Watching this year’s Michigan is an entirely different experience than watching last year’s squad. First, I have no idea what to expect from the new faces on the court. Second, it’s free of the weight of expectations that seemed to doom last season. Bowling Green and USC Upstate clearly aren’t very good teams. They are both projected near the bottom of their respective leagues and haven’t played well in early season action. Despite their woes, it’s encouraging to see Michigan handle business and come away with a decisive victory.
It’s important not to jump to conclusions based on these early season results. In 2007-08, Michigan rolled over Radford and Brown before being served an extra large portion of humble pie with losses to Georgetown, Butler, and Western Kentucky. In 2008-09, they knocked off Michigan Tech and a decent Northeastern team before shocking UCLA in the Garden. In 2009-10 they beat Northern Michigan, Houston Baptist, and even Creighton before being blown out of the gym by Marquette and losing to Alabama. The bottom line is that you can’t take too much from an early season win over a team that appears to be in the bottom third of Division I basketball.
The game was relatively close for the first 17 minutes, with Tim Hardaway Jr. sidelined with a pair of fouls accumulated in the first 90 seconds of play, until one play changed the entire game. That play was Novak chasing down Luke Kraus and denying what looked to be an easy fast break layup. The layup would have given Bowling Green a lead but the block led to a wide open Vogrich three on the other end. Over the next 10 minutes (into the 2nd half) Michigan would go on a 22-5 run and never look back.
Offensively, you obviously have to love the way that Michigan shot the ball, especially from three point range. Michigan only topped tonight’s 47% three point shooting in two games last season (at Iowa and at Minnesota). The two point shooting, 45%, leaves a bit to be desired as there were at least three or four missed layups and dunks. The Wolverines attempted a healthy 31% of their field goals from three point range and an impressive 20 of 26 makes were assisted. Michigan was solid but unspectacular on the offensive glass, where Jordan Morgan led the charge with four offensive boards, but didn’t make it to the free throw line often. The cause for concern offensively is in the turnover department. The Wolverines turned the ball over on 20.8% of their possessions, a figure that isn’t terrible but is below the high standard that’s been set under John Beilein.
Defensively, Michigan was impressive again. The Wolverines held the Bowling Green to a meager 31.5% effective field goal percentage – just 20% in the second half. The Wolverines also did a tremendous job on the defensive glass, rebounding 79% of the Falcons missed shots (more impressive when you consider 3 of BG’s 9 offensive rebounds came on one possession). The main struggle on the defensive end was forcing turnovers. Michigan experimented with the 1-3-1 zone on a couple possessions but most ended up with an easy basket for Bowling Green.
Up next is a 2-1 Gardner-Webb team that holds wins over Charlotte, Mary Washington (?), and Virginia Intermont (?). After that the true test looms — Friday versus Syracuse in Atlantic City. Player bullets after the jump.
- Darius Morris: Morris was tremendous until I tweeted that he had 9 assists and 0 turnovers during the second half. He played under control, did a great job finding open shooters, and had a couple nice shots in the paint early on. He started forcing things a bit more in the second half but still finished with a career high 11 assists to just three turnovers. Morris’ play has been very impressive early on and probably second to only Jordan Morgan in terms of pleasant surprises.
- Zack Novak: The two blocks obviously stand out (when was the last time you saw two chase-down blocks underneath the backboard?) but Novak was all over the place. He shot 40% on his threes (2-5) but didn’t hit any of his twos (0-2), which seemed a bit more forced. Novak seems to be most comfortable shooting the three when he catches the ball on the fast break or secondary break. 8 rebounds (7 def.), two assists, and a steal are just icing on the cake from another solid performance.
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz showed how deadly he can be when his shot is on. Offensively, he was the driving force when Michigan opened up their lead late in the first half. Evan was Michigan’s leading scorer (14 pts on 4 of 6, 3-5 3pt shooting) despite playing just 22 minutes. Down the line Smotrycz’ handle is encouraging, but at this point he’s not ready to be leading the break (evident by his two turnovers).
- Jordan Morgan: A very solid stat line from Morgan with 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting, 8 rebounds, and two steals. Morgan seems to have a very good chemistry with his point guard (and roommate) Darius Morris which led to a number of easy looks around the hoop. He probably should have even had a few more points as he missed a couple bunnies and shot 50% (2-4) from the stripe.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass is making a conscious effort to take the ball to the hole and, thus far, good things are happening when he does. In just 18 minutes, Douglass had 5 points on 2 of 4 (1-2 3pt) shooting to go with three assists. Barring foul trouble, I think the 20 minutes per game range is how Stu is best utilized on this team.
- Matt Vogrich: Matt can really shoot it and looks extremely confident when that’s all he’s doing. The problem is that his defense and ball skills (3 TOs) are still a work in progress. I also think that Vogrich is probably the most adept at utilizing the backdoor cut, however he needs to continue to improve once the ball is delivered.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: The difference in athleticism with Hardaway on the floor was apparent when he returned to the game in the second half. Michigan’s fast break has the potential to be much more effective with him on the floor. After sitting for 18 minutes he seemed to struggle to get back in the flow of things (4-10 shooting) but despite a team high in FGAs he didn’t seem to force shots, even picking up 3 assists in 17 minutes.
- Blake McLimans: Blake popped a couple nice jump shots but still hasn’t found the range from three (not for the lack of trying). Morgan is much more of a complete package at this point but McLimans could make a difference if he can hit a jump shot or two in his 15 minutes per game.
- Colton Christian: Christian definitely gives this team a shot of adrenaline but it’s clear that his offensive skills are lagging behind. He had a great tipped in layup but also fumbled a decent pass from Novak in transition. He is a great change of pace to Smotrycz who presents an entirely different skill set.
- Jon Horford: Horford only played four minutes but did have a nice tipped in layup. He’s very active, and might have the most potential of any Michigan big, but clearly is lagging behind Jordan and Blake physically right now.