Michigan’s offense showed no signs of holiday rust despite a nine day layoff, paving the way past Central Michigan to wrap up a perfect 13-0 non-conference record. The Wolverines pulled away early, extending their lead to as many as 19 points in the first half, but a lackluster defensive effort kept the margin relatively close in a 88-73 Michigan win.
Michigan’s number two scorer, Tim Hardaway Jr., was sidelined by an ankle injury but the Wolverines had plenty of reserve firepower as Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III combined to score 61 points. Burke led the way with 22 points and a career-high 11 assists (to just one turnover). Robinson and Stauskas were most effective doing what they do best: cutting to the basket (Robinson was 8-of-10 on twos) and shooting threes (Stauskas hit five triples).
The 2012-13 Wolverines continue to make what would have once been “season-best” level performances look routine. Michigan scored 1.31 points per offensive possession, a better per possession output than any game last season, despite the absence of its No. 2 scorer. Michigan turned the ball over just three times in 67 possessions and shot the ball extremely well, connecting on 62% of its twos and 38% on threes. The Wolverines’ 4.5% turnover rate and 60% effective field goal percentage rendered the other two factors peripheral at best, excusing a sub-par offensive rebounding day and the lack of free throw attempts.
Scoring points at an outlandish rate is a nice luxury but it also masks a few blemishes. This was a poor defensive showing from the Wolverines and, given the competition, perhaps the worst of the season. Central Michigan scored 1.09 points per possession, its third best offensive output of the season to date, and was effective attacking the basket. The Chippewas entered the game shooting just 44% on twos but carved up Michigan’s interior defense – in the half court sets, in transition and on the offensive glass – en route to 59% two-point shooting. Effective inside scoring combined with average (32%) three point shooting yielded a 54% effective field goal percentage. The Wolverines avoided fouling, as they’ve done all year, but simply couldn’t force many misses.
While the defensive effort as a whole was lackluster, statistically this was Michigan’s worst defensive rebounding performance of the season. Central Michigan rebounded 36 percent of its misses on the night and was able to turn 11 offensive rebounds into 14 second chance points. The Wolverines’ most significant undoing can be at least partially explained by the absence of its most consistent defensive rebounder: Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway’s transformation on the defensive glass has been a major storyline this season and was especially apparent as an average-at-best offensive rebounding team got the best of Michigan on the glass.
While it’s nearly impossible to complain about a 13-0 start (only four of 347 Division I teams remain unbeaten), Michigan’s defense has left some causes for concern in recent weeks. The Wolverines aren’t going to be able to shred Big Ten defenses nearly as easily as they have in non-conference play and could be in for a wake up call if they are unable to tighten up their defense. That challenge will begin in Evanston on Thursday as the Wolverines open the conference season against a Northwestern team trying to find its way without injured senior guard Drew Crawford.
- Trey Burke: Burke has seemed to flirt with perfection every time he steps on the floor in recent weeks. His effort tonight was 22 points on 9-of-12 (4-7 3pt) shooting, 11 assists to just one turnover. That’s perfect two point shooting, a 92% effective field goal percentage and an 11-to-1 assist turnover ratio. Can a point guard play much better? Burke’s December averages are impressive: 19 points, seven assists to just over one turnover per game with a 65% effective field goal percentage. A year ago at this time the debate was whether Burke was Michigan’s best player, as it stands today the more applicable question is whether Burke is the best player in the country.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert was a redshirt candidate a month ago and seven games later looks like a kid ready to fill a rotational role in conference play. He’s not all the way there yet, and barring injury he won’t have to attempt 11 shots in a Big Ten game, but he has a great skill set. Two things stood out above all others with LeVert’s performance. First off, he can pass it. His five assists (and one turnover) were impressive whether they were deft lobs to the interior for Morgan or Robinson or kicks to Burke or Stauskas for triples. His ability to create his own shot in the mid-range game is also phenomenal and should only improve as he gains strength and comfort within the offense.
- Nik Stauskas: Hitting five consecutive threes is a feat that should seem Herculean. Michigan only had a player hit five threes in a game three times last season (Novak at Arkansas, Hardaway against Oakland and at Northwestern). Stauskas has done it in back-to-back games. It’s almost more surprising to see Stauskas, whose three point percentage is creeping toward 57% on the season, miss back-to-back threes than connect on five in a row.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson’s instincts cutting to the basket continue to impress beyond his years. All nine of Robinson’s field goals were assisted (7 by Burke) and eight of the nine makes were at the rim. There’s nothing wasted or forced in Robinson’s game and he’s just as comfortable dunking as he is adjusting in the air for a reverse layup off the glass. It was encouraging to see him knock down a triple, his only make away from the rim, despite missing his first two attempts.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan was once again solid but quiet, finishing with eight points, two rebounds and two steals in 26 minutes. He had a great move from the high post to score but also missed a couple of bunnies around the basket that he needs to finish – especially against a short team like Central Michigan.
- Mitch McGary: Perhaps because of his full bore approach, McGary gives you a lot of everything – both the good and bad. He’s active and blocked two shots on the night but his shot blocking aggression probably cost a couple of defensive rebounds for easy CMU buckets. His missed dunk was not-Top 10 caliber but it was still a solid if unspectacular night for the 6-foot-10 freshman.
- Spike Albrecht: A quiet night for Albrecht but the offense continues to hum along when he’s at the helm. The Wolverines scored on eight of the 14 possessions that Albrecht played before garbage time and that’s nothing to scoff when a lightly regarded freshman is replacing an All-American.
- Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt didn’t check in until the final three minutes of the game – likely because Beilein wants to get Morgan and McGary fully ramped up for Big Ten play – but did make an impact with a layup and rebound in three minutes.
- Eso Akunne: Akunne’s shot-per-minute rate continues to be astronomical as he’s attempted a field goal once every 1:53 of playing time this season. The results weren’t impressive in this one as he finished 0-for-4 on the night with two assists in seven minutes.