This was supposed to be one of Michigan’s toughest games of the season to date and the Wolverines passed it with flying colors. Michigan’s defense held Oakland – a team that has already faced West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, and Tennessee – to their worst offensive output of the season. I’ve been hesitant to believe that Michigan’s defense is the real deal, because making bad teams look terrible only goes so far, but right now there’s no denying that Michigan is playing great defense.
John Beilein’s game plan for dealing with Keith Benson couldn’t have been better. Benson made just one more field goal (5) than he had turnovers (4) and was held to a quiet 11 points and 7 rebounds. The Wolverines never allowed Benson to get comfortable on the offensive end as they threw an array of double teams at the 7-footer which forced him into turnovers or poor shots.
My pre-game prediction about Michigan playing lots of zone couldn’t have been further from the truth as the Wolverines played zone on just one possession. However, the prediction regarding the winner of the Darius Morris/Larry Wright match-up winning the game was right on the money. Morris finished with 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting, 5 assists, and 4 turnovers. Larry Wright was held to 1 of 9 shooting for 2 points, 6 rebounds, four turnovers, and three assists in 35 minutes. Morris was arguably the best player on the floor while Wright was never able to find his offensive game.
The four factors illuminate the difference in this game pretty clearly: shooting. Oakland had an effective field goal percentage of just 35% — 41% on twos, 19% on threes, and 53% on free throws. The end result of that dismal shooting is just .73 points per possession from the Grizzlies. The last time Oakland shot that poorly came last season in a November game at the Kohl Center. Michigan did a tremendous job on the defensive glass, as they rebounded 73% of Oakland’s misses.
Michigan had their slumps offensively but they scored just enough points to win comfortably. The offense scored 1.00 points per possession thanks to their 50% effective field goal percentage. Michigan’s offense attacked from the inside-out as they scored on a number of easy looks in the paint coming off great passes of cuts. The Wolverines attempted just 33% of their field goals from three point range, a mark well below their season average, and only connected on 32% of the long range looks. The name of the game was balance, as eight of the nine Michigan players that saw game action made at least two field goals.
This was a game that most expected Michigan to struggle through, they didn’t. The Wolverines responded with what might have been their best game of the year and ran Oakland out of the gym. The tests will only get tougher from here on out, and it remains to be seen how the Wolverines will match-up with the Big Ten, but you have to like how this team is playing basketball.
Next up is Bryant, a team that has already matched their win total from last year with a win over Iona. Michigan fans, and probably players, would be lying if they said their eyes aren’t creeping ahead to the December 28th home game versus Purdue. Pershing guard Sherron Dorsey-Walker was at the game and in the lockerroom afterward.
Photo Credit: MGoBlue
- Darius Morris: Morris was the best player on the court. When Michigan needed a basket it was Morris that answered the call with a circus shot in the lane or a smooth assist. Morris has obviously become comfortable in his role leading this team with the ball in his hands.
- Zack Novak: 13 points, 12 defensive rebounds, and four assists. Novak has become a force on the defensive glass whether he’s at the two or four position and he’s one of the main reasons why Michigan’s defensive rebounding has been so improved this year. He’s not shooting the ball great – 3 of 7 today – but his rebounding has been paramount.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan was obviously bothered by Benson’s length and shot blocking ability inside (2 of 7) but he did grab 11 rebounds (5 off, 6 def) in 18 minutes. The foul troubles woes continued but if Horford is providing quality minutes, that might not be the end of the world. I thought Morgan did a great job of playing strong in the post and was doing the pushing rather than being pushed around.
- Jon Horford: Another quality performance from Horford: 4 points (2-4 fg), 6 rebounds, and three blocks in 17 minutes. Horford probably should have had four more points if it wasn’t for missed tip-ins, and he’ll lose some battles based on sheer lack of strength, but he is providing a spark for this team. Horford is the best shot blocker on the team by a wide margin and continues to have a nose for the ball.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.:Hardaway’s inconsistency remains, as he didn’t find the scoring column until the second half, but he has the ability to score points in bunches which was evident by his 10 second half points. The shooting still isn’t there, 3 of 9 (2-5 3pt), but 4 rebounds, two steals, an assist and a block in 28 minutes. Hardaway was probably as aggressive as he has been all year taking the ball to the hole.
- Matt Vogrich: Lately when Vogrich shoots the ball, you think it’s going in. He hit one of two three point attempts today and finished with 5 points in 12 minutes. Hardaway struggled early on and Vogrich provided Michigan with an early offensive spark that got the ball rolling.
- Stu Douglass: An efficient night for Douglass: 3 of 4 shooting (1-1 3pt) for 7 points in 28 minutes. Douglass played within himself and never forced things offensively, leaving very little to complain about in a game where Michigan didn’t need him to go above and beyond.
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz had a pretty solid performance overall thanks to a couple great stretches of play. He hit a couple of shots in the first half but more notably started a huge Michigan run out of the gates in the second half. First, running the same play that Michigan ran out of the half versus Utah, he had a nice assist down low to Jordan Morgan. Smotrycz followed that up with a three pointer and a big block on the other end which. 3 for 8 (1-5 3pt) isn’t great in terms of shooting numbers but Smotrycz did hit some huge shots.
- Blake McLimans: 5 minutes, 1 foul, not other production. McLimans continues to check into games before Horford, maybe to burn a foul?, but he hasn’t produced.