Michigan is headed to the Sweet 16.
Despite a long month of hard questions, doubts and frustration the Wolverines regained their form on the NCAA tournament’s grand stage at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Michigan breezed by South Dakota State and VCU by a combined 40 points to punch their ticket to Dallas.
The swagger is back and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Wolverines.
VCU might have had the stronger brand but Michigan left no doubt who had the better basketball team.
The Wolverines handled VCU’s vaunted ‘havoc’ full court press with ease and played their best game in over a month, if not the season. Michigan controlled the glass on both ends of the floor, exploited VCU’s pressure defense and shutdown a usually capable Ram offense.
Michigan’s offense excelled not because it handled VCU’s press but because it exploited it. The Wolverines turnover percentage, 19%, was slightly above their season average but well below VCU’s average forced turnover rate. However, Michigan made an impressive 63% of its two point attempts, most of which were easy layups and wide open shots due to VCU’s overextended defense, and picked apart the Ram defense. The Wolverines didn’t shoot the ball great from three point range – just 6-of-20 – but still finished with an impressive 57% effective field goal percentage.
It was VCU that was touted as the team with dangerous ‘spurtability’ but Michigan went on a number of huge runs. The Wolverines had two stretches where they made five consecutive field goals and two different stretches where they hit six out of seven consecutive attempts. VCU never managed to string together more than three consecutive makes and allowed the game to slip away.
This wasn’t a VCU-style game, it was a Michigan game. The game was played at a comfortable but brisk 65 possession pace and Michigan outscored the Rams in nearly every superlative category: 12-6 in second chance, 40-34 in the paint and most impressively 15-4 in fast break scoring.
The key to Michigan’s win was its dominance on the backboard at each end of the floor; something it hasn’t managed often in the last month. The Wolverines rebounded over 80% of VCU’s missed shots and over 40% of their own missed shots. Michigan imposed its will down low thanks to the emergence of Mitch McGary. The abundance of clean defensive rebounds also helped eliminate prime pressing opportunities for the Rams and helped generate secondary break opportunities for Michigan’s offense.
Michigan had ample defensive rebounding opportunities because it was finally able to buckle down and force some missed shots. VCU struggled with long range shooting, 3-of-16 (19%), and was slightly below average inside the arc at 47%. Overall Michigan held the Rams to a 42% effective field goal percentage and just .81 points per trip, their second worst offensive output of the season.
How good was Michigan’s defense? This was the Wolverines’ best per-possession defensive performance since December 20th against Eastern Michigan.
Next up is the Sweet 16 in Dallas, Texas where the Wolverines will face the winner of Kansas and North Carolina (Sunday, 5:15 p.m.). Anything less than the Sweet 16 would have felt like a massive disappointment for this team but now the Wolverine will head to Dallas within reach of one of their ultimate goals: win two games at Cowboy Stadium and advance to the Final Four.
- Mitch McGary: McGary dominated the weekend at the Palace and played the best game of his Michigan career on Saturday afternoon. McGary took two charges, crippled a VCU defender on a screen and dominated the defensive glass. But he was also the difference maker on the offensive end for the Wolverines as he scored 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting and grabbed four offensive rebounds in 34 minutes. McGary was everywhere on the floor and looked like the five-star prospect that scouts were enamored with in the Summer of 2011.Graham Brown would be proud of this screen:
- Glenn Robinson III: McGary’s former SYF Players AAU teammate must have felt like the two were back out on the circuit as he had himself a big game as well. Robinson finished with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds, two steals and two assists. Robinson is Michigan’s best finisher in unsettled situations – residual action as John Beilein puts it – and he must have loved the easy opportunities that Big Ten teams have done such a good job of eliminating.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Watching Hardaway dribble the ball up the floor against VCU’s pressure to open the game was somewhat reassuring as he managed the feat with relative ease. Hardaway was a combined 8-of-12 from three point range in this weekend’s NCAA tournament games; his teammates were just 7-of-28 from long range. His timely shooting carried Michigan through a lot of tough stretches offensively.
- Trey Burke: Burke had a season high seven turnovers (over half of Michigan’s 12) but he played very well other than some dicey stretches. Burke finished with 18 points on 6-of-14 (2-6 3pt) shooting with seven assists (and the aforementioned seven turnovers). He had a patented midcourt steal and layup early on to set the tone and did a great job of finding his other weapons in breakout situations.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas was 0-4 from three but still had a strong game. He finished with eight points on 2-of-7 shooting with three rebounds, an assist and zero turnovers. Stauskas handled the pressure defense fine and was aggressive taking it to the rack several times; evident by his four free throw attempts.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht wasn’t fazed by the press and made arguably his best play of the game – a left handed bounce pass in transition to Glenn Robinson for an easy basket. Albrecht also stuck an open three and played 14 quality minutes. His ball handling wasn’t just steady against the VCU pressure, he was aggressive and looking to make plays as well.
- Jon Horford: Horford missed a tip in that he probably should have dunked and grabbed two rebounds in five minutes. He also had a nice kick out for a three pointer in the lane. Still this was a solid performance and it is becoming clear that Horford has leapfrogged Morgan in the rotation, but if McGary keeps playing like this (and stays out of foul trouble) then there might not be much playing time for either player.
- Caris LeVert:: LeVert was one Michigan guard that did look a bit rattled against the pressure and he missed both of his field goal attempts; an open three and a drive to the basket. His potential is clear but he’s been fairly ineffective since the win over Michigan State.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan did not play and something is clearly off; after the game Bacari Alexander noted that Morgan’s timing was off since his injury and that was affecting his overall game.