Game 10: North Carolina Central at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Photo Credit
: MGoBlue /

Michigan continues to push the limit of just how ugly a 20 point win can be. The Wolverines haven’t played many complete games this year and tonight was no different as Michigan crawled their way to just 23 first half points against North Carolina Central’s 2-3 zone. While the Wolverines looked hapless and befuddled versus the zone in the first half, the Eagles made the inexplicable choice to go away from the zone in the second half.

That decision cost them, as Michigan’s offense finally found a groove. The Wolverines scored just .87 points per possession in the first half with a dreadful effective field goal percentage of just 32% (13% 3pt). In the second half Michigan scored 1.41 points per trip with an effective field goal percentage of 64% (46% 3pt). The game was painfully slow, with just 55 possessions but ended up being one of Michigan’s best offensive performances of the season. Michigan finished the game at 1.14 points per possession, its third best offensive output of the season. That demonstrates two things: 1) Michigan’s offense was very good in the second half. 2) Michigan’s offense hasn’t been very good this season.


The shooting numbers were still subpar when all was said and done but Michigan’ cleaned up the offensive glass and didn’t turn the ball over. The offensive rebounding really kept Michigan afloat as Michigan scored 10 critical second half points. The Wolverine’s defensive rebounding could have been better but the difference in the game was that NCCU just could never seem to hit a shot. The Eagles finished the game with an effective field goal percentage of just 35%, their worst of the season. Central also managed to continuously shoot themselves in the foot by turning the ball over. Of the 13 Eagle turnovers, 12 were unforced as Michigan had just one steal.

Over the course of a thirty game season, off nights and performances like today’s first half are impossible to avoid. You’d much rather play a half like that against a team like North Carolina Central than a team like Oakland – or even worse on the road at the Breslin Center. Michigan can gain something from this game – especially with their zone offense – but at this point you take the win and move on.

That means it’s time to start talking about the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. Oakland travels to Crisler Arena this Saturday on the heels of their biggest win in program history, on the road over 7th ranked Tennessee. The Grizzlies tout an NBA-caliber big man in Keith Benson that averages 18 points and 12 rebounds per contest. Benson has improved significantly since Michigan last faced him two years ago, which is scary for Michigan fans that remember him scoring 23 points on 9 of 11 shooting and 11 rebounds in that game.

No videos today but here’s a Horford video from the UM Basketball Facebook page and links to MGoBlue videos:
Beilein Presser Audio / Darius Morris Video / Evan Smotrycz Video

Player Bullets:

  • Jon Horford: He’s skinny and undersized but he just keeps producing, 9 points (3-3 fg) and 9 rebounds (7 off.) in just 15 minutes tonight. Horford provides more energy and athleticism than McLimans and just seems to have a knack for being in the right spot at the right time. He’ll only get better, especially when he gains more muscle this offseason.
  • Darius Morris: He struggled against the 2-3 zone but when NCCU was in man-to-man defense he was the same Morris that we have become accustomed to: 12 points on 6 of 11 shooting with 3 assists and a steal. Michigan’s complete inability to make shots in the first half undoubtedly limited Morris’ assist numbers. Beyond the assists that we’ve harped on all season, Morris’ two point shooting has been phenomenal as he’s connected on 61% of his two point attempts this season despite taking a number of tough shots.
  • Evan Smotrycz: His emotions still affect him a little too much but he hit some big shots tonight and finished with 10 points on 3 of 7 shooting with 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 19 minutes. Smotrycz’ burst at the start of the second half really helped Michigan pull away and you had to like that he finally took it to the basket a few times and ended up with positive results.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Similar to Smotrycz, once Hardaway hits a three pointer his confidence level soars. After missing his first 6, he finally hit a trey late in the second half before following it up with another quick one. The instant offense is nice but the 0-6 beforehand isn’t. To his credit, Hardaway stuffed the statsheet with 4 assists and 4 rebounds to go along with his 11 points.
  • Jordan Morgan: A bit limited statistically, at 4 points and 6 rebounds, but Morgan was stronger on the defensive glass than most nights. He has probably taken something like 10 charges this year but also has the propensity to pick up cheap fouls. He’s going to severely limit himself if he picks up two fouls in the first five minutes of a game like he did today.
  • Zack Novak: After posting gaudy rebounding totals in the last couple games, Novak was a bit more limited today. He was more aggressive taking the ball to the hole, and hit a nice pull up jumper after a pump fake, which helped him total 9 points with 4 rebounds.
  • Stu Douglass: After shooting right around 50% from three over the first 8 games of the year, Douglass has hit a cold patch, going 2 for his last 11. He did have a huge make in the first half when it seemed like Michigan would never make another basket but he was also 0 for 2 inside the arc. Douglass also seemed to look extremely uncomfortable handling the ball against the NCCU press.
  • Matt Vogrich: When Vogrich is on the floor, Michigan is going to run plays to get him open three point looks. They managed to get him three good looks, but he missed all three. If he can continue to get good looks off set plays and connect around 38%, he’ll be a valuable asset backing up Hardaway.
  • Blake McLimans: Clearly third in Michigan’s rotation at the five spot right now. McLimans came off the bench first but Horford outplayed him by a significant margin for the second straight game.
  • Dylan Burkhardt

    Also, note the highlights in the sidebar — handy new little feature (which is admittedly also an ad… but the most useful one ever!).

  • kevin

    they seem to play to their competition (up or down)

  • Tom_McC

    I can’t really get caught in the “ugly 20 point win” or playing a complete game aspect of things.

    These guys are young and to expect them to play complete games just seems unrealistic to me. For me, I just want to see this team learn how to play the right way and play as a team. Sometimes it is hard to watch when they are missing shots but overall, the way this team is playing in terms of staying together and staying within the confines of the what the coaching staff wants, the first 10 games have been massive pleasant surprise in my eyes.

    The have their hands full going forward…only Bryant is the gimme left on the schedule and they will have to earn everything going forward starting with Oakland. That is when the real lessons will be learned and hopefully they can win a few of those games along the way.

    Bottomline, this team is making improvements and it just needs to focus on that for the remainder of the season. If they lose sight of that, it coould get ugly but if the they keep pressing forward and working every day to improve my guess is we will be hugely proud of this team at the end of the year.

  • Tweeter

    Just noticed the new ad/highlights on the side. Very nice addition.

    I think tonight we saw that this team is going to be an 8 man rotation once it gets to the meat of the schedule. Christian is still a work in progress and his extremely limited offensive game takes away any value he might have right now as a rebounder and defender. McLimans lacks the instinct and toughness that Horford has shown lately and as long as he is not hitting outside shots (he did finally make one tonight in garbage time), Morgan and Horford are both going to be ahead of him on the depth chart.

    The result of this, is that we are going to see a lot more small ball at times as Morgan undoubtedly gets in foul trouble against bigger teams and Smotrycz isnt ready to play thirty plus a night. I don’t necessarily mind that but it would have been nice to be able to rely on quality minutes out of McLimans and Christian this year.

    All that said, I am really jazzed about the future with Morgan and Horford up front. It will be interesting to see how they handle Benson on Saturday and it should provide a better barometer for the rest of the season.

  • AC1997

    It is a nice situation to be in when we’re complaining and concerned about 20-point wins. I think this Oakland game is a HUGE test for them after how well Oakland has played against Illinois, MSU, and now Tenn.

    One thing that sort of bugs me at times……and looking for some comments. When the 3’s just aren’t falling for this team, it would seem like Beilein needs to draw up some plays inside the arc to get their confidence back. Or tell them to take two steps closer to the rim when they’re open and increase their chances a little.

    Example – Early in the second half after a timeout they ran a play and got Vogrich a wide open look from three point range and he bricked it. Conversely, I feel like Izzo has about a 98% success rate on play calls after a timeout – getting open layups almost all the time. While the Vogrich shot was open and a good play, it was still a low percentage shot for a team needing a bucket.

    I LOVED when Horford hit an 18-footer because he didn’t try to make it a 3-pointer. Just took a nice mid-range jumper. Something that gets lost in this offense at times and something that could really help the games of guys like Hardaway, Novak, and Stu.

    • Tweeter

      Re: plays. That was something I was always looking for out of Beilein over the last several years that seemed to be missing. Plays out of stoppages. However, I think we have seen a lot of it this year. The one that really stands out was the start of the second half against Utah (i think?). Where they ran a great play to get Morgan a layup. They have also run a lot of good OBU plays this year where guys have gotten open for layups, but the passing decision making has not been great. I think as the team grows you will see more and more well executed plays for easy baskets.

      That said, some of those plays are going to be for threes because the strength of the team is still perimeter oriented. Its tough to run plays for easy baskets when you only have a couple guys who can finish that play consistently at the rim.

      I do think Beilein encourages the shooters to attack and take midrange shots, but I’m not sure that those guys have a lot of confidence in making those plays right now. Novak constantly gets himself in midrange situations but he just doesnt seem to have the knack or ability to finish those plays. Morris is really the only player they have who can create his own shot on a consistent basis. For the time being I would rather guys take the open shots they are comfortable with then start forcing up shots they are not comfortable with.

    • It seemed like when we hit our cold patch, and Oakland was playing that 2-3 zone, we didn’t drive or pass the ball inside, but just endlessly cycled it around the perimeter. The way this team plays offense is drastically different when Morris is driving to the hoop or we’re passing the ball into the post – not just because we get more inside looks, but we make the defense do more than just grow roots in one spot and rotate as the ball kicks around the perimeter.

  • ks

    Didn’t get to see the game since I live in the West Coast but looks like UM continues to get balanced scoring. Great to see especially when someone is having a down game.

    Just curious though – as the games start getting closer who is the go-to guy? Everyone besides Morris seems to be too up and down to trust with a final shot. Maybe Coach just has to go with the flow of the game and pick the guy with the hot hand?

    • Tweeter

      I think it is becoming pretty clear that in those situations they will get the ball to Morris and let him create or run a ball screen play for him. If its a deadball situation, maybe you see them set up a play to get a particular player an open shot, but in the flow of the game, you just get the ball to Morris and let him go.

    • UMQuasi

      I’d say Darius is most definitely the go-to creator, if not the go-to scorer. In a last second situation I’d look for a pick-and-roll with Morgan and Morris with the shot coming from: 1) Morris if they don’t switch on the pick or go under the pick, 2) Morgan if they do switch and don’t sag from the perimeter, 3) Stu from the perimeter if they sag on Morgan rolling to the basket.

      I feel like those are our three most reliable scorers at this point. Morgan is great finisher, Stu is our best perimeter shooter despite his recent cold spell, and I’ve come to assume that Morris will make midrange jumpers/layups/floaters no matter how difficult they look leaving his hand.

  • GrandChamp

    Is there any site online where I can buy tickets for Saturdays game without paying $30 for over night delivery?? Would I be able to just buy tickets at the door?

    • Go Blue

      You can just walk up and buy them at the game. If you prefer to get them ahead of time just pick them up at will call.

  • MaizeNBlueJ

    Torrent is up at

  • Troy

    I’m actually excited and nervous in anticipation for Saturday’s game vs. Oakland after their showing in Tennessee last night.

  • matt d

    Note on THJ – every 3 he takes seems to be directly on line, but just a bit long, as the shot often hits the heel of the rim. That kid has a sweet looking stroke, and the shot always looks good leaving his hands, just needs to take a bit off of it, and perhaps a touch more arch. I have no doubt that THJ will be a star for this time in due course.

  • Kenny

    The decision of Beilein to play Akunne at the end of the first half puzzles me. I don’t see Akunne providing meaningful minutes right now. Maybe Beilein was confident that we are able to pull away in the second half.

    Horford continues to impress me, plays much bigger than his body frame, extreme good timing in rebounding. his game reminds me more and more of Dennis Rodman although he has no tattos and doesn’t dye his hair. He will be moved to 4 someday.

    McLimans clearly fall behind Morgan and Horford now. But do not give up on McLimans yet, it takes longer to develop a big man and we still need him in the big man rotation.

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      I believe Eso played because we were in pretty significant foul trouble there. Horford, Morgan, Morris all had two fouls. With Morris out I think he wanted to see what Eso could do.

      • Kenny

        Maybe giving THJ the ball at such situation is a better choice. Eso clearly was not able to achieve anything.

    • Rodman comparison is interesting–Horford DOES just go in there with serious bouncing zeal. In the end I think there are more dimensions to Horford’s game but. . . if he could become that kind of rebound machine–whoa. He almost had a double double last night in 15 minutes.

      Those who were doubting that kid need to give us believers our props–right now–then we’ll let you on the bandwagon!

      I am super-excited for the Oakland game, that’s for sure.

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  • JimC

    Whatever JB said at halftime worked.

    I’m glad Oakland won…hopefully the boys will be awake on Saturday.

  • GregGoBlue

    On Morgan: “He’s going to severely limit himself if he picks up two fouls in the first five minutes of a game like he did today.”

    … and Bowling Green as well.

  • Section13Row15

    Dylan, first off the side bar game highlights are an amazing feature (although it distracts me at work nearly every day). As far as last night’s game goes, the first half was almost unbearable to watch. And I have no idea why more teams don’t play us in zone defense. We don’t respond well to that at all. I’m guessing that opposing coaches figure we shoot a lot of 3’s so they want man to man in order to close out on the shooter better. I would let us take all the 3’s in the world and guard the inside tight. Our percentage over the last 3 years from 3 says it all. Douglass and Vogrich are the only guys I trust to make the open 3 right now. It’s also apparent that there were some lanes and opportunities to work the ball inside against the zone but our team didn’t want to take the risk to fit the pass in between the defenders. Our shot selection has to get a whole lot better before the Big10 season starts. Too many ill-advised shots, particularly when none were going in. Horford brought a lot of energy last night and he continues to impress me in the few minutes he plays. Morris plays a lot better when Morgan is on the court, they have a good chemistry together.

    Also, let’s try to get a good crowd at Crisler Saturday. I’m sick of the other team having more fans than us at our home games. It’s embarrassing how small the crowds have been this year especially when the Concordia fans were cheering louder than us.

    • UMQuasi

      I disagree with your comment on the team’s shot selection. I actually thought there were almost zero ill-advised shots. The overwhelming majority of our first half shots were WIDE open–they just weren’t going in.

      This is the distinction between “offense” and “shooting”, Our offense, which I define as the process by which a team creates open shots, was working well. Our shooting was bad but not ill-advised. The last thing you want is a team to stop playing their game just because their shots aren’t falling.

  • GregGoBlue

    What this team lacks in veteran leadership, it makes up for in very diverse and balanced scoring. It’s almost comical the variety of players who have had breakout performances:

    NCCU: Horford
    Harvard: Stu
    Clemson: Smotrycz
    Utah: Darius, THJr
    Gardner-Webb: Morgan, Darius

    Once we enter into the Big Ten schedule I expect to see our youth catch up to us, but for now it’s fun to watch. To echo the general sentiment: in a few years, this will be a very dangerous team.

    • UMQuasi

      That’s an interesting observation about different players having breakout games. It is, however, a bit unfortunate not see Novak’s name on that list. You’ve gotta think he’ll have a huge shooting game at some point, although I’m not complaining about him averaging 8 and 8. If he could get that 3pt % from 29.5 up to around 34-35% as it was his freshmen year, that would be huge.

      • Kenny

        I am afraid that what Novak has been doing is what we can reasonable expect in the remaining of his basketball career. He, Morris and Morgan when he is not in foul trouble are most consistent player right now, followed by Horford who is making steady progress.

  • Section13Row15

    UMQuasi, I agree with you to an extent but when you take an open (or guarded) 3- pointer 5 seconds into the shot clock with your freshman forward, that is ill-advised. And after about 6-7 misses from outside, wouldn’t you think they could get a better shot somewhere else? Either with a better (higher %) shooter, or getting the ball into the post. Percentages don’t lie. Michigan is not a good 3 point shooting team despite how many they take whether they’re open or covered.

  • gpsimms

    sidenote: that win bumped up to kenpom #60 (I assume the change is more from removing weight of the preseason expectations than adding a win over one of the worst teams in the country.

    Anyway, that put us ahead of Indiana (barely) and now the expectation is 16-15 (7-11), with a 19% chance of a 17 win season.

    Looking at that makes me excited about the prospect of being semi-competitive in the best conference, but it makes me more excited about the next few years. Next year is the first year in a while the conference probably won’t improve as a whole, but Michigan should improve quite a bit.

    Every team loses stars except us. I think next year and the year after should put this whole “Beilein ceiling” thing to the test.

  • Giddings

    I think the first paragraph is a bit harsh. U-M played a pretty darn complete game against Utah, and I think the Bowling Green game was another good example. I also don’t think we looked “hapless” and “befuddled” in the first half – we moved the ball well and got wide open looks for our shooters, exactly as Coach B would draw it up. The shots just didn’t fall. I like UMQuasi’s point about “bad offense” vs. “bad shooting”.

    • The truth might lie somewhere in between. They were continuing to work the ball–and the shots weren’t falling. But they do sometimes look like they are just standing in front of a stone wall against zone defenses. Maybe someone who knows the game better than I do would like to explain why that is, because (from my possibly naive perspective) it seems we saw that last year, too. The clock doesn’t seem to be running out on us, and no one is panicking (why “befuddled” probably ISN’T the right word), but. . . maybe this is just a corollary occasional effect of the whole team staying in the set offense?

  • gordie bell

    Defense yall defense. Shooting is going to come and go, but this team is much improved, because they are playing good D. Belien mentioned on his post game interview with Matt Shepard the improved nature of the D. If we continue the good D and come away with a victory against a good Oakland team, it will be time to re-adjust expectations.

    Kudos to Belien his players are much improved over a year ago
    Kudos to Novak and Stu for setting the tone for playing hard nosed D
    Kudos to Morris for reaping the benefits of his countless hours working on his shot during the off season.
    I’m Kudo’d out but kudos to everyone else too.