Game 2: Towson at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt


After allowing inferior opponents to hang around in its first two games, Michigan finally found the quick start it was looking for. The Wolverines raced out to a 21-0 lead in the first eight minutes, effectively ending the game before it ever had a chance to truly begin. It was the type of start that fans expect from a preseason top 25 team but the final 30 minutes weren’t nearly as impressive, resulting in a 64-47 Michigan win.

It’s tough to decipher much of anything from a game with such a jarring talent disparity because Michigan could play one of its worst games and still win easily. The talent gap manages to reduce the consequences of simple mistakes that can be the difference between winning or losing against better competition. Michigan did its job for the first 10 minutes and definitely appeared to subconsciously take their foot off the gas on both ends of the floor.

The four factors point to a blowout but Michigan’s offensive performance still left much to be desired. After scoring well over 1.5 points per trip for the first 10 minutes of play, Michigan finished the night at just 1.03 points per possession. Some of that might be attributable to losing focus after a big lead but the execution was not sharp enough. Michigan turned the ball over on 22 percent of its possessions, well over recent averages, and struggled shooting the ball from three point range (24%). What did Michigan do well offensively? Make twos (66%) and grab offensive rebounds (35% offensive rebounding rate).

Michigan was more than good enough on the defensive end yet again this season. Towson scored just .76 points per possession with a 48% effective field goal percentage. I wrote in the preview that it would be interesting to see how Michigan fared on the defensive glass against a Towson team that offensive rebounded very well against Kansas. Michigan did more than adequate, grabbing 71% of Towson’s misses. Towson coughed the ball up on 34% of its possessions including eight Michigan steals. The defensive intensity did wane down the stretch and post defense continued to be Michigan’s Achilles’ heel as Robert Nwankwo scored the ball very efficiently with 16 points on 7 of 12 shooting.

Some assorted team-wide thoughts on Michigan:

  • The pick and roll game just isn’t there for Michigan right now. Burke and Hardaway have both spearheaded the screen and roll attack but are struggling to find the open man. Burke is limited by his size at this point and it feels like Hardaway is trying to force the pass. Both players are most comfortable shooting off of the screen and roll but need to figure out a way to get Morgan or Horford involved.
  • Michigan’s shooters seem much more comfortable pump faking on perimeter jump shots, especially Zack Novak and Evan Smotrycz. Thus far the pump fake and extra pass has been much more effective for both players than the pump fake and 17-foot jump shot.
  • Michigan’s guards love to drive all the way to the baseline and under the basket before kicking the ball out for a corner three. Some teams have overplayed this pass against Michigan and it will be interesting to see how Burke and Douglass adjust to that look – something you can bet Michigan will see in Maui.
  • Early free throw shooting has been mind boggling. Michigan made 8 of 16 freebies today, 6 of 10 versus Ferris State and 4 of 12 versus Wayne State. Michigan actually ranked last in Big Ten conference free throw shooting last season as well, making 68% of their freebies in Big Ten games.
  • John Beilein pulled out the 1-3-1 zone in the second half but only for two possessions. The first resulted in a turnover and the second was a decent three point miss from the corner. The 1-3-1 zone is tailor made for a turnover prone opponent like Memphis so it will be interesting if Beilein continues to experiment versus Western Illinois.

Michigan has one more game to find its form before being thrown to the fire on Monday afternoon in Maui. On the other hand, the environment in Maui is so radically different than any other venue (excluding aircraft carriers) that it’s tough to really know what to expect. Early concerns, namely offensive flow and three point shooting, are real but at this point it’s probably still too early to panic.


Player Bullets:

  • Trey Burke: This was the best of Trey Burke’s young career. His three point stroke was working (3-6 3pt) and he was effective attacking the basket as well (2-2 2pt). He had just two assists to two turnovers but was a game changer with his quickness defensively as well, grabbing a pair of steals. Burke led U-M in minutes and will have plenty more opportunities going forward. If he can take good three point shots I think he has the ability to be one of the top two or three 3-point shooters on the U-M roster.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway managed to lead Michigan in scoring with a relatively quiet and somewhat efficient night. He scored 15 points on 6 of 12 (3-7 3pt) shooting with two assists and two turnovers. He’s not completely comfortable as a facilitator but if his three point shot is falling he’s nearly impossible to guard. Some of his mid-range play might have been most impressive today, opening the game with an easy curl jump shot and finding a bucket in the middle of the Towson zone late.
  • Zack Novak: Novak still makes all of the hustle plays (2 steals, 5 rebounds) that we’ve grown accustomed to but it’s the new wrinkles to his game that have been impressive. In one instance he grabbed the ball, took it the length of the floor and made a no-look pass to Matt Vogrich for a layup. Another time he drove the ball all the way to the basket and finished through a foul. Whether he can make plays like that against stronger competition remains to be seen but he definitely looks more comfortable with the ball in his hands.
  • Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz’s stat line looks foreign from a year ago. He scored 13 points without making a three point shot, grabbed four rebounds, handed out two assists and even picked up a steal. Evan was 5 of 7 on twos compared to 0 for 3 on triples, it’s clear that his added strength is making a larger impact on the offensive end of the floor. His post defense is still a work in progress but he does seem to be playing harder, diving on the floor several times during the last two games.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan had a very nice look on a set play out of a timeout to get to the free throw line and was relatively active but didn’t get many touches. One time he did try to work a post move he took too long and had the ball stolen before making up for it on the defensive end and taking the ball back. I like him more than Horford at this juncture but John Beilein needs to figure out a way to get him some easy looks.
  • Jon Horford: Horford grabs more rebounds than any other Michigan big, 7 in 14 minutes, but seems like a better fit to come off the bench as he did in this game.
  • Stu Douglass: We’ve harped on the bi-polar nature of Douglass’s shooting in the past and the issue seems to live on. Douglass shot the ball poorly in the exhibition, bounced back against Ferris State with 14 points and then went 0 for 7 (0-5 3pt) tonight. To his credit he did grab four rebounds and hand out four assists in 27 minutes.
  • Matt Vogrich: Including the exhibition game, Vogrich is 0 for 7 on threes this season. He’s in the game to be a designated shooter but he’s not making his threes. I’m not sure whether it’s lingering effects of his knee sprain, added strength or early season jitters but Michigan needs him to figure it out.
  • Eso Akunne: Akunne checked into the Michigan backcourt before Carlton Brundidge in both of the last two games – a sign that the veteran has Beilein’s trust. He doesn’t seem to make mistakes on the floor but he’s also not looking to make an impact.
  • Blake McLimans: McLimans got a bit of playing time in the first half, as well as late in the second, but didn’t make much meaningful impact.
  • Carlton Brundidge: John Beilein’s track record points toward a three guard rotation and sticking with it and Brundidge appears to be the odd man out. He’s young and his game isn’t the most traditional fit for the college level.
  • MrTroyMercy

    I’m still buzzing off the Brewster academy film wow!!!! Mitch had 16 pts and 17 boards and some nice assits and dimes but that team is loaded . Xavier has three gems coming next year as well. They all are iin prep school however but wow. They also has Tj Warren , Jakkari Simpkons and Jalen RENYOLDS… BUT FOR MITCH TO GRAB 17 boards on that team and steal the ball from point guards like he does …we really do have a special class. Very very impressive video.

  • UMfan

    What a great game

  • gpsimms

    I think Colton really deserves mention after his last two late game appearances.  I know I like him maybe more than is rational, but man he made another good play in his garbage time last night.  He tied up the ball way out on the perimeter.  He just has such good speed and athleticism, he appears to be a kid that can guard bigger or smaller than him without running into problems.

    And if his one attempt (2 games ago) was any indication, his jumper is improved.

    • Do you want to take minutes away from Zack Novak and give them to Colton Christian?

      • gpsimms

         He’s not exactly in direct competition with Novak for minutes.  Vogrich isn’t exactly lighting it up backing up the three (and I know he will eventually), I’m just saying that he is a good change of pace type sub for certain situations and he’s got a role on this team.

        Also, I know everyone is going crazy for Smot right now, but to me he still looks awkward and slow.  He’s falling all over the place trying to take charges, but his feet are too bad. 

        We’ll see what comes with him, but I’m worried once the speed of competition gets better, Smot will be basically the same as he was last year: a tall guy who can shoot, and once every other game or so make a long-developing up and under kind of move underneath.

        And I’m not saying that a tall guy that can shoot is not valuable, or that Smot wasn’t important last year.  He definitely is/was.  But when Vogrich and Smot have the defensive issues they have, a guy with great feet/hands/ups like Colton is worth something.

        /passionate defense of Colton Christian, who everyone seems to want to transfer.

      • Kenny

        Smot at 5, Coltan at 4, Hardaway at 3, Novak at 2, Burke at 1. 

        • GregGoBlue

          As a 5, Smotrycz looked SUPER uncomfortable on D guarding Towson’s 5. They got some really easy looks with regularity when Smot was at the 5. I’d be wary putting him there in the future. 

    • Kenny

      Colton has a solid defensive game, better than any other bigs. I think that he will be the 9th player in the rotation, for some real minutes. On the other hand, although I may be the last one on this board to do so, I am giving up on McLimans. 

  • Mattski

    Great analysis–found myself nodding in agreement repeatedly reading this. Your work has become much more confident, Dylan. 

    This team is very much a work in progress. Hopefully the D keeps us in it many nights. Hopefully we don’t end up pointing to the free throw line as the difference in a whole lot of losses. We may struggle in Maui, but I don’t look on that as so potentially disastrous as I once did, maybe because we’re just not that good yet, anyway.  

    Anyone know if Virginia is good this year? I see they’re not ranked. . . 

  • BigTimeTimmyTim

    Does anyone happen to know why the National Anthem wasn’t played last night?  

    • Mracing

      It was played before the Women’s game. Since it was a “doubleheader” it did not need to be replayed before the men’s game.

    • Billiam

      I’ll agree with Mracing.  I used to do color guard (NROTC) and any back-to-back games don’t need it.  (There was one exception, but that was because the Army wanted to practice colors, not because it was required).

      /Random Military Fact

  • Kenny

    Carlton shows what he can do with the ball yesterday, although otherwise he is pretty lost in the offense. I still think that he could contribute this season, maybe towards the end. Beilein should give him as much minutes as can afford. 

    • Dan

      Didn’t have much of an impact on offense, but in his limited time, he looked very aggressive and disruptive on defense. He was in good position, cheating more than anyone I’ve seen. Hopefully he shows more skilled players a little more respect, but he impressed me on D at least.

    • storm33

      Carlton has raw talent in taking the ball to the hole, but he looks nowhere near as polished as Trey Burke.  Brundidge looked lost without the ball, and Stu Douglass had to bark at him like 2 times.  This year will be a learning experience for Carlton.

  • MGoTweeter

    For those that want to get an early scouting report, Memphis takes on Belmont on espn at noon today.  Should be a good game.

    • Yup, should be an interesting one. Belmont is experienced and pretty good, much stronger test for Memphis than anything Michigan will face before Maui.

    • Guest

      I see an upset brewing though I think Belmont is a better team than Memphis.  Memphis may have more talent, but it’s early in the season where Memphis may be more susceptible to upset against quality teams.

      • Definite upset candidate, kind of wish they didn’t have such a wake-up call/test before our game too.

    • sp1ms

      Memphis is so athletic, as per usual.  They look like an AAU team out there (or Brewster).  It’s going to be interesting to see Trey match up against Joe Jackson, who is abusing Belmont off the dribble, getting into the lane at will.

  • Champswest

    What I saw last night (1) Horford much more aggressive around the basket (Morgan, too), (2) Burke making an impact on defense, (3) Smotrycz contributing in several areas (scoring, assist, rebounding, defense) (4) offense starting to gel a little.
    The victory margin would have been larger, but Beelein emptied the bench early.  Glad he did.

    • storm33

      A little overly optimistic.  We’re going to really be tested against Memphis.  But the beginning of the game was easily the best I’ve seen Michigan play thus far.

      • Champswest

        Huh?  I didn’t mention Memphis and what did I say that was overly optimistic?

  • mikey_mac

    Smot hit the floor so many times last night, way too often. There are basically two ways to go down: forwards or backwards. The former usually means you meant to go down, the latter means you didn’t. When he was trying to bang inside, he ended up on his ass a lot for it. This concerns me, even though his stat line looks solid on paper.

  • mikey_mac

    Also, am I crazy, or wouldn’t Nwankwo and Deon Jones at least compete for a starting spot were they on our roster?

    • John

      No. Nwankwo might make the rotation, but neither would start.

    • storm33

      I would trade Vogrich and McLimans for either one…

  • storm33

    Anyone noticing Kevin Pangos and Patrick Heckmann? Michigan recruited both and both are starting out great at their respective schools.

    • GregGoBlue

      I think Pangos hit something like 9 threes last night for the Zags. 

      • Yeah and Heckmann had something like 19&8.

        • philip balger

          Ahhhh Heckmann…i carried that dude’s torch all year long, good for him.

    • storm33

      hopefully Stauskas can draw some other elite Canadiens to Michigan.

  • MGoTweeter

    brief thoughts on Memphis.  I was only able to watch the second half so that is very little data from which to make true judgments, but I am less worried about them than I was before.  That is not to say that I know believe Michigan will win for sure, but rather that if both teams show up it should be an interesting game.  

    Watching Memphis on offense is like watching one player plus four of his clones.  Every Memphis player seems to be 6’6, wire thin, extremely long, and fast as heck.  They ran virtually no sets and looked to score almost exclusively off of dribble penetration (I did see one curl off a pick for an 18 footer that was made).  They do use ball screens sometimes but seem to be more effective when the floor is completely spaced and they can go one on one.  In that regard Belmont really played right into their hands as Belmont tried to get out and pressure on the perimeter, which just meant that every Memphis possession began 5v4, as no one on Belmont could extend out and guard anyone on Memphis.  

    They actually are a decent shooting team; knocking down several wide open threes off drive and kicks.  In transition they are deadly as every player can handle the ball and every player can finish over the top of you.  They were prone to over penetrating and silly turnovers, but the game pace was pretty wild so who knows how they will do in a half court game.

    Much like the game against Tennessee last season, Michigan needs to make this a half court game.  I don’t think Belmont’s defense prepared Memphis at all for playing Michigan.  Michigan should be able to play man and keep things in front of them or help to draw charges when beat.  But if Memphis can play under control almost all their players can rise up and hit a short floater or runner over the top.  I 

    On defense Memphis is pretty average.  They do pressure the ball pretty well and can use their length in passing lanes, but they are not great at either.  Help side defense is pretty much just a block shot attempt, so lots of drive and kick for three is to be expected.  There were several times where the Memphis help side got completely lost after good ball movement and Belmont players were able to finish at the rim, so if Michigan stays patient and makes them defend for thirty seconds, things will breakdown.  

    They did not seem to have any real bangers down low, rather just a bunch of long athletes.  Plus Belmont was able to generate a lot of second chance opportunities off missed shots, as Memphis hardly ever attempted to box out.  

    In terms of personnel, Joe Jackson is the point guard and is very good.  Burke will have his hands full containing him.  Will Barton is a wing forward with a lot of length and plays with high energy.  Witherspoon is basically their center (guessing).  He is long as well and can play out on the perimeter.  

    Again, all this is based off one of half of basketball, so it is really very incomplete.  I think Michigan will do a good job of making this a half court game, but even in a half court game, Memphis can do a lot of damage on offense.  If they stay under control and take the pullup shots instead of trying to get to rim every time, make open threes (which they will get as Michigan over helps), and get offensive rebounds, Michigan will have trouble.  At the other end, I think it is pretty similar strategy for Michigan.  Make the open threes, don’t over penetrate into the shot blockers (pretty much everyone on Memphis) and take advantage of the lack of box outs by Memphis.  

    • gpsimms

      this scares me because, yes, its like Tennessee but it’s also like UTEP .  I think playing a team this athletic before the offense has begun to ‘hit its stride’ can be pretty difficult.

      In march, I’ll take us.  In November, I’ll take memphis.

      • sp1ms


    • Mith

      I thought you said these were “brief” thoughts.  :>)

      • MGoTweeter

        yea sry.  once i get going, sometimes i just can’t stop.

    • Anthony

      The memphis guards are very good its not like tennesse to me at all.

    • storm33

      I think the Joe Jackson-Trey Burke matchup will be fascinating.  A true test for our young point guard.

    • Mattski

      Memphis scored a boatload of freaking points. That would be my brief take!

      • MGoTweeter

        the pace of the game was pretty fast, plus Belmont defenders might as well have been pylons out there.  I would not read too much into how many points were scored.

  • Anthony

    Vogrich is not good im sorry he is not he makes some hustle plays but when he plays extended minutes he gets beat on d and turns the ball over. I think once cb picks up the offense he wil take his minutes.

  • JimC

    Sparty about to go 0-2.   Very nice.