Photo: Detroit Free Press
A month ago today, Minnesota beat Michigan in Crisler Arena. The final score was 69-64, but down the stretch the outcome was never really in question. It was Michigan’s seventh loss in eight games and a once promising season had derailed and was hurtling toward abyss. Michigan’s turnaround over the last month has surprised even the most optimistic Michigan fans, but it also forces us to suffer through a deflating loss like this. The pain of losing a coin flip game like tonight’s is infinitely harder to manage than a loss like Minnesota, where you simply get outplayed.
Obviously the focus falls on the last possession of the game. I’m not a huge fan of using the fouls like Michigan did but that part of the strategy was executed pretty well. Ideally you’d like to use the sixth foul with two or three seconds left, but the first three fouls were used very well. I don’t think Wisconsin was ever going to rush into a shot and Michigan forced them into a lower percentage shot than they would have likely attempted in their typical set. The switch was obviously botched (and there also wasn’t any secondary help from the far wing) but the logic there is pretty clear. There’s one guy that everyone knows can and will beat you: Jordan Taylor. Stu Douglass reached for the ball, and if he’s going to do that he needs to knock it loose because that enables Taylor to pass over him. Taylor is a 41% three point shooter and odds are he would have got a good look. Taylor made a great play to find Gasser, a 28% three point shooting freshman, who banked it in. Michigan’s end of game strategy wasn’t flawless but I don’t think a Gasser three was one of Bo Ryan’s top five options breaking the huddle. At the end of the day, Gasser and Taylor deserve all the credit in the world for making a big time play.
In the end, this game shouldn’t have come down to a miracle shot. Michigan had the chance to seize control of the game down the stretch but just never could grab it. The Wolverines took a two point lead with 2:41 to play but came up empty on their final three offensive possessions: a Hardaway turnover, a Morris miss and a missed front end of the one-and-one. I don’t know that these possessions were terrible, as Michigan basically got decent isolation sets from both Morris and Hardaway, but the results weren’t there. Empty possessions down the stretch always come back to haunt you, especially against Wisconsin, and this game was no different.
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Michigan did an admirable job on the defensive end of the court, defending Wisconsin almost as well as anyone else has this season. The Badgers scored .96 points per trip with an effective field goal percentage of 43% — 45% on twos and 28% on threes. Michigan only let Wisconsin get to the free throw line three times the entire game, an astoundingly low number, but they also could only manage to create a measly five turnovers. Wisconsin’s eight second chance points — 15% of their scoring total — all felt like backbreakers, but Michigan did rebound 76% of Wisconsin’s missed shots.
Offensively, Michigan ran their sets pretty efficiently and got good shots. The Wolverines shot the ball very well with an eFG% of 57.3% – 46% on twos and 54% on threes – but free throws were their undoing. Michigan missed its final six free throw attempts, including all six in the second half, and finished the game 5 of 11 from the charity stripe. Usually it’s Michigan’s inability to get to the line that proves costly, today it was the inability to convert their few available chances. Michigan turned the ball over on 18% of its possessions, which isn’t necessarily that terrible but every single one of those turnovers was magnified by Wisconsin’s pace and style of play. The Badgers attempted 17 more field goals than Michigan for the game. In the second half, Michigan made just 3 of 15 two point attempts compared to 5 of 8 three point attempts.
Is there any question that this is a game of inches? Michigan’s prayer in Champaign rattled out while Gasser’s bank shot falls. It’s nearly impossible to project which direction Michigan goes from here. Minnesota has looked extremely vulnerable while Michigan beat Michigan State on the road. It’s fair to say that Michigan has a legitimate chance to win both of those games. They could also crumble and lose both. Winning out might not punch Michigan’s ticket, but it would certainly keep a multitude of possibilities alive in the Big Ten Tournament.
Photo: Ann Arbor.com
- Darius Morris: Morris didn’t have his greatest game but I really thought he let the game come to him. He finished with 8 points (4-9 fg), five assists, four rebounds, and four turnovers. Several of the turnovers were close calls (barely moving his pivot foot) but Morris took over the game when Michigan was in trouble in the first half and didn’t do nearly as much over dribbling as we’ve become accustomed to. Then, there’s the missed front end on Michigan’s last possession. I do give Morris credit for the defense he played down the stretch, he did a great job forcing Taylor into an awful shot on Wisconsin’s second to last possession.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway continues to play well, finishing with 16 points on 6 of 13 (4-7 3pt) shooting with four rebounds, three assists, four turnovers and a steal. He had a couple bad turnovers but some of those are inevitable when you run that many sets through a player. Hardaway hit a pair of huge threes in the second and really put Michigan in a position to have a chance but he also had an 0-2 trip to the line and a costly turnover down the stretch.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan really battled against Leuer and also managed to do a decent job of staying out of foul trouble.Jordan finished the game with 12 points on 5 of 7 shooting and five rebounds. Leuer scored 12 points on 14 shots and consistently settled to fire up contested threes. Leuer is probably quicker, stronger, and more athletic than Morgan but I thought Jordan showed more fight – he also held Leuer to just one offensive rebound.
- Stu Douglass: Stu had five points on 2 of 4 (1-2 3pt) shooting with a rebound, steal, block, turnover and an assist. There was obviously a communication breakdown between him and Hardaway on the last play which will be what we remember. He did a good job defending Taylor at times but also did a terrible job of boxing him out (I would guess he was the culprit on all three of Taylor’s offensive boards).
- Zack Novak: Something is wrong with Zack Novak. I don’t know if it’s tired legs, something personal, mechanical, or psychological, but something is wrong. Novak has now missed his last 14 field goal attempts in a stretch that spans over two and a half games. He still battled admirably against the much bigger Nankivil, grabbed six defensive rebounds, had two assists, and took a charge but Michigan needs him to snap out of his shooting funk.
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz hit both shots — a nice roll to the basket to end the half and a three in transition — and even got to the line (but missed both FTs). Smotrycz was out muscled, and only played 11 minutes, but it was good to see him provide an offensive spark that’s been lacking recently.
- Matt Vogrich: I really thought Vogrich played with great energy and aggressiveness. He was 1 of 2 (1-1 3pt) shooting but he shot the ball with purpose and confidence coming off screens and his miss was about halfway down before popping out. He also had two rebounds and two assists. Matt has been playing more two guard and the ability to play both the two and the three should make him more useful off the bench with Stu starting.
- Jon Horford: Had a tough turnover as he tried to kick the ball out to Vogrich as Matt was in the process of cutting backdoor. Jon did grab two nice defensive rebounds in two minutes. Those two minutes do a great job illustrating why to be excited about Horford – rebounding – and why he isn’t playing a lot now.