Game 4: Michigan vs. Syracuse Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Highlights from the Michigan Basketball Facebook page

Some might call it ugly, others might call it a defensive struggle, but anyone that watched the game would admit that Michigan played a tough game. In the end, they didn’t have enough gas in the tank and learned the hard way how important it is the execute down the stretch. I would imagine that Michigan players and coaches are running down a list of possessions that they would have loved to have back as there were just too many mistakes down the stretch to earn a win.

There are certainly plenty of positives. Michigan, a team picked 10th in the Big Ten, battled a Syracuse team picked 10th in country to the final whistle in front of a crowd of predominantly Orange clad fans. Despite numerous second half Syracuse runs, Michigan continually fought their way back into the game. Despite a handful of freshmen, especially on the front line, Michigan outrebounded an extremely tall and athletic Syracuse team. I thought Michigan would lose by 15 and didn’t expect them to be in the game much into the second half, so it is safe to say that they showed me something.

But at the end of the day, hanging tough is just a moral victory. Michigan had chances to win this game and just didn’t come up with the plays they needed. One possession stands out to me — trailing by four points with 1:01 on the clock, Michigan might have played their worst offensive possession of the entire game. Morris dominated the ball and ended up driving the lane and firing up a wild shot. Perhaps Beilein should have called a time out here, but Michigan simply needed a better shot at that juncture in the game. Because this is such a young team, I’m confident that they will be able to build from this experience.

Looking at the stats, the first thing that stands out is that Michigan did a great job controlling the tempo. They wanted to slow the game down to prevent Syracuse from getting easy baskets in transition. The game ended up a 60 possession contest, which is about 10 possessions slower than Syracuse would like to play.

Offensively, the Wolverines obviously had difficulty with Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, scoring just .83 points per possession. There were some possessions that looked good. Early on Michigan did a great job of getting the ball into Morgan behind the zone and most of their first half three point makes resulted from penetration. But too many times the Wolverine offense stagnated and was marred by endless passing of the ball around the perimeter and seemingly desperate shots. 

Defensively, Michigan did a tremendous job – holding the Orange to just .88 points per possession. The last time Syracuse’s offense was that inefficient was two seasons ago, February 11th, 2009, versus a UConn team that went to the Final Four. The difference in this game was that Michigan had no answer for Kris Joseph — the career 22% three point shooter hit 3 of 6 threes and finished the game with 22 points on 8 of 13 shooting. The Wolverines also did a good job on Syracuse’s starting guards, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche, who combined to shoot just 5 of 17 with 8 turnovers.

Michigan did an admirable job on the glass, allowing Syracuse to rebound just 27% of their missed shots. They won the turnover battle by a significant margin and weren’t outshot by much. However, the game changing difference was in the free throw column. Syracuse posted a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 31% (15 attempts) compared to Michigan’s 6.5% (4 attempts).

Next up is a UTEP team that lost a back-and-forth game to Georgia Tech tonight. It will be very interesting to see how this Michigan team reacts to the short turnaround after a tough loss. These early season tournament consolation games are monumentally important – look at last year’s collapse versus Alabama – and it’s important to regroup  because 1-1 is infinitely better than 0-2. We’ll have a full UTEP preview in the morning. Player bullets are after the jump.


Player Bullets:

  • Jordan Morgan: Jordan Morgan continues to be a pleasant surprise. He scored the ball very well early on, battled on the glass, and even took three charges for good measure. He needs to continue to develop offensively as he was 5 of 10 on the game with just one of those shots coming more than 3 feet away from the hoop. His finished ability diminished as the game went on but he’s providing productive minutes: 11 points and 8 rebounds tonight.
  • Stu Douglass: Almost immediately after I commented that Douglass was struggling, he caught fire and hit some huge shots in the first half. He took a lot of deep threes but still finished with the best shooting percentage on Michigan’s roster: 4 of 7 (3-6 3pt) for 11 points in 24 minutes. Definitely his best game of the year to date.
  • Darius Morris: Morris struggled against the zone. He had some flashes of strong play – notably good looks inside to Morgan – but he just made too many mistakes. The 6 assists are nice, but Morris also had 4 turnovers and was just 3 of 10 from the field. His shooting percentage is affected by a couple desperation shots (and first half buzzer attempt) but he didn’t have his jumper working.
  • Evan Smotrycz: He hit a couple big shots early on but went cold from the field after making those two triples.  2 of 10 shooting, 5 rebounds, a block and a steal in 28 minutes isn’t going to get it done. Right now Evan is mostly a shooter, so when his shots aren’t falling, Michigan is going to have problems.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway, like several Wolverines, couldn’t find his shot today. He finished the game 3 of 12 (1-8 3pt) and had some crucial misses on a pair of corner treys down the stretch. Hardaway seemed to be a bit out of sorts, perhaps because it was the first time had faced this level of competition and athleticism, but it would be encouraging to see a strong bounce back performance tomorrow.
  • Zack Novak: This is the second straight relatively invisible offensive game for Novak, who had 3 points (1-5 shooting), 4 rebounds, and a steal in 25 minutes. I’m not sure what needs to change with Novak’s role, but Michigan needs more production from the junior.
  • Blake McLimans: Blake had a tough day, playing 7 minutes and going 1 of 5 from the field. He needs to make more bunnies and get a little tougher. It’s clear that he’s far behind Jordan Morgan at this point.
  • Jon Horford: I was surprised to see him check into the game, and both his strengths and weaknesses were accentuated in his limited playing time. Horford battles, and has great hustle, but he just isn’t strong enough to compete against the big boys yet – Rick Jackson manhandled him on a couple rebounding battles.
  • Colton Christian: Christian is just a liability offensively, which makes it tough for him to play major minutes. Michigan actually opted to go with their small ball lineup in the second half with Smotrycz on the bench, playing Morris, Douglass, Vogrich, Novak, and Morgan.
  • Matt Vogrich: Not a lot from Matt but he did hit one of two threes in 11 minutes and pull down 3 rebounds. Vogrich definitely hustles, but I’m having a hard time seeing how he dropped 20 points in a game overseas.
  • Giddings

    I watched a bit of the GT/UTEP game and I gotta say, UTEP scares me. Culpepper is one of those really quick guards that can score at will on the perimeter… I don’t know if our guards are quick enough to keep up (remember, they had trouble with the quickness of Saginaw Valley’s guards).

    Having said that, I think the team will love being able to actually run an offense tomorrow night and will have a bounce-back performance from the three point line, knocking down at least 35% to lead them to a win.

  • Polisci

    While I respect your opinion, Dylan, I think you’re being a bit too critical. I know that there is a feeling on the internet that the only objective evaluations are critical ones, but i don’t think that is true.

    This team, with only two juniors and three guys that have played meaningful minutes; this team, which every guru in the country has trashed as only having a couple of Big Ten quality players; this team that has been picked universally to finish 10th or 11th in the Big Ten, just lost by 3 points to a good team. They lost on the road in a place filled with primarily fans of SU. Moral victories do matter. This is a good loss. One can disregard a moral victory when the team is supposed to be good, when the team is supposed to compete for a Big Ten championship. You don’t just dismiss this game as a moral victory that counts for nothing, when you are considered to not only be a bad team, but a team that doesn’t even have more than a couple of players that should be on any Big Ten roster.

    This team has wildly over achieved thus far in the season. It’s only four games, but a 3 point loss to SU is a major victory in my book, given the context. I dismiss moral victories as being worth nothing, if I feel the team was supposed to win the game or at lest had a good shot at winning the game before hand. That’s not the case here, so when they almost pull off the upset I’m going to be happy and think that it was a good loss, in other words, a moral victory.

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      I understand what you are saying. I tend to believe a moral victory counts for something if they can continue to build on it. If we see much better execution down the stretch tomorrow, then I think you can say they gained something from it.

      I didn’t mean for my post to come off too critical. I think there was definitely a lot to gain (maybe I’ll edit that line and make it a little less negative sounding).

      • Polisci

        Hope I didn’t come off as being too critical of you, Dylan. I love your site and reading what you have to say.

        • Dylan Burkhardt

          Not at all! We want discussion in here, you are entitled to your own opinion and you made plenty of great points.

      • David Spencer

        Disagree that Dylan was overly critical. I think Dylan’s tone is probably very consistent with most fans after watching that game. We missed a golden opportunity last night. I think I remember four or five trips in a row down the court where we had a chance to tie or take the lead late in the 2nd half. It was just massively disappointing to blow an opportunity to get a “quality win” in the very hopeful event we have a shot @ the tourney. That all being said, I could not be more pleased with how we’ve played so far. We are in great shape.

  • Rb

    Big fan of what I saw tonight. Love a team that is going to battle and hang with a highly rated team even when offense isn’t functioning. Think we are finally going to see beileins vision for a basketball team. That being said, I wish this team could shoot. Its been3 years; shooting isn’t going to get much better.

  • Tweeter

    Maybe you edited a little before I read this, but I do not think you were too critical Dylan. Maybe because I tend to be over-critical, idk. But to me moral victories only matter once the season is over and you can look back and say that such and such loss was a real turning point. Right now we don’t know if this was a great gutsy effort against a really good team, in which UM ultimately fell short of a win or a inefficient performance agaisnt a so-so team that we should have played better against.

    Right now I tend to lean more towards being optimistic because the team is so young, but at the same time this is a team that has practiced a lot more than most other teams thanks to the Euro trip.

    Tomorrow, is very important (maybe not at the end of the year), but for my overall feeling towards this season at this very moment. They need to bounce back, play hard again, and be more efficient offensively.

    As for Novak, I think we are seeing what he is. A guy that is going to play solid, smart basketball at both ends, do a lot of little things, but he is not going to score a lot nor shoot a lot. Frankly, I am ok with that. I would rather he just play within himself than force things just because he feels like he has to as a more senior member of the team. He does not have a great off the dribble game, so better that he just takes the spot up shots when they are there and when they aren’t just move the ball and keep the offense flowing.

  • rlc

    Vogrich contributed. A little.

  • drae

    need a win tomorrow… to come and out of this tourney being 1-1 would speak volumes… everyone had this team beatin before the game even started… the more they play together the better they will get… you have to love the D-Mo to J-Mo connection that has continued to get better and better with each game… the freshman have had their moments but have played alot better than what people might of thought they would before the season begun… hopefully this lost has will be fuel to fire them up for tomorrow’s game…

  • AG2

    And Boise goes down in the most epic choke job imaginable, thus clinching 2 BCS Bids for the Big Ten.

  • GrandChamp

    We are a good team and people need to start realizing that. We shot the ball horrible and only lost by 3 to a talented team. I know that over the last few years we have become accustomed to the team shooting poorly but I expect this year to be different. I’m very interested to see how we play against a talented man to man defense.

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      I am most impressed with our defense early on. After the next two games, if we keep performing well in some areas, I’m planning to work on a post looking at the defense. UTEP on no rest and then Clemson on Tuesday will be tough for this team. Have to see how we rebound.

      • MaizeNBlueJ

        Definitely agree on the defense. The thing is, it should only get better as these young guys start to figure out the help-side rotations, and the other little nuances of the defensive side of the ball. It definitely bodes well for the future.

        • Our defense is going to keep us in a lot of games this year. If/when our shooting catches up I think we will be able to surprise folks.

        • catwoman

          Please tell me where you are streaming the game. I do not get hdnet in my area. Thank you.

  • georgeesq.

    The reason this game was somewhat disappointing is because we’ve been playing a very impressive brand of basketball so far this season. Expectations were raised a bit. And we could have beaten Syracuse with a couple of plays down the stretch. The potential is apparent.

  • drae

    true it will be a test for them… but you have to look at Clemson, this is not the same Clemson from a few years ago… Oliver Prunell is no longer there and even though they are 5-1 they really haven’t played nobody and i mean NOBODY… so if U of M can stand strong and go 2-0 over the next 2 games they will turn some heads…

  • Joel

    It probably wouldn’t have mattered, but how is that a foul on Novak at the end?? I didn’t watch the entire game, but how was the officiating overall? 19-9 seems like a pretty big foul difference. Anyways, would’ve been a great win for the tournament resume, assuming Syracuse is actually good, but we played ’em very close. It was nice to see Stu knocking down those 3’s!

    • MaizeNBlueJ

      I thought the first half officiating was fine. They let the teams play, and neither team got called for many fouls. In the second half, it did seem to me they started to call it Syracuse’s way.

      I say that with a caveat, however. The officials called it much tighter in the second half, and I think Syracuse just adjusted to it a little better than we did. I’m sure part of that has to do with us being a young team (failing to adjust to the way the game’s being called). I don’t, however, understand how the officials can just completely change the way they call the game in the second half. That was my biggest problem with it, although there were definitely a few “questionable” calls that went against us.

      In the end though, it was our failure to execute down the stretch that caused us to lose this game. As I said, we’re very young, so if the guys can learn from it, then it was definitely a meaningful loss. I think it will also help this team’s confidence.

      • CJD

        I was at the game, they called it the same both halves in my opinion. They let them play; the fact is that the team that was more aggressive in getting the ball in the paint (SU) was rewarded for doing so.

  • Go Blue

    I believe UM wins this game with better shot selection. The last possession before the half really swung the momentum, we could have taken the last shot instead smotryz jacked up a 3 pointer with 13 seconds left???? SU not only ended up scoring but picked up 3 fouls on top of it. Can someone please tell me why Vogrich was on the floor during SU last possession right before the half? Why would you not substitute in someone better defensively?

    • MaizeNBlueJ

      It was probably to keep someone from picking up a cheap second or third foul late in the half.

    • CJD

      Exactly coach rotated guys in to spread out the fouls he planned on using to try and burn clock and keep SU from getting a quality shot.

  • JimC

    This team is where it should be, and they’re compelling to watch, which is saying somthing. They have a chance to win again today, unlike the football team.

  • MaizeNBlueJ

    Dylan – just a couple of points. Maybe I’m off base, but I really liked Smotrycz’s hustle and effort on the boards. The number wasn’t that impressive, but I thought he kept quite a few a live for teammates.

    It seems like Novak’s hustle is starting to rub off on his younger teammates. I recall one possession where we had three different guys dive on the floor for different loose balls in the same possession.

    Hardaway looked out of sorts to me, and it wasn’t just his shooting, etc. At times he really looked like he was lost as far as what he was supposed to do against the zone. I’m not sure what caused that, and I’m sure he’ll bounce back from it, but that does concern me a little bit. If he keeps improving and puts it all together, though, he could have a stellar career before it’s all said and done.

    Overall, I was impressed with the teams effort, and I think they wanted this game more than Syracuse did. The offense definitely was more stagnant against the zone at times in the second half, but some of it was just shots wouldn’t fall. Looking at the stats, if we hit one more 3 and one more free throw, we win the game.

    I’m definitely impressed with the defense of this young team though. I can see the help-side rotations getting better, and holding a Syracuse team with this many athletes below 60 points is definitely an accomplishment. In the end, it is just a moral victory, but if they continue to put forth that kind of effort the rest of the year, I feel they can definitely surprise some teams. We’ll see what they’re really made of with the short turnaround.

    Go Blue!

  • MaizeNBlueJ

    Torrent of the game is up at

  • wayman britt

    I was impressed with the way UM played. Although tough to see everything on JustinTV. Picture qualitiy was weak. I thought our defense was very good. Morgan is showing his strength every game.

    I was a little disappointed in Morris at the end. This is where he really needs to show his leadership. He must keep his composure. Hopefully he learned something last night. He will definitely have other chances.

    • MaizeNBlueJ

      Sorry, but there were 1800 people viewing. I don’t think the quality issue was on my end. If it was that bad, and my changes don’t fix it, I just won’t bother streaming it tonight.

      • Dylan Burkhardt

        I checked in and it seemed to work pretty well. I would definitely say it would be worth doing again.

        • MaizeNBlueJ

          I checked it as well, and it seemed fine, but I have 10mbps down. It could definitely be a bandwidth issue for you guys that had problems.

      • Mason

        I had issues too, but i know they were on my end. I’m out in the middle of nowhere and have a (VERY) weak internet signal that couldn’t handle streaming high-def video. Maybe that was Wayman’s problem too?

        Thanks MaizeNBlueJ, by the way. Hopefully i can take advantage of a standard-def feed at some point. :)

      • Blue Guy

        I greatly apreciated the feed, and would be sad if it wasn’t available again tonight.

  • Brian W

    The game provided a good example of how freshman hype doesn’t equal freshman performance. Syracuse ended up sitting their highly regarded center after playing just four minutes. U-M’s freshmen have done pretty welll for the most part; some have done better than others, but they generally have improved each game.

    I’m looking forward to the game tonight. Not looking forward to the announcers on HDnet, though.

  • CJD

    I was at the game and have to admit there were many more positives than I expected, I actually joked with a crowd of SU fans in the way in that I expected to get manhandled by them. Which was not the case most of the night.

    As for the action on the floor I will keep it short and sweet; I do not think they attacked the zone well at all. A jump shooting team like Michigan needs to make a more consistent effort in pounding the ball inside; even if it just gets kicked back out. They constantly just passed around the outside and settling for a bad shot late in the shot clock.

    On the contrary I thought they did a very good job on the defensive side of the ball; this is not usually the case for a team as young as the wolves.

    They have a lot of good pieces that in time should come together if they continue to be competitive against teams with far more experience. The key will if Morris can play with more poise for 40 minutes rather than 25 – 30 like he did last night.

    In closing Glenn Rice sat a few seats away form me at the game; and it was great to see what a class guy he was to every single person (including myself) who came up to say hello, get a picture taken or shake his hand. I did ask him why his son, who was the leading scorer in the first game for Georgia Tech, was in Ann Arbor. His reply was short and not so sweet; they did not recruit him until last minute and it was just too late. It is a shame because Jr. can play!

  • The defense is a real tribute to Beilein’s coaching ability, and Morgan is–for me–the brightest unanticipated spark. I would just so love to see the 3-pointers begin to flow for this team and remain consternated that they don’t. Maybe it’s just confidence, and coming?

    Was also pretty happy with Smoky Metrics out there, especially on D. Like some of the guys on the bench, the kid looks like he’s 12 year old–galumphing around in his baggy shorts–but he is hooping.

    I also agree that Syracuse’s signature defense was tough. But unlike last year when the offense just looked dead at times, I think we remained patient. It doesn’t look much different, but there IS a difference between continuing to work it around to probe for that extra foot of room that’ll make it possible to get your shot off and just endlessly passing it around. I thought Stu and Darius were pretty good out there at the helm, too, excepting Darius’ one really bad moment. (Give him credit, even there; he wants to be a leader and he is growing in confidence.)

  • Dylan,

    You mentioned the small line up in the second half. I haven’t watched the game yet, but is that when we made our run? I love that Beilein has the option to run different line ups this year for some change of pace.

    I have a feeling that they may be more successful in an uptempo game. And I guess we’ll get a look against UTEP.

  • YpsiTuckyBoy

    I thought the team looked great, but the thing that disturbed me was the drop off between the starters and subs. Douglass shot the ball well, but he, Vogrich and McLimans just can’t make things happen with the ball like Hardaway, Morgan, and Smot can. I know you don’t want to wear a team down early in the season, but I feel like some of the guys off the bench got too much playing time. I’d like to see a little less subbing.

    Anyone else feel the same way?

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      There might be some concerns on the bench, but the question is how deep will Beilein go? He generally likes a short rotation.

      Douglass is very solid in the 6th man role, after coming out of the gate slow he’s provided some quality minutes of late.

      I’m worried about Christian backing up Smotrycz, because I don’t think Smotrycz is optimally used in a 30mins per game role.

      Vogrich and McLimans both have their liabilities, but I’m not ready to give up on them yet. If both play 10-15 mins and can hit some shots while they are in the game, they give us at least *something*.

      • YpsiTuckyBoy

        Yeah, I remember one point in the second half, I think, where the lineup was Douglass, Novak, Vogrich, Christian, and McLimans. They were bumbling and fumbling the ball, and looked the worst they had all game. The starters, on the other hand, looked good basically the whole time they were out there, especially on defense.

        I just wish THJ had hit a few more shots down the stretch. :(

    • Champswest

      Consider that they are playing games in back-to-back days. That will affect your rotation and playing time (or else you will have nothing left for game 2).