Five Key Plays: Michigan vs. Duke

Dylan Burkhardt

Evan Smotrycz explodes in the first half

Smotrycz hasn’t been consistent this year but he’s completely changed the complexion of several games. At the very least he’s displayed samplings of the offensive tools that make him such a promising prospect going forward. Evan had 11 first half points versus Duke and all of them were critical, allowing Michigan to hang around in the game despite playing without several starters. As you would expect, he hit a couple three pointers, but his most impressive move was a quick fake and drive past Miles Plumlee for a three point play. Evan’s potent combination of size and three point shooting ability mean that this pump fake is going to be there constantly. The key is being able to take the ball strong all the way to the hole or learn to shoot a pull up jumpshot. This was probably Evan’s strongest drive and finish all season long and he averaged 10 points per game over Michigan’s final five contests.

End of the first half

This was a crushing 4-point swing as Michigan had the ball with the opportunity to take the last shot of the half. With Darius Morris sidelined with two fouls, I was not expecting Michigan to end up with a great look at the hoop but they ended up with a great one. The resulting play ends up with Matt Vogrich shooting a wide open three after Douglass gets in the lane and kicks the ball to McLimans who makes a quick pass to Vogrich. Vogrich connected on 48% of his three point attempts in conference play, the best of any Wolverine, but missed this one. If the shot goes in, it’s a tie game heading into halftime. Instead McLimans puts both hands on Kyrie Irving while going after the offensive rebound and is called for a foul. Irving only made one of two free throws but this was still a deflating swing to end the half.

Tim Hardaway Jr. puts the team on his back

Hardaway taking over games has been a constant during the second half of the season. Michigan has given the ball to the freshman wing guard and told him to go make plays. He’s done a terrific job to say the least. The light appeared to go on during the game at Penn State and he hasn’t been the same since. This was no different as Hardaway manufactured a personal 7-0 run, trimming the Duke lead from 8-points to one in just under two minutes of game time. We’ve seen this so often down the stretch as Hardaway scores in a multitude of ways: taking the ball all the way to the hole, hitting a mid-range jump shot and then knocking down a triple. Remember that this is the same kid that was content to fire up corner threes for the first two months of the season. His improvement from November to March has been phenomenal and it’s quite clear that the sky is the limit for his development this summer.

Zack Novak chases a rebound through the Duke bench

Novak didn’t get this rebound, which would have given Michigan the ball with a minute left and trailing by one, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying. I’m not sure if he even had a chance to grab the ball as he went hurdling over the Duke bench, but Novak went after the ball with the sort of reckless abandon that very few college basketball players display. Novak knew how important this board was and he sent himself through Duke players, chairs and managers to try to make a play. Sure he would have rather caught it clean but his hustle after the loose ball says everything you need to know about #0. It was Novak’s leadership that catapulted this team back into contention this season and he epitomizes so much about what this team is about. Facing a physical mismatch in almost every game, Novak played more minutes than any other Michigan player this year and the 7th most minutes in the Big Ten. That’s one thing for a guard or shooter, but its much more impressive for a guy that defends players that are 6 or 7 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier for entire games.

Back iron.

There’s not much to say here. Sometimes the breaks don’t go your way. Darius Morris played this the way every point guard is taught in this situation. Push the ball down the floor and go for the tie. Morris breezed through the Duke defense and fired up a runner in the lane over Ryan Kelly. It hit back iron and Michigan’s season was over. Morris has excelled finishing the lane all season with a variety of crafty shots, converting a remarkable 53% of his two point attempts this season, but this one was just not to be. A cruel finish to a remarkable season. The other options – a bounce pass through multiple defenders to Tim Hardaway Jr. or turning around and throwing a backwards pass to Stu Douglass – might sound good in theory but they were near impossible passes, even for the point guard that set Michigan’s single season assist record this year.

  • EchoWhiskey

    I’m not ready to relive that last play just yet.

  • The Five Key Plays is one of my favorite features on this site.

    Keep up the great work!!

  • JD

    I wish I could change one of those last two key plays.

    I’ll be rooting for Arizona. They’ll have to step it up as I know dook won’t be getting any quick 5 second calls against them.

  • JD


    Do you do anything like a season ending Report Card on the team? It would be interesting to read what you thought of each player’s performance and what areas they need to improve on over the summer.

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      Yes. I’ll do some team level stuff but we also usually do individual “report card” posts. Talking about a player’s season, strengths, weaknesses, and areas of improvement. We’ll be ramping all of that stuff up soon.

      • JD

        Great. I look forward to your insights.

        • Kevmc21

          This year’s report cards should be much more fun for you to write and will be much more fun for us to read as opposed to last years.

  • Is there any timeline for a Max B decision/announcement?

  • j-turn14

    On the last play, I think the best look for a three was going to be hitting Stu on the wing and Stu Swinging it to Zack… Also, If the last few seconds had been officiated like the Pitt-Butler game, Novak would have been on the line after Singler held him on the rebound of Nolan’s missed FT.

    • Chris

      Do you think any ref in the league has the nerve to give Singler his fifth foul in that situation?

    • DB

      I don’t think there would have been time for two passes. Also, the pass to Stu may not have got there, as there was a Duke player in the area.

      • j-turn14

        Pause the video as Darius gets to the top of the key. That’s the moment that the play I described came open. there were exactly 4 seconds of clock left… I don’t have a problem with the shot Morris took, mind you. Just playing backseat driver.

    • ChathaM

      I had heard someone in the press conferences mention that Singler was in position to pick off any pass thrown to Novak or Douglass. After watching the clip several times, I think that’s true.

      I don’t fault Morris at all for taking the shot; great look, and he’ll make that shot more often than he’ll miss it. But, man, Hardaway was wide open for a dish-and-dunk for the tie.

      • um-nyc

        I know… the THJ pass was definitely there, but agree that you can’t fault the DMo decision to shoot it himself. He is our best player and has made that shot 100 times this year. I look forward to him developing more range on that jumper for next year. If he gets that 3 percentage up in the low 30s it’ll be scary.

  • Beilein’s Bricks

    The entire game was an encouraging data point, however I think Smot’s play was especially encouraging for next year. If he makes DMo type sophomore jump, this team could be very special next year. Too bad foul trouble ended his day prematurely, as Duke couldn’t handle him. BTW, I’m not very impressed with the Plumlees…they’re tall and somewhat athletic but really didn’t think they were that great.

  • ZRL

    I love the look on Nolan Smith’s face after he watches Novak launch himself in to the Duke bench. It looks like he’s thinking “that dude is freaking crazy!”.

  • ScottGoBlue

    “Hardaway, Jr. can shoot over Seth Curry anytime he wants to …” – Clark Kellogg has THJ does exactly that.


  • Stu C

    There should be another key play on here. I’m not blaming the loss on officiating by any stretch, but the phantom 2nd foul on Darius with 5 mins to go in the first half was definitely a key play in the game. UM had all the momentum, and chances are they’re not down 4 at half if that “foul” isn’t called.

    I can understand why you guys don’t have it up though, I mean after all CBS decided that it was more important to show Kyrie Irving underwater instead of a replay of the most important call of the first half.

    • um basketball fan

      For real. Thank you for the shot of Kyrie Irving stretching and completely ignoring a controversial possibly game changing call. Irving who, by the way, is not that freaking great. Hit a clutch shot and force a lot of fouls but if the ball had bounced the other way on that last play, the news stories would be about him throwing off the team’s groove.

    • JimC

      hilarious. Yes we are all in love with Duke aren’t we.

  • Kris

    Dylan, can you do a “State of the Big T(en/welve)” for next season? Besides Ohio State, even without Sullinger, I don’t see any teams better than Michigan next season. I’m curious to see what you have.

  • That last shot was painful.

  • How about a season tribute video? Can you make one of those Dylan? Just to recap the great season Michigan basketball had this year.

  • ForeverBlue23

    This is the first time I’ve had the stomach to look at that last play again. I didn’t realize how open that pass to Hardaway was, probably for a dunk, possibly a foul since the defender would have been trying to recover. I don’t blame Morris a bit for the choice he made, especially with the clock winding down. In fact had the clock not been an issue he likely would have either worked his way to the rim or dumped to Hardaway after he’d gone up. I think the pass to Stu was also there since he was moving to keep the angle open but the highest percentage shot was the better choice.

  • Kainkitizen

    Great choices for 5 top plays Dylan. The last play will what we all will be talking about until next season of course. We will be dissecting the play over and over. There really is 2 possible options that would have been great plays. We saw one of them with Darius pull up in the lane, the second one would have been a jump stop and bounce pass to the cutting Hardaway on the wing for a tough lay-in or a 2 handed dunk over Ryan Kelly. Ryan Kelly was out of defensive position to contend a 2 handed dunk but would have made it tough with his long arms for a lay-in. Tim would have had to use his body and right arm to shield Kelly from getting a piece of the ball while being released. A jump-stop and kick out to Stu would have been a third option but the defender could have gotten to Stu’s shot for a possible block. The kick-out to Novak would have taken too much time for a shot attempt. There just wasn’t enough time for 2 passes and shot.

  • homeslice jones

    Smotrycz’s threes are so WET