Photo: Patrick Radigan
In mid-January, Michigan opened an eight game stretch that featured six road games with a deflating loss in Iowa City. The Wolverines lacked focus and looked lifeless as they were slapped around by Iowa and whispers about their road woes grew louder. Just under a month later, Michigan demonstrated its growth with a convincing win at Nebraska. The lack of energy and execution in Iowa City was a thing of the past as the Wolverines beat a team they should, on the road, with relative ease.
Winning games on the road in the Big Ten is extremely difficult and any conference road victory, especially a win this routine, is a good one. Michigan’s second half offensive brilliance is likely to be forgotten due to the game’s trudging pace and anemic first half shooting but at this point in the season a win is all that matters.
For 20 minutes, Michigan’s offense wasn’t any more effective than it was in East Lansing on Sunday. Over two thirds of Michigan’s first half shots were three point attempts, Tim Hardaway Jr. was 0-for-7 and the Wolverine offense sputtered its way to a 22 points in 25 first half possessions. It was brutal but the second half was a different story:
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Barring a few turnovers, Michigan’s offense was nearly perfect in the second half. The Wolverines scored 1.43 points per possession and would have tallied a second half effective field goal percentage of 100% were it not for Josh Bartelstein and Corey Person missing shots in the closing minutes. Instead they settled for 16 of 21 (6-7 3pt) shooting and a 91% second half effective field goal percentage.
The shift inside was evident as Michigan attempted just one third of its field goals from beyond the arc in the second half, double the proportion of first half two point attempts. The Wolverines made the threes they did take count, knocking down six of seven second half 3-point attempts. Michigan made more threes in the second half (5-17 first, 6-7 second) despite attempting so few. The shift in philosophy seemed more about patience than anything else as Michigan ran its offense and moved the ball, picking up assists on a remarkable 75% of its second half made baskets.
It was Michigan’s defense that provided enough time for the offense to find its way, holding the Cornhuskers to just .85 points per possession on the game. That’s even more impressive considering that Nebraska scored 13 points, on five of six shooting, in its final six possessions of the game. Eliminate those six garbage time possessions (all after the final TV timeout) and you are left with just 33 Nebraska points in the first 48 possessions of the game, or .69 points per trip. Nebraska has the league’s worst offense but that’s a dominant defensive performance against any opponent. John Beilein praised his seniors for their defensive efforts and rightfully so. The duo combined for five steals, a key reason that Nebraska turned the ball over on 25% of its possessions, and Douglass was phenomenal on Bo Spencer throughout.
Michigan needs a 2-0 week to remain within striking distance for the conference championship and comfortably in the top third of the league and this was the necessary first step. The Wolverines move to 7-0 after losses but have split their last eight games. A home game against Illinois, the only Big Ten team Michigan hasn’t faced this season, is up next on Sunday afternoon and could provide a nice opportunity to string together back-to-back wins.
Photo: Patrick Radigan
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway was 0-for-6 on jumpshots and 3-for-5 on layups. His slump is certainly still in full effect but I really thought he played a complete game in the second half: he attacked the basket (making 3 of 4 shots in the second frame), played with energy defensively and drew a charge and he also handed out three assists. The assists were a product of being aggressive either in transition or attacking the basket and the sort of smart plays that will help him regain that confidence. Michigan did a lot to try and get him going including two post-ups in the first half, and at least three or four of his jumpers were fairly unguarded, and it’s just a matter of time before he rediscovers his jumper.
- Trey Burke: This was a quiet and efficient game for Burke: 12 points on 4 of 7 (3-4 3pt) shooting with five assists to two turnovers. Burke made a nice read early to split a pick and roll for an assist and really let the game come to him in the second half. He moved the ball and didn’t over dribble but still made big plays. He also had two huge buckets early when Michigan was up 11-8 and 13-11 that helped keep Nebraska at bay. It’s extremely impressive that 12 points on seven shots and five assists has become a “routine” game for the freshman guard.
- Jordan Morgan: Michigan’s second half turnarounds tend to coincide with Morgan’s improved performance and this game was no different as he was 4-for-4 with eight points in the second half. Morgan grabbed six rebounds, handed out two assists and even drew a pair of offensive fouls in the second half.
- Zack Novak: Novak was essentially Michigan’s entire offense early, scoring 10 points in the first half, but was also impressive with a pair of nice assists in the second. The early scoring was critical as Michigan got off to the quick lead that it would never relinquish. Novak also broke the 1,000 point plateau for his career, a remarkable achievement for a kid with no scholarship offers from Chesterton, Indiana.
- Stu Douglass: 13 points on 4-of-7 (3-5 3pt) shooting, three assists, two steals, two rebounds and no turnovers in 35 minutes is a pretty complete game for an off guard. Add in great defense on Bo Spencer and I’m not sure what more you can get out of Stu Douglass. Douglass, along with Novak and Vogrich, has made over 40% of his threes in Big Ten games
- Matt Vogrich: Missed a first half three but got back into the groove in the second half. It started with some hustle as he made a nice defensive play with a deflection and then had three three point makes and an assist on four consecutive offensive possessions. The reactions on the bench were great to see and Vogrich could add another dimension down the stretch if he finds consistency with his shot.
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz turned the ball over once and didn’t score. He seemed a bit tentative and had little if any effect on the game.
- Blake McLimans: McLimans checked into the game and made an impact, good or bad, on three defensive possessions: he provided strong help to force a turnover on one play but was also late with his rotation twice, giving up an easy bucket and and-one foul on another. He missed his three point attempt and didn’t grab a rebound so it wasn’t his strongest performance.
- Carlton Brundidge: Did not travel due to asthma/illness.