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.
- 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.