Michigan’s season has been defined by ups and downs, more specifically within a specific game. Good stretches of basketball followed by awful ones and vice versa. Blow out wins have been few and far between and most games have been decided by two or three possessions in the final minutes. Here in Charlotte, Michigan played its best stretch of basketball of the season, outscoring Tennessee by 26 points in the second half. Michigan battled its way through the first half, leading by four at the break before opening the game up with a 19-2 run to start the second half.
Tennessee was the more physically imposing team, bigger stronger and more athletic at almost every position, but Michigan made it very clear who was the better team. Michigan scored more points in the paint (24-8), points off turnovers (11-4), second chance points (5-0) and fast break points (6-2). Those statistical categories are great measures of “want to” and teams that win those battles will generally win more games than they lose. The Wolverines 30 point victory was the largest margin of victory in an 8-9 game ever and Michigan’s most emphatic win since opening the season with a 31 point victory over South Carolina Upstate.
Michigan’s offense was a bit out of the ordinary. The Wolverines scored 1.19 points per possession despite not making a single free throw. Hot shooting, 63% on twos and 35% on threes, and taking care of the ball, 17.5% turnover rate, have been constants of Michigan’s late season run. The wrinkle that the Wolverines threw into the mix today was great offensive rebounding. Michigan rebounded 38% of its missed shots, the most against any major conference team this season. The lack of turnovers and bountiful numbers of offensive boards resulted in Michigan attempted 21 more shots than Tennessee. Michigan’s offense was also extremely balanced with four double digit scorers and 20 total assists.
While the offense was great, Michigan’s defense was phenomenal. Michigan held Tennessee to just .7 points per possession and a borderline ridiculous .52 points per trip in the second half. Tennessee’s offense is far from great but this was probably Michigan’s best defensive performance of the season. The Vols didn’t shoot the ball well – 48% on twos and 17% on threes – and turned the ball over on 29% of their possessions. The Tennessee offense survived in the first half by making 10 of 12 free throws but Michigan allowed just four free throw attempts in the second half. By far the most impressive aspect of Michigan’s defensive performance was on the defensive glass. Tennessee rebounded just 20% of its missed shots, a season low.
Michigan went to a lot of zone looks for the final 30 minutes of game action and Tennessee just appeared bewildered. It was the 1-3-1 zone that provided Michigan with some energy – a Matt Vogrich steal and lay in – but Michigan opted to go with a packed in zone in the second, daring Tennessee to shoot. The Vols attempted 14 of their 23 field goals from three point range in the second half and made just two. That poor perimeter shooting coupled with the Wolverines drawing five charges, rattled Tennessee’s offense to a point beyond recovery.
Simply put, Michigan wanted this game more and it showed badly. The Wolverines won seemingly every rebound and 50-50 ball and despite being physically outmatched. Next up is a
second third round match-up with Duke. We all know what happened the last time these two teams squared off but this year’s Duke team is better than that one across the board. Oh, and they are the defending champions.
- Darius Morris: Morris settled for his jump shot early on but figured out his role as a distributor as the game progressed. Darius finished with eight points, nine assists, six rebounds, and three turnovers. He was only 4 of 12 from the field but when Morris is running the break with confidence (i.e. a behind the back pass to Stu Douglass) and things are going his way he can be dominant.
- Matt Vogrich: My memory isn’t perfect but this sure felt like Vogrich’s best game in a Michigan uniform. With Hardaway relegated to the bench with first half foul trouble, Vogrich stepped up and played with great energy and poise and changed the game with his backdoor cuts. The result was 11 points on 5 of 5 (1-1 3pt) shooting, three rebounds and a steal in just 16 minutes.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Watching the game, it felt like Hardaway had a quiet game. He was sidelined for much of the first half and never really seemed to take control of the game. Well he quietly had a very good game, scoring 11 points on 5 of 9 (1-3 3pt) shooting with five rebounds and three assists. It was a balanced and relatively efficient performance that was highlighted by a big dunk in transition.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan picked up two quick fouls in the first half, playing just 6 minutes, but he was great in the second. Morgan had 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting with three rebounds, a steal and a block. Morgan did a great job of cutting through the lane with a purpose, trusting the ball would be there, and finishing. Morgan missed a big dunk early but really rebounded to play a strong offensive game. Jordan was strong defensively as well as none of Tennessee’s big men beyond Tobias Harris had big days offensively.
- Zack Novak: Novak had his three point stroke going and earned himself a double double: 14 points on 5 of 10 (4-6 3pt) shooting with 10 rebounds, two assists and two turnovers. Novak hit shots early when Michigan looked rattled but also joined in on the fun in the second half. He struggled guarding Harris in the first half but Michigan was able to shield him on defense by playing lots of zone in the second.
- Stu Douglass: Stu had a tremendous game while only making one of three 3-point attempts. As crazy as it sounds, Stu was 4 of 4 on twos and attacked the basket even throwing down a dunk in transition. To add to the all-around game, Stu handed out five assists to just one turnover. Tennessee left themselves exposed time and again but it was impressive that Douglass was able to finish so well inside.
- Evan Smotrycz: Really the only Michigan player that had a bad game, Smotrycz scored eight points on 3 of 11 (2-7 3pt) shooting. Evan did grab four rebounds, a steal and a block but he just couldn’t find his range. It was clear that the pick-and-pop was a huge part of Michigan’s offensive plan, but there were a couple times that Smotrycz could have made an extra pass rather than shoot.
- Colton Christian: Christian stepped in and provided some energy defensively with a poke away and also grabbed an assist in just three minutes.
- Blake McLimans: It was all hands on deck with Morgan on the bench with two fouls but McLimans managed to finish a layup around the hoop that was very impressive. It was not only a tough catch, there was also lots of traffic around the hoop.