Black Eyes

Dylan Burkhardt

It’s easy to remember the exciting parts of last season. Whether it is the early season win over UCLA or rushing the court after the Duke game. Maybe finally winning a big road game at Minnesota or the NCAA tournament win over Clemson. Last season was a breath of unexpected fresh air that caught most Michigan fans off guard.

Now, expectations are real: this is an NCAA tournament team. Michigan has typically fallen in the 10-20 range in most pre-season polls and success is expected.

All signs point to a successful season this year but let’s play devil’s advocate for a bit now and take a look at five of Michigan’s not so glorious moments. It’s important to remember that although they made their first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade, Michigan was a couple bounces (versus Savannah State or Indiana for example) away from the NIT.

No team looks great every time they take the floor, but these five games stand out as the worst performances by Michigan last year and reminders that there is still a ways to go.

manny-wiscomanny-wisco2 wisco-llp

December 31st – Wisconsin 73 – Michigan 61 (Recap)

Michigan started their conference slate with a dud. Wisconsin came out on fire with an eFG% of 65.2% and maintained a comfortable lead from start to finish. This was Michigan’s worst defensive performance of the year as they allowed the Badgers to score 1.24 points per possession.

This was a rude awakening for Michigan — taking games off in conference play doesn’t work. Michigan had played four relatively easy games after the huge Duke win and it was clear that they lost their focus over the holidays.

This was Michigan’s worst home performance of the year and Wisconsin remains one of the two teams that Michigan has yet to beat under John Beilein.

sims-osu mullens

January 17th – Ohio State 65 – Michigan 58 (Recap)

Gut wrenching home losses appear to be the theme of this list. The Ohio State game felt like one that Michigan was supposed to win. It was Ohio State and the 1989 team was in the house, there was a great crowd, and Michigan had the opportunity to go to 4-2 in conference.

Michigan fell behind early but managed to claw their way back into the game before falling just short. In the end Ohio State ran away with the game thanks to BJ Mullens alley-oop dunks and Evan Turner’s 14 free throw attempts. It was another game where the opponent simply picked apart Michigan’s defense, scoring over 1.1 points per possession.

harris-psu easy-dunk

January 20th –Michigan 58 – Penn State 73  (Recap)

Garbage time began with 12:55 left in the 2nd half (HD Box)

That’s pretty much everything you need to know about this one. Penn State absolutely man handled Michigan from the tip. Jamelle Cornley pounded them inside for 17 points on 9 shots before Penn State got started from long range — hitting 9 of their 17 three point shots.

Manny Harris scored 4 points on 9 shots and took a seat early after his lackluster play. Michigan was 5-30 from three point range, refusing to go inside despite making 65% of their twos. This performance probably hurts a little more when you realize that Michigan beat the same team two weeks later by 20 points at Crisler Arena.

((CAPTION))  Kalin Lucas eludes the Wolverines as MSU beats UM  54-42, at Crisler arena in Ann Arbor Tuesday night. ( Dale G. Young / The Detroit News) 2009.

February 10th – Michigan State 54 – Michigan 42 (Recap)

42 points. That’s all Michigan could muster against their in-state rival on their own floor. Michigan State is the other Big Ten team that Beilein has yet to knock off. The capacity crowd at Crisler was held at bay from start to finish as Michigan State controlled the game. Every Michigan run was answered by the Spartans who managed to make enough big plays to coast to victory.

In a dreadfully slow 53 possession game Delvon Roe and Kalin Lucas made just enough shots to keep Michigan an arms length away. It was another painful shooting day for Michigan, who hit only 4 of 24 three point attempts.

Michigan didn’t do anything well on offense, scoring only .79 points per possession and turning the ball over on 22.5% of their possessions. Michigan State managed to hold onto the ball, control the glass, and get to the free throw line enough to win the ugly game.

iowa iowa3

February 22nd –  Michigan 60 – Iowa 70 –(OT) (Recap)

There was actually a mysterious benching in Iowa City before Tate Forcier was even a household name. Beilein’s benching of Manny Harris in overtime led to a 10 point Iowa run. A quick run through of the comments after that game shows that people were convinced that Beilein was throwing away the season and could care less about making the tournament.

The bottom line is that Iowa had no business taking Michigan to overtime. Iowa was a team in disarray and they had just given Indiana their only Big Ten win. Harris only managed 9 points on 13 shots and Sims put up a meager 13 points on 13 shots. Three weeks later Harris and Sims combined for 45 points on 70% shooting in a 28 point romp of the same Iowa team.

So What?

This year’s team should be very good. John Beilein is one of the best teachers in the country and his teams almost always improve from year to year, especially when they return this many players. However, this team is far from perfect and bad things can happen to good teams. There are endless reasons to be excited about the upcoming season but it’s important not to blow expectations out of proportion.

The Big Ten is stronger than it has been for years and the difference between 3rd place and 6th place very well could be one or two games. There are teams of all different styles that will provide a different challenge night in and night out. Conference play is going to be an 18 game war.

This post should serve as a reminder that last year was far from perfect and this team has a long ways to go. Last year’s team lost 7 out of 9 games at one point before rebounding and putting some wins together.

The high points were certainly fun and there are numerous reasons for excitement but we are still talking about a team that finished .500 in conference play and tied for 7th in the conference.

  • Old Style

    Good read. Everyone needs to keep expectations at a reasonable level.

  • Michfan4BorW

    Thanks for the reminder. It has helped me keep my expectations reasonable while still keeping my excitement up. I imagine if there is one area the team needs to improve, it’s consistency.

    I’d really like the Michigan team to focus on WI and MSU so that Beilein can notch his first win over these programs. I’m glad we get two shots at MSU since the last few years have provided Michigan only one conference game against MSU for a given season.

    Teams will see Michigan coming at them this year, so perhaps the 2009-2010 season provides it even more challenges when compared to those from last season.

  • jgunnip

    Also, vs Savannah St and @ Indiana. Yeah we won, but those were near disasters. Any lose vs SSU is obviously laughable and Indiana was on the verge of blowing us out in the first half.

    Of the games you mentioned I’d say the Iowa game was the worst. We had a two possession lead with a minute to go and that loss left us 7-8 in conference and probably needing to win two of three out of vPurdue, @Wisc, and @Minn. Dark times indeed.

  • AG2

    Last season this team’s 3 biggest weaknesses were obvious:

    1. No true point guard.
    2. No interior defense.
    3. What to do when the 3’s aren’t falling.

    I think they’ve done a decent job of improving in all three aspects, but we shall see.

  • Jgunnip: Forgot to put a line in there about SSU/IU, added a note about them.

  • bird

    There are at least 20 possible losses on our schedule.

  • Every game is a possible loss, just like Savannah State.

    If you go through the schedule though, there are plenty of should be wins in my opinion.

  • Bill

    I remember being ticked when Manny was benched in the Iowa game as were a lot of fans.

    Seems liked Manny was a lot more focused after that game. Coach probably made the best move of the season. Seems like Manny was out of it that game and needed a wake up.

    1. No true point guard.
    Beilein’s offense has no point guard and won’t have one this year. It’s based on passing, movement and creating space for 3’s and layups. It’s not a penetrate and dish offense. If that’s what you mean you should probably give up that idea.

  • Tyler

    I’m definitely thinking / hoping we will pull out about 22 wins but that’s definitely saying we pull upsets and are consistent. (I like to dream)

  • Roman

    The loss to Illinois in Champaign sticks in my mind almost as much as the five mentioned. That game could have been a microcosm of michigan’s putrid performances on the road.

  • Dave

    you sure its not 3 teams beilein hasnt beat……..wisco, mich st, and ohio st

  • We beat OSU in Beilein’s first year. By far the best win of the year.

  • AG2

    Now that you mention it, Dylan, how many times did Tommy beat OSU? There had to have been a run in there where they lost 10+ in a row or something.

  • Pretty sure Tommy beat OSU in 2003-2004, the NIT title year.

  • Kainkitizen

    Yes we did beat OSU in 2003-04 season. It was nationally televised game on CBS in Ann Arbor. Final score was 75-64. Lester Abrams was high point with 20.

    This season is going to be fun and exciting to watch and be part of as a fan. There is some tough competition on our schedule and it’ll be great to see them compete with the likes of Kansas, UConn, and the Big Ten Conference. It’s all about seeing them make more great plays then they did last year. Less turnovers, less missed shots, and more great plays with more wins.

  • MaizeNBlue2

    Yeah, I definitely remember the Iowa game, particularly the last possession of regulation, where we threw the ball around the perimeter for 15 seconds and Manny ended up chucking a desperation 3 at the buzzer. It looked like he completely lost track of how much time was left.

    After I saw that, I was okay with Manny being benched. That being said, at that point, I definitely thought we were going to miss the tournament after that loss. I thought we had to have that win in order to get in. Thankfully I was wrong.

    I’m really excited for the season this year. It’s been a while since I could genuinely say that. Here’s hoping our guys take the next step. What kind of expectations do we have for this year? Obviously, we need to make the tournament, but I personally would be happy with a run to the Sweet 16. If we get that far, I’ll consider it a successful year. I would also like us to not be on the bubble come Selection Sunday. If we get a top 8 seed and make the round of 16, I’ll be incredibly happy.

    Go Blue!

  • Ryan

    Hasn’t been much talk about kearney. I know that FreeP article stated he would go to MSU. But isn’t he anouncing on Monday?

  • As far as I know, Kearney is still announcing Tuesday. I don’t have much reason to expect anything but an MSU decision.

  • Dave

    i think a successful season would be a few solid wins prior to the big ten season then finishing better much better than .500 in the conference i would like to see that and then a couple wins in the tourney……..consistency throughout the whole season and no scoring problems would be nice to see

  • Michigan will have their “secret scrimmage” November 1st at EMU —

  • Wes Mantooth

    I’m glad you posted this, Dylan. I hate to say it, but I think some of the publications may have M ranked a bit too high. I think it’s SI that listed us at #9? There’s no reason we can’t finish in the top 25, but I wouldn’t predict a top 10 or top 15 finish…

    That being said, I’m extremely excited for this season to begin. I can’t wait to see what some of the new guys (especially Vogrich and Morris) bring to the table.

  • bentley

    Agree completely with maizenblue2. I would love to see 3 things from this team. In no particular order – Defend Crisler, Make the Sweet 16, play past Friday in the Big Ten Tournament. Last year was one of the best home records we have had in a long while at 14-3 and I would love to see us go undefeated or just have 1 loss. I feel like this will be a key to the 10-13 win conference season many of you would like to see. Been a long time since we were in the second weekend of the NCAA, pretty sure the last time was 1994. It has been a long time since we played on Saturday in the BTT, maybe not since 1998, although I seem to remember us squeaking through in one of the Amaker years.

  • bentley

    answered my own question 2004 – 5 seed beating Iowa and then bowing out to Illinois.