice on the 26th. Then it’s the Big Ten opener as Michigan hosts Penn State on December 28th.
Photo: Dustin Johnston / Gallery
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz has made 15 of his last 19 three point attempts – his eFG% over the last four games is 98% – and that’s not even the most impressive element of his recent form. It’s been his rebounding and all around versatility that are truly eye opening. He made threes last season but now has the ability to counter opposing defenses when they take away the three point shot. Today it was another double-double, 20 points and 10 rebounds, and impressive performance. Hardaway will be Hardaway, Burke will be Burke, but Smorycz is the x-factor that elevates this offense to another level.
- Trey Burke: Burke didn’t shoot the ball well today – 5 of 13 (1-7 3pt) – but he played one of his most collected and composed games; handing out eight assists to just one turnover. He seemed to find the perfect balance of doing enough but not doing too much and also made great decisions in transition.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway never found his three point shot (2-9 3pt) but did make 5 of his 7 two point attempts and had five assists to zero turnovers. Hardaway is lethal when he gets the ball in transition going downhill. He’s most often running the floor if he pushes it himself off a defensive rebound. Those opportunities have been limited because Hardaway hasn’t grabbed many rebounds lately, just six in the last four games.
- Zack Novak: Novak had two bad turnovers against the Bradley zone and didn’t have a great shooting night – 4 of 9, 1-4 3pt – but I have no business complaining after I wrote earlier this week that Novak needs to be more involved in the offense. His nine FGAs were his second most of the season and he continued to tally solid assist numbers (4).
- Jordan Morgan: After going 1 of 4 in the first half and getting blocked emphatically twice to start the game, Morgan responded. He tallied 13 second half points on 6 of 8 shooting and played the aggressive style of basketball that Michigan needs from him for 30 minutes per game.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass didn’t shoot the ball great (1 of 4, 1-3 3pt) but it was encouraging to see him affect the game in other ways: six assists, one turnover, three rebounds and a steal. Douglass made good decisions, didn’t force shots and passed the ball extremely well.
- Blake McLimans: McLimans only played in the first half (three minutes) and grabbed a rebound and botched a layup around the basket. Horford’s injury status remains unclear but if he is out for extended time it seems like a safe bet that we’ll see a four-five of Novak-Smotrycz much more often than we’ll see McLimans at the five in Big Ten play.
- Matt Vogrich: Just eight minutes of playing time and two misses from the field but Vogrich has to get some credit for taking a charge, handing out an assist and grabbing a pair of rebounds.
- Carlton Brundidge: Brundidge is getting the first half shift over Akunne lately, an encouraging sign for his development, but still played just three minutes.