College basketball coaches will tell you that any road win is a good one. John Beilein got just what he wanted out of his team’s 74-66 win at Bradley on Saturday afternoon. The victory was far from perfect as Bradley hung around early and made a big push late, but Michigan prevailed and passed its first true road test. Carver Arena provided an environment hostile enough to give the Wolverines a taste of what lies ahead but safe enough that Michigan could lead from wire-to-wire and move to 7-0, winning its first road game of the season for just the second time under John Beilein’s tutelage.
Nik Stauskas led all scorers with a career high 22 points and was phenomenal in the first start of his young career. While Stuaskas notched big basket after basket, he had plenty of help. Jordan Morgan added a 10 point and 10 rebound double-double while Trey Burke (16) and Glenn Robinson III (13) also reached double figures in the victory.
Michigan dominated the offensive glass on the night, grabbing over half of its first half misses and 40 percent of its misses on the game. Bradley isn’t a great rebounding team but Michigan’s 10 second chance points were the critical difference in the game. It felt like the Wolverines missed a number of attempts around the basket, especially on put-backs, but the shooting numbers are still strong. Michigan made 50% of its twos and a sizzling 47% of its threes for a 56% effective field goal percentage.
The Wolverines were uncharacteristically sloppy with the basketball, coughing it up on one out of every five offensive possessions. Hardaway (5 turnovers) was the primary culprit but there was blame to spread around as Burke, Robinson and Morgan all turned the ball over twice. Bradley is one of the best in the country at forcing turnovers, especially via the steal (Bradley had 10 steals on the game), but the Wolverines will have to improve in that regard.
This game, perhaps as much as any this season, proved that this Michigan team is capable of winning games in a multitude of different fashions. This team isn’t only a stereotypical perimeter oriented team and there’s more than one combination to unlock victory. Just 28 percent of Michigan’s field goal attempts came from three point range and the Wolverines actually attempted more free throws (21) than threes (15). Michigan was out-shot by Bradley but prevailed because of its ability to dominate the glass and get to the free throw line, something that we simply haven’t seen since John Beilein arrived in Ann Arbor.
For the second consecutive game, Michigan’s interior defense struggled. Bradley shot the ball well inside (59%) and outside (38%) whether it was Walt Lemon Jr. (7-of-11 fg, 1-1 3pt) slashing to the bucket, Jordan Prosser (5-8 fg) finishing on the block, or pretty much anyone else (six of Bradley’s primary seven players scored 9 points or more). The Braves offense was good, scoring 1.03 points per trip, but turnovers served as a debilitating equalizer. Bradley turned the ball over on 22% of its offensive possessions (many unforced) and wasn’t able to make up the empty possessions on the offensive glass (23% offensive rebounding rate) or at the free throw line (24% FTA/FGA). Bradley’s offensive struggles led to some easy buckets for Michigan’s offense as the Wolverines scored 13 points off of 15 Brave turnovers.
John Beilein made some strong adjustments out of the half time break which seemed to help Michigan open up the game after a tenuous first half. First, Michigan guards began to find the rolling man (Morgan) in the screen-and-roll game which yielded some early offense. Beilein also tried everything in his power to get Tim Hardaway Jr. involved and while the Michigan junior wasn’t perfect he scored a quiet nine points in the second half. Beilein also deserves kudos for a strong sequence off of a late timeout with Michigan up nine points with seven minutes to play. Michigan ran three crisp offensive sets and rattled off a 6-0 run that stretched the lead just far enough to feel comfortable.
But for the second consecutive game, Michigan failed to close out the game late with a big lead. A comedy of Michigan errors – poor decision making, turnovers against ball pressure, uninspiring stall offense, not knowing the shot clock out of a timeout situation – led to a late 11-0 run by Bradley which cut a comfortable 16 point lead to just five points with under a minute to play. Michigan is lucky to have escaped NC State and Bradley but without correction these problems will rear their head and cost the Wolverines a game down the line.
With so many road nightmares in recent history (Virginia, Utah and Iowa come to mind first), any road win is a good win. Michigan was far from perfect but still controlled 38 minutes of play against a scrappy and improved Bradley team. The Wolverines will have to play better on the road in the Big Ten but for six of the nine Michigan players on the floor today this was their first collegiate experience in a hostile venue. John Beilein will certainly pocket the road victory and move on.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas earned his first career start and didn’t disappoint. He didn’t just hit shots, he hit big shots. Every time Bradley seemed to cut the lead, Stauskas would answer with a big play. He’s now 18-of-29 (62%) from three point range this season and is automatic when left open beyond the arc. It took him a while to adjust to Bradley’s ball pressure (1-5 fg to start, 7-10 to finish) but he’s a complete offensive player. The one freshman mistake he needs to eliminate is leaving his feet to pass as he found himself in trouble a couple times doing just that.
- Trey Burke: Burke did a better job of finding the roll man in the second half, but the trust to throw that pass still isn’t quite there. The distance difference in his average three point make versus miss on the season is easily two feet. We’ve seen Burke hit long threes but he’s making a number of shots more difficult than they have to be. Those negatives aside, Burke still brings so much to the table, scoring 16 points, handing out five assists and even grabbing three defensive boards on the night. His and-one finish in transition was simply a thing of beauty.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson showed no nerves in his first road game, scoring eight of Michigan’s first 10 points. He finished with 13 points on 4-of-6 (1-2 3pt) shooting with four rebounds (3 off.) and two assists. He only played 12 minutes in the second half due to fouls but was quietly effective. Robinson provides a bit of everything and is just someone you need on the floor and his foul trouble served as a reminder that he’s one of the most indispensable pieces in the Wolverine lineup.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan had a solid 10 point-10 rebound double-double in 25 minutes of action. He still needs to be more assertive catching the ball on the block – he always wants to finish over his left shoulder and still waits for the defender when a quick drop step to the right would yield an easy layup – but he was very active on the night. He kept plays alive with hustle (diving on the ground for open court loose balls) and offensive rebounds (4) and improved his second half finishing.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway struggled to adjust to Bradley’s high-pressure defense, finishing with more turnovers (5) than made field goals (4). To his credit, this wasn’t a poor Hardaway game of last year where he continuously jacked up threes, he mostly played within himself offensively – he just wasn’t as effective slashing as he’s been early in the season. He was ripped several times during the lane and missed a number of mid-range jumpers where he’s been so consistent this season. To his credit he took a late charge to slow Bradley’s comeback and scored nine points in the second half on 4-of-7 (1-1 3pt) shooting.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert appears to have passed Matt Vogrich on the depth chart and that’s enough to burn his redshirt. LeVert played seven minutes and looked a bit skittish in the first half but was calmer in the second. He grabbed a solid rebound in the second half and also handed out a great assist on a pick-and-roll pass to Jordan Morgan.
- Mitch McGary: McGary continues to tip toe the fine line between playing hard and playing smart. He’s trying to play bigger and stronger but still picks up his fair share of fouls just from being overaggressive and so large. McGary was whistled for four fouls in 14 minutes but did grab five rebounds (3 off.) in that time and notched a put back.
- Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt got some run in his hometown – something that Beilein said was intentional – and played fairly well. He’s active on the glass, had a nice finish off of a pick-and-roll after the defender flopped out of his way. While playing the four he attempted a three without hesitation but missed, he took a charge and should have had a put-back but was fouled and missed both free throws. Bielfeldt plays like a big man, even if he’s a bit smaller, but he’s versatile enough that a “two big” lineup with him at the four has just a bit more potential.
- Spike Albrecht: If Albrecht can step in the game, not turn the ball over and hand out two assists in six minutes every game then Michigan will be just fine. John Beilein isn’t asking for any more that quick 3-minute bursts of steady play.
- Matt Vogrich and Eso Akunne: Vogrich didn’t check in until there were less than four minutes to play and Akunne didn’t play. LeVert’s redshirt being removed means it’s clear that the coaches plan to give him every opportunity to make an impact in the position where Vogrich and Akunne have been unable to.