For forty minutes on Sunday afternoon, Michigan fans got a taste of what this season was supposed to be. Michigan was focused and excited to play on the national stage and relishing the underdog role once again, they gutted out a win over Connecticut. (Video highlights here)
Throughout the first half, everything seemed to go Michigan’s way. Michigan got the lead after getting hot from three point range and going on a 17-2 run in the middle of the half. Anthony Wright (2-18 before today), Stu Douglass, and Laval Lucas-Perry each hit a pair of three pointers in the first half. Most importantly, Jerome Dyson picked up his second foul early on and sat for 17 minutes of the half. Michigan caught a few breaks and made enough plays to earn a 9 point halftime lead.
The second half was a different story. Jerome Dyson led Connecticut back into the game and Michigan found themselves in a dogfight for the final 15 minutes of play. Luckily, Michigan was ready to fight. They battled on the backs of Manny Harris, DeShawn Sims, and Zack Novak and throughout the last 8 minutes it seemed to be one of those three who made every big play. Sims (4), Harris (9), and Novak (7) combined for 20 of Michigan’s final 22 points in the last 12 minutes (all but 2 Douglass FTs late). In a 58-58 game with 1:30 to play it was Zack Novak who hit the shot of the game, a three pointer from the top of the key off a Manny Harris assist. A Douglass steal on the next UConn possession and a Harris fast break layup put Michigan up 5 and the rest was history.
Statistically it certainly wasn’t pretty. This win was much more about grit and hustle than efficient play. Michigan barely outshot Connecticut, 44.9% eFG% to 42.7%, thanks to hitting a number of three point shots. Michigan scored 1.01 points per possession to Connecticut’s 0.94 in a 67 possession game that was played at Michigan’s tempo. Michigan did a decent job of holding onto the ball, turning it over on 19% of their possessions. Most importantly they rebounded 36.6% of their missed shots and managed 20 second points against the a team with a dramatic height advantage.
Michigan threw the kitchen sink at UConn on defense, they played some 1-3-1 zone, some 2-3 zone, and a healthy portion of man-to-man. Michigan forced UConn to turn the ball over on 25% of their possessions but UConn stayed in the game thanks to great offensive rebounding (43% OR%) and getting the the free throw line (FTA/FGA = 45.5%). In the second half, Michigan’s guards really struggled to stay with Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson but they managed to clamp down when it counted and pull off a victory.
For those of you that think Michigan has underachieved this year, imagine being in UConn’s shoes. UConn is 11-6 and are in the middle of a three game losing stream. Not to mention the fact that they play four five star recruits: Alex Oriakhi, Kemba Walker, Ater Majok, and Stanley Robinson. Not to mention their leading scorer Jerome Dyson was a four star recruit ranked in the top 50. For comparison’s sake, Michigan plays two top 50 recruits (Sims and Harris), both four stars.
This loss makes Michigan’s 3-2 start to conference play a little more disappointing. Northwestern was not only a frustrating loss but it appears that it might have been a chance quality win. Michigan’s RPI is still in the 100s so any talk of an NCAA tournament bid is still a long shot to say the least. It appears that Michigan will have to win 11 or 12 conference games to make a strong argument as a bubble team. It doesn’t get any easier next week, Michigan hits the road for games at Wisconsin (without Leuer) and Purdue. The good news is that Michigan is playing their best basketball of the year, the bad news is that very few teams leave the Kohl Center or Mackey Arena with a victory.
- Zack Novak: 28 minutes, 10 points, 4 rebounds, one steal, one block. The statline doesn’t wow you but how can you not love Zack Novak. The fact that he hit the biggest shot of the game and battled against 6-foot-9 guys the entire game is great but there was one stretch that defined Zack Novak: He swatted an alley-oop attempt on defense and then hustled up the floor and rebounded a missed three pointer for a putback basket. The hustle and determination was obvious from Novak down the stretch, the kid is a warrior.
- Manny Harris: It wasn’t Harris’ best performance but despite his somewhat sloppy stat line (5-15 shooting, 4 turnovers) I thought he played very well. He played within the offense and rebounded very well (8 rebounds, 5 offensive). His ability to get to the line in the second half was huge for Michigan. Harris also seemed to get better as the game went on, making tons of plays in the last 10 minutes.
- DeShawn Sims: I didn’t expect much from Sims offensively against the bigger and stronger Connecticut interior defense and Sims didn’t provide much: 8 points on 4 of 11 shooting. What Peedi did provide was effort on defense, especially on the glass with his 11 rebounds. To his credit, Sims did come away with some timely baskets down the stretch thanks to a few nifty cuts.
- Stu Douglass: This was the kind of floor game that Michigan needs from Stu every night. 13 points on 4 of 12 (3-10 3pt) shooting with 4 assists, 2 steals, and only one turnover. Douglass wasn’t hot from long range but he hit a few and also managed to play in control and hold onto the ball after turnover struggles in the last two games.
- Laval Lucas-Perry: It’s a lot easier to win when Laval hits a couple threes and he managed two big ones in the first half yesterday. He’s still a bit passive on offense, so I wasn’t surprised to see that UConn put Dyson on him for much of the second half in effort to keep him out of foul trouble, but he had a strong performance. My biggest knock was his foolish turnover at the end of the game. I really like the way that Laval is starting to rebound the ball of late
- Anthony Wright: Anthony Wright hit three threes after going 2 for 18 all year. It was his best performance since the Oklahoma game last year and luckily Michigan didn’t spoil it. Wright is obviously a limited player but he deserves credit for stepping up with Novak on the bench with foul trouble.
- Zack Gibson: Gibson also provided quality minutes off the bench. He scored 4 points and 4 rebounds as well as a huge block in the first half. Gibson played with energy and didn’t turn it over.
- Darius Morris: This was one of those performances when you remember that freshmen not named John Wall will still be freshmen. Morris has been improving over the last couple weeks but he just didn’t give Michigan much today.