The growing pains continued as Michigan’s defense was effortlessly picked apart by Northwestern. Northwestern’s offense is very good, the Wildcats are one of the best shooting teams in the country, but this game was about Michigan’s defense being awful. Again. Michigan’s defense has allowed 437 points in 357 Big Ten possessions, which computes to a Big Ten worst 1.22 points per possession.
Northwestern’s offense was very good throughout the game and the Wildcats were unstoppable in the first half. Northwestern scored inside, outside, in transition, on inbounds plays, and even on second chances. There were times when Michigan was beaten by a tough shot off of the dribble or by exceptional ball movement. However, there were far too many possessions when Michigan’s defense was late to rotate, caught out of position, failed to fight through a screen properly, or was scrambling aimlessly trying to catch up with the basketball. Michigan’s defense was not only passive, forcing turnovers on just 9% of Northwestern’s possessions, it also was sloppy and prone to break down which allowed numerous easy baskets and layups. Yes, this team is young — Michigan started three freshmen and Northwestern played just one. But the defensive rotation and execution that this team has demonstrated in Big Ten play is just not good enough to win games in this league.
Similar to the last game in Bloomington, Michigan’s offense wasn’t that bad but the defense was bad enough that it didn’t matter. After Michigan’s loss to Ohio State, I noted that the Wolverines had rarely lost a Big Ten game when they managed to score over 1 point per possession. Versus Northwestern, Michigan managed to do it again, scoring a respectable 1.03 points per possession. The Wolverines only attempted 36% of their shots from three point range, well under the season average of 45%. The problem was that Michigan made just 46% of its two point shots well under its season average of 51%. Michigan didn’t get to the line often and only converted 8 of 15 free throw attempts.
This is a shattered team. The last several weeks have been a perfect combination of short rest, close home losses to top teams, and blow out road losses to average Big Ten teams. Now Michigan is desperately grasping for answers. In order to regroup for Saturday’s game versus Minnesota, Michigan needs to not only figure out how to harness this desperation into positive energy but also improve its team defense by leaps and bounds.
- Darius Morris: Two early fouls knocked him out of a rhythm and he needs to do a better job finding his five man rolling to the basket. Morris seemed to have a great chemistry on these plays with Morgan early on but now seems to be more focused on looking for his own offense. His final numbers weren’t awful, 16 points on 6 of 13 (0-1 3pt) shooting with four rebounds, four assists, and three turnovers, but once again a majority of his production came with the game already out of hand. There’s still a bit too much over dribbling, and it costs Michigan some possessions, but there are also times when Michigan needs him to create something out of nothing.
- Stu Douglass: Stu had Michigan’s most efficient offensive performer, scoring 17 points on 7 of 9 (3-5 3pt) shooting. Stu was the only Michigan player other than Jon Horford (1-2) that shot over 50% from the field and without his offense this game could have been much uglier. It would certainly be encouraging if Douglass can hold onto this hot shooting stroke moving forward.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan didn’t have his best game. He was abused by Mirkovic in the post and also missed some easy shots (and a dunk) around the basket. Jordan doesn’t have the ability to be a big time shot blocker but he is letting opposing post players get whatever shots they want. Northwestern scored 51 of its 74 points during Morgan’s 21 minutes of playing time as Morgan posted a team worst -23 plus/minus rating.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway had a great start, scoring Michigan’s first five points, but then went ice cold, making 1 of his next 12 shots. Shot selection is a huge issue for Hardaway, who also had seven rebounds and two turnovers, as he needs to make better decisions with the basketball. He’s not shooting a high percentage from three point range and continues to shoot three pointers early in the shot clock. He as aggressive taking the ball to the hole at times but was a little too loose and either got ripped or missed shots in the lane.
- Zack Novak: Novak, similar to Hardaway, started the game hot but then couldn’t find his range from distance. He airballed a three that could have cut the lead toward single digits and was just off for most of the game. He did have a nice drive to the basket at one point. Novak did a better job on Shurna than Smotrycz but he was still caught out of position or late closing out on shooters on several occasions.
- Evan Smotrycz: John Shurna took Evan Smotrycz to school in the first half. It didn’t matter whether it was off the dribble, off of screens, or in transition; Michigan couldn’t stop Shurna and Smotrycz was often times the culprit. Smotrycz played well versus Ohio State but beyond that he’s really struggled on both ends over the past several weeks.
- Matt Vogrich: Vogrich showed some nice aggression on the offensive end, including a nice drive to the basket and a surprising tip in, but couldn’t’ find many open threes.
- Jon Horford: Horford really struggled defending the pick and roll and was caught out of position on help defense a number of other times. He provides some energy and, unlike Morgan, had the ability to recover and block shots but he looks like a guy who still has his head spinning when he’s on the court.