Indiana’s fast start felt inevitable before both teams had even stepped on the floor in Bloomington. The energy in the building was palpable and the crowd was simply waiting to explode. Trey Burke kept the masses at bay momentarily with an early three, giving Michigan its only lead of the game at 3-2, but the onslaught came right on cue. The Hoosiers hit their first six shots, four from long range, and the first body blow was delivered.
Even by Assembly Hall standards, the atmosphere was electric and Indiana’s lead grew to 15 points. Michigan hunkered down and tried to muster the rope-a-dope magic it couldn’t quite pull off in its first loss at Columbus. The Wolverines battled to close the half time deficit to four points, tie the game early in the second half and trailed by just a single possession on three different occasions in the final 12 minutes of play. Michigan could string together impressive sequences but short bursts but could never sustain as Indiana had all the answers down the stretch.
The key statistics to follow before the game were: Michigan turnovers, Indiana offensive rebounds and Indiana free throws. Michigan only passed one of the three tests.
The Wolverines avoided the turnovers but the free throws and two critical late offensive rebounds proved costly. Indiana rebounded 36% of its misses, including two decisive Cody Zeller tip slams down the stretch, and attempted 25 free throws to 50 field goals on the night — to Michigan’s seven.
Despite those defensive woes, the Wolverines managed to hang in the game by forcing turnovers on 24 percent of the Hoosiers’ possessions. At the end of the day this was a bad defensive performance – the worst of the season – for the Wolverines as they surrendered 1.17 points per trip. Indiana has a balanced offense and it showed. First the Hoosiers diced the Wolverines for open threes but down the stretch the lethal combination was Victor Oladipo’s penetration combined with Cody Zeller’s offensive rebounding.
Michigan’s offense was a struggle throughout the night as Indiana held the Wolverines to 1.06 points per trip for the evening. Michigan didn’t shoot the ball well: 49% on twos, 30% on threes, 48% effective field goal percentage. Michigan didn’t get to the free throw line: seven free throw attempts to 70 field goal attempts. Michigan didn’t crash the offensive glass successfully: 12 offensive rebounds on 41 opportunities (29%).
In spite of failing to succeed in three of the four factors, including the most important, the Wolverines were able to hang around simply by valuing the basketball. Michigan coughed it up just eight times in 69 possessions (11%) and outscored Indiana 21-9 in points off of turnovers.
The story of this game was Michigan’s youth. True freshman accounted for 58 percent of Michigan’s minutes played on the night. Barring Jordan Morgan’s short two minute injuy-hampered shift, eight Wolverines saw game action. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke had previous game action at Assembly Hall. Jon Horford played two minutes at the Hall as a true freshman in 2011. The other five were true freshman. Michigan didn’t just play freshmen, it relied on freshmen.
Glenn Robinson III played a career high 40 minutes, Mitch McGary played a career high 28 minutes and Nik Stauskas went 34 minutes after sitting out practice with the flu on Friday. Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht, two more freshmen, rounded out Michigan’s rotation and combined to play 14 minutes. That Albrecht-LeVert duo – that was destined for Appalachain State and Ohio University a year ago at this time – actually manned the backcourt for a critical possession midway through the second half that allowed the Wolverines to cut the lead to two points.
The environment at Assembly Hall can accurately be described as something unlike anything these freshmen have ever seen. All five freshmen were shell shocked at one point or another. Some struggled – Robinson and Stauskas were a combined 4-of-16 – and some flourished – LeVert made some nice plays and Mitch McGary had 10 points and seven rebounds – but as a group all five will need to grow from the experience.
Indiana made too many plays down the stretch – namely Cody Zeller’s tip slams and Victor Oladipo’s and-one layup – but the Wolverines need to build off of this loss. There’s no shame in losing at Assembly Hall and Michigan won’t play at a more electric venue this season but there’s no time to sulk. Ohio State heads to Crisler Center in just three days time for a Tuesday night clash on national television.
- Trey Burke: Burke tried to beat Indiana by himself at times, and at times it almost looked like he was going to succeed. If he has a flaw its his tendency to divert into “me-against-the-world” mode but given his abilities sometimes its hard to fault him. Sure he took some bad shots but he hit his fair share of important ones. And call him selfish for taking 24 shots but he also handed out eight assists and grabbed five rebounds. Indiana’s game plan revolved around forcing Burke to play a two man game in the middle of the floor by refusing to help off of the wings in pick-and-roll scenarios. It was successful because Indiana was able to apply Zeller almost as a constant help-defender and Michigan was never able to truly exploit the approach.
- Mitch McGary: McGary stepped up in his first game back in his home state. He battled Zeller and created havoc around the paint. He was only credited with two steals and a block but he was disruptive by moving his feet and playing physical defense. This is a game to build on for McGary, who was also not only Michigan’s best rebounder but its most efficient offensive player, finishing 5-of-7 shots around the hoop. While he made big plays defensively, it’s also a high risk high reward scenario. The Zeller tip slams stand out where McGary helped hard going for the block on Oladipo but missed, leaving no one to block out Zeller.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway played a strong game offensively, scoring 18 points on 8-of-16 (2-5 3pt) shooting, but it also felt like he could have done more. He had a lot of mismatch scenarios and converted many but not all. Defensively, it was clear that he struggled staying in front of Victor Oladipo but Michigan doesn’t seem to have a player on its roster that can and I doubt many teams in the country do.
- Jon Horford: Horford has grown up over Michigan’s last three games. He still has a ways to go but he scored two points, blocked two shots and grabbed three rebounds in 10 minutes. His hands were a bit unsure from time to time but he made a positive impact and probably should have played more than 10 minutes.
- Glenn Robinson III: 40 minutes, two points. Robinson’s offensive struggles were undeniable and he also struggled defensively against Christian Watford and Jeremy Hollowell. Michigan needed him to go because its clear that John Beilein doesn’t trust any two big man lineup with Morgan out of the rotation and the Hardaway four look that we saw against Northwestern likely wouldn’t fly against Christian Watford. Robinson’s tendency to play very upright affected him as he was just never able to create the space necessary to create his own shot. He looked sluggish at times and his confidence was noticeably broken after a tough early stretch.
- Nik Stauskas: Michigan tried to isolate Stauskas on Hulls early and he ran into trouble finishing at the basket. Those two early misses in the first minute seemed to rattle his confidence to a degree and it affected his game throughout. He hit just one of five threes, and it came late in the game when it was essentially out of reach.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan hadn’t practiced leading up to the game and clearly wasn’t 100 percent in his two minutes of play. Michigan missed his steadiness on the defensive backline in early as the Wolverines were picked apart in help situations.
- Caris LeVert: Talk about being thrown into the fire. LeVert went 1-of-2 in both halves, finishing with four points and an assist. In the second half he answered Indiana’s 11-0 run with a run of his own, handing out a pick and roll assist and then finishing in transition. Michigan’s 160 pound freshman grew up quickly at Assembly Hall.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht played just four minutes and didn’t turn the ball over while spelling Burke, but he also didn’t make much impact.