Photo: Detroit News
John Beilein wasn’t surprised that Michigan responded well to a tough loss at Indiana by beating Wisconsin on Sunday. Time and again he’s reminded reporters that handling success is every bit as difficult as handling adversity. Michigan’s Wednesday night match-up against Northwestern was a classic let down game with a short turnaround after the emotional home win over Wisconsin. Michigan missed its first eight shots and was behind 8-0 in less than four minutes. At that point, the Wolverines had created their own adversity and were left to spend the rest of the game digging out of the early deficit. It took overtime, and was far from aesthetically pleasing, but when the dust settled Michigan had grabbed its fourth Big Ten win in five tries.
Michigan struggled to shoot the ball early and never warmed up. This was the worst shooting performance of the season for the Wolverines by a large margin. Michigan made just 42% of its twos and 23% of its threes on the night for a 33% effective field goal percentage. That’s 10 percentage points worse than the previous season low (43% vs. Wisconsin) and this was the first game that Michigan won with an effective field goal percentage under 40% since 2008 (a 49-43 home win over Illinois).
Despite the horrendous shooting, Michigan was still able to surpass 1-point per possession due to what can only be described as sheer determination. For the second game in a row, offensive rebounding was the differentiator for the Wolverine offense. Michigan rebounded 38 percent of its missed shots and scored 13 second chance points in the second half and overtime. Michigan further maximized possessions with just a 10.9% turnover rate and attempted 18 more field goals than Northwestern. As in any comeback, free throw shooting was critical and Michigan made 15-of-16 freebies including six critical makes in the final 65 seconds of overtime by Trey Burke.
Despite the strong offensive rebounding effort, it was the Michigan defense that pulled through in the end. John Shurna and Drew Crawford combined to score 41 points on 31 shots but their teammates had just 23 points. Michigan’s defense was far from consistent, allowing numerous open shots for long stretches, but it did two things very well for the entire 45 minutes: force turnovers and grab defensive rebounds. Michigan rebounded 79% of the Wildcats’ misses while forcing turnovers on a quarter of the their possessions. In consecutive games, the Wolverines have forced two of the country’s most disciplined teams into an unusually high number of turnovers.
The Michigan defense truly excelled in the final eight minutes of regulation. The Wolverines trailed by four at the eight minute media timeout and surrendered just four points and zero field goals before the end of regulation. Michigan’s offense sputtered to the finish line but that late defensive effort was enough to extend the game to overtime.
Bill Carmody seemed to make a lot of great coaching decisions in this one, many of which John Beilein and Michigan didn’t seem to have an answer for. The small starting lineup, with Shurna at the five, was a nice wrinkle early and once Novak sat with two fouls it was nearly impossible for Michigan to guard. The hard hedge on the pick-and-roll gave Trey Burke fits as he was unable to pass around or through it to the rolling man. Burke actually had the best luck rejecting the screen and taking the ball to the basket in the other direction. Carmody also seemed to mix up his defenses extremely well, most notably going with the 1-3-1 zone on the final possession of the first half and leaving Michigan befuddled. (Photo: AnnArbor.com)
The Big Ten is a grind and no win is a bad win. Michigan shot the ball terribly but didn’t panic and simply outworked Northwestern down the stretch. That’s an encouraging sign. I think we’re all pretty confident that Michigan could beat Northwestern while playing its best game, but teams that want to compete in this league need to win games when everything doesn’t go their way. Next up for Michigan is a chance at its first road game of the season with a Saturday afternoon game at Iowa.
- Trey Burke: It’s been tough not to drift into hyperbole about Zack Novak’s toughness and hustle over the last four years and we might run into similar problems with Trey Burke. Burke played all 45 minutes and while he struggled shooting the ball – 5 of 17 (1-6 3pt) – he made winning plays down the stretch. Despite an “off night”, he finished with 19 points, seven assists and seven rebounds. His six free throws down the stretch were as clutch as can be despite tired legs. One late play that really stood out was on the defensive end of the court. Burke got crumpled by a screen from Mirkovic around the key but managed to pick himself up and still get out to contest a Dave Sobolewski jumpshot.
- Zack Novak: The fact that John Beilein won’t play Zack Novak in the first half with two fouls shows what a hardline stance he has with the theory. Novak had what might be the most explosive play of his career, a two handed slam in transition, and provided Michigan with a second half spark despite struggling offensively. He had five second half rebounds and created a big jump ball late in the second half that gained Michigan a defensive stop.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass did so many things very well but went 0-for-6 from three point range. He provided Michigan’s most consistent perimeter defense, switching onto Drew Crawford around halftime and doing an impressive job despite giving up significant size. Crawford was 5-of-8 in the first half compared to 2-of-7 in the second half and overtime. Douglass made tough twos (3-4 2pt), had two big steals, two assists, made four free throws and scored 10 points but missed all of his threes. If he hits just a couple threes we are probably calling this one of the most complete games of his career.
- Jordan Morgan: At times analyzing Jordan Morgan’s play feels more like a psychology project (Hardaway and Smotrycz are probably somewhere on this list too). Morgan was 0-for-4 with a turnover in the first half but 3-for-4 for six points in the second. Then he made one of the most mind boggling, seemingly out-of-character, plays of his career by throwing a retaliation shove at Sobolewski. Morgan was rushed in the first half but played with purpose in the second. This game was a bit of a defensive nightmare for Morgan who was left to try to chase Shurna around the perimeter or on an island (you can’t double against Northwestern) against Northwestern’s bigs, who were 3-of-4 for six points.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway is starting to find his swagger once again. He had an early offensive explosion for 11 points and hit the game tying shot at the end of regulation. Hardaway opened Big Ten play by making 1-of-18 threes but he’s hit 7-of-12 over Michigan’s last two games. It was also encouraging to see him with another solid rebounding game (6 rebs) because good things generally happen when he pushes the ball.
- Evan Smotrycz: Everything was clicking for Smotrycz in December but he’s run into a January slump. Smotrycz was just 1-of-7 today, got backdoored badly a couple times in the first half and definitely seemed to grow frustrated. However, I give him some credit for bouncing back and making some big plays late. He had five points, two offensive rebounds and a block in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime.
- Matt Vogrich: I thought Vogrich had one of his best halves of the season in the first. He stepped in with Novak and Smotrycz in foul trouble and knocked down a three, just missed a couple others and grabbed a pair of steals. He didn’t really see the floor after that, and I understand why Michigan wanted Novak, Hardaway, Douglass and Burke on the floor all the time but he might have been worth a shot.
- Blake McLimans: With Novak and Smotrycz sidelined with two first half fouls, Beilein gave McLimans a try at the four. It didn’t work. Blake missed a three and had trouble guarding John Shurna. However, just about everyone had trouble guarding Shurna so it’s tough to hold that against him.