Game 3: Western Illinois at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Photo: MGoBlue

Three games, three wins and three relatively unsatisfying performances. Michigan handled its business during the first two weeks of the season but, as they prepare to board a flight to Maui on Friday, it’s clear that the Wolverines haven’t found their stride. Tonight, Michigan beat Western Illinois 59-55 in a dragging 55 possession affair.

There were some pretty dramatic statistical anomalies in this game but the deciding statistic was Western Illinois’ tendency to turn the ball over. The Leathernecks coughed it up 20 times, or on 35% of their possessions, and actually had as many made field goals as turnovers. 24 of Michigan’s 59 points were generated from turnovers although Michigan notched just two points in transition. Western Illinois was able to hang around in the game despite its turnover woes because of some very efficient shooting – 52% on twos, 44% on threes for an impressive 57 eFG%. The Leathernecks also rebounded the ball well on the offensive glass, corralling 39% of their missed shots for 10 second chance points. There’s little doubt that Ceola Clark transformed the Leatherneck offense as he scored 21 points on 6 of 12 (4-9 3pt) shooting and handed out four assists in his first game in almost a year.

It’s the last thing you expect to hear in a game where Michigan failed to score 60 points but this was Michigan’s most efficient offensive performance of the season. That says quite a bit about Michigan’s early offensive struggles as well as the slow tempo of this game. The Wolverines scored 1.06 points per trip, far from great but an improvement over 1.01 and .95 in their first two games of the season. Michigan shot the ball better – 55% on twos, 35% on threes for 54 eFG% – and got to the line more often than it has in any game this season. That performance still just netted 1.06 points per trip, an underwhelming number versus the worst defense in the Summit League a season ago.

A couple quick team wide Michigan thoughts. Western Illinois was trying to slow the game down but two fast break points on the game shows that Michigan will be more than content to slow games down this season. Free throw shooting is officially worrisome as Michigan made just 14 of 22 attempts (64%) rendering their ability to get to the line less valuable. We only saw one or two possessions of the 1-3-1 zone but I suspect we could see many as 10 possessions on Monday. I thought Michigan ran more effective out of bounds plays today than we’ve seen in recent seasons, Stu Douglass had an easy look and Morgan got a layup off a slower developing set play off an inbound. Those types of easy baskets can be valuable if Michigan continues to sputter offensively.

The question that everyone wants answered: “Is it time to Panic?” Frankly I’m not sure. The Michigan offense hasn’t looked good, failing to clear 1.10 points per trip in four games (including exhibition), and the defense has been far from faultless. Memphis played just one game and looked nearly perfect offensively against a better team (Belmont) than Michigan has faced to date. Concerns about Michigan’s slow start are real but it’s tough to jump to conclusions or reach judgment based on games against teams that simply weren’t that great. What happens on Monday, when the Wolverines face a top 10 Memphis team, will teach a lot about this team and very quickly. One thing is certain, if Michigan plays with the same sort of lackadaisical intensity and execution that we’ve seen thus far, it will be a long flight back to the mainland on Wednesday.

With respect to facing Memphis, I’m more worried about Michigan’s defense than its offense in that game. Monday’s game will be much more about controlling tempo and preventing the Tigers from getting easy looks of the sort that Western Illinois had all night. While playing in a close game might be a nice warm-up, a 55 possession game is definitely not be the most relevant tune up before facing a Memphis squad that averaged 69 possessions per game a season ago.


Player Bullets:

  • Jordan Morgan: This was a breakout performance from Morgan. He deserved every one of the 29 minutes that he played and would have played more if it wasn’t for foul trouble. He’s more physical than Michigan’s other big men (5 rebs, 2 stls, 1 blk) but he’s also much more opportunistic offensively. He’s in the right spot to receive the ball and did a great job finishing today (5-5). He’s not all the way to where he was last season (3 turnovers and 1-4 FTs are ugly) but he’s shown positive improvement in the past week.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway showed off his improved two point scoring and distribution in this game. He was 5 of 5 inside the arc and also handed out four assists to just one turnover. He hasn’t found his three point stroke this season (1 of 4 today) but his versatile scoring inside the arc was impressive: a long jump shot as well as an array of mid-range buckets and drives. That sort of balanced two point scoring is impressive for a player that attempted over half of his field goals from three point range a year ago. He still hasn’t seemed to take a game over like we saw a year ago but he very quietly had 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting in the second half today.
  • Trey Burke: Trey can shoot the ball and that will mask some of his freshman mistakes, especially early on this season. He was 3 of 8 (3-5 3pt) today for 14 points, five assists, four rebounds, three turnovers and a steal. The freshman mistakes were evident – leaving his feet to make awkward passes and fouling jump shooters – by his three turnovers and four fouls but Michigan needs Burke on the floor.
  • Zack Novak: Novak had a very quiet night, scoring five points on 1 of 4 shooting but he did have a handful of typical Novak plays. He took a great charge in the first half and he has to be approaching double figures in charges drawn through three games. With the game tied 30-30 he also hit a big three pointer and then followed it up with a steal on the other end.
  • Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz had a painful performance with 3 points, two rebounds and a turnover on 1 of 8 shooting. He’s so quick to take shots before the first TV timeout but he also seems to let the outcome of those early attempts affect his game for the next 35 minutes. He also looked a step slow defensively on the perimeter which could be a concern on Monday when he’s faced up against some of Memphis’ perimeter athletes. Nothing went right for him tonight and that newfound toughness and aggressiveness from the first two games was absent today.
  • Stu Douglass: This was a mixed bag for Douglass who still hasn’t really found his perimeter stroke. He scored five points on 2 of 6 (1-4 3pt) shooting, handed out three assists but turned the ball over twice. He had a couple nice passes but really forced the issue on a couple passes to the big men. He’s much more comfortable kicking the ball to a shooter after penetration rather than finding either big.
  • Jon Horford: Horford played just six minutes, didn’t grab a rebound and scored two points on a pair of free throws. The starting job is Jordan Morgan’s but it will be interesting to see where Horford’s progression goes from here.
  • Matt Vogrich: Matt hit his first three of the season and Michigan is going to need his shooting stroke in Hawaii.
  • mitch

    They need to start playing better or its gonna be a tough season.

  • Andyndersen

    Obviously we miss Morris.  The Wolverines are going to struggle offensively without him for a while, maybe a couple of whiles.  It may be painful, but trust in Belein and his staff.

  • GregGoBlue

    There were plenty of mistakes defensively until the latter part of the second half where I think Michigan really tightened up their D impressively. I think it’s clear that with Morris gone, this Michigan team is struggling to find its offensive identity. When Tim decided to take his man off the dribble, he did so very effectively. But this looks like Michigan 2009 where we’re settling for a ton of 3’s and not making many of them. I wouldn’t hit the panic button quite yet, as the offense and defense will take awhile to gel (especially with Morgan not starting early on this season, which was mind boggling to me from game 1 as he was clearly the more dominant 5) but this free throw issue needs to be addressed immediately. 

    One thing: If this Western Illinois team had 1 win last year, then they’re certainly going to have more this year. Ceola Clark is the real deal, and they also played some great defense. Kudos to a tough Western Illinois team. 

  • gpsimms

    Tim McCormick could not have been more wrong when he said Trey Burke is more of a point guard who elevates the play of his teammates than Morris.

    Don’t get me wrong, Trey will be great.  But right now, what he brings to the team is scoring.  Darius was such a great distributor and elevated the play of then-freshman Jordan Morgan.

    Luckily, we got our first glimpse of now-sophomore Morgan becoming more of a playmaker in his own right, as opposed to Dmo’s sidekick.

    I don’t know why falling all over himself and failing to bring in rebounds that hit his hands was considered by so many to be “new and improved” Evan Smot, but it’s going to be a similar up and down year for him.  He really should be coming off the bench.  He can do his quick chuck three shots in three possessions and if he misses, then just take him back out.  If he makes, let him go nuts.  But right now, he is almost like AntWright was early in games when Beilein let him have a green light for whatever reason.  Just kills possessions and takes air out of the offense early.

    Also, Tim McCormick deserves special mention for being the worst color commentator of all time.*  I actually miss the BigTen student U production because at least they’re just kids.

    Various pearls from Tim: “Jordan Morgan is the best screen setter in the B1G.”
    “This year’s Maui field is the toughest of ALL TIME”
    I forget exactly how it went, but didn’t he say Mitch McGary was the best big man at running the floor EVER(??)
    I think I heard him drop a Trey Burke is the best pure pg at Michigan since ________, which is super hilarious against his LLP statements a few years ago.

    *-Just a play on his ridiculous penchant for hyperbole.

    • Trevor

      McCormick is like the Fred Jackson of basketball commentary.  I remember him saying that LLP could be the best point guard in Michigan history.  He makes hyperbolic historical references like a senile Bill Walton after 5 hits of acid.

      /taste of own medicine

  • Quaint06

    That play in which Hardaway put his head down and just charged to the basket, which McCormick described as a 1 on 5 break, I’d like to see more of that. We’ll need about 19 per game from Hardaway, and I think that if he takes more shots inside the arc, those numbers are there for him.

    • Quaint06

      Just to clarify–obviously I’m not saying I want him forcing it against the whole defense, but generally 1) taking it to the rack and 2) having an attitude that says, OK, we need a score on this possession, and I’m going to get it.

    • Mith

      Agreed.  I think at times, the guys are too concerned about getting their shot blocked.  I want them to be aggressive like TH was on that one.  I’m thinking to a play where Trey probably could have simply laid it in, but instead kicked out even though no one was really there to stop him.

  • Hey guys, looking for your feedback on the photo gallery as well! Our first game with a photo pass, I think Dustin took some nice shots.

    • GregGoBlue

      As a fellow photographer, I can say those are some fantastic shots! Well done, Dustin. 

  • matt d

    The reality is that we’re not a very athletic team, and without Darius’ size and playmaking ability at the PG position to mask it, we are going to be relegated to shooting from the outside on many nights.

    We have to hope that the defense, as well as Burke’s ability to hit jumpshots will compensate for the lack of playmakers on this team or it is going to be a long year. I firmly believe that we need to run more screen and roll, because it is pretty obvious that we only have a few players(could be singular at this point) that can create their own shot.

    The bright spot for the situation is that next year we will have an influx of athleticism and talent coming in, and should be able to compete with any B10 team in terms of athleticism and raw talent. If THJ stays, we will be very dangerous next year.

    • mikey_mac

      yeah, it seems pretty clear that Robinson and McGary will be 2 of the 3 best athletes on the team immediately, if THJ stays.

  • MrTroyMercy

    Last year e palyeed don to the competition with morris at the helm . We ill be fine I can assure that . Do you remmember Um ann arbor hanging ith us ? We ill be fine don’t give up yet . Western illinois is sorta experience.i I like the toughness thatwe are showing …sometimes it might nit look pretty but a in is a win .. later on down the line this team will build the chemestry they need . Don’t. Fret .

  • Jeremy S

    Last year, the turnaround for the season was that Michigan State game.  They started playing with a sense of urgency.  The defensive and offensive intensity went from “blah” to “through the roof”.  I haven’t been able to see the games this year yet, but I suspect this is happening this season as well.  These players just aren’t talented enough to just go out there and play and win.  They need purpose.  They need drive.  

    This is inferior competition and it is nearly impossible to get jacked up playing these teams, and it is really tough to just turn things on.  I am starting to think we are going to see the same thing last year.  A bunch of losses in the 1st half of the season to teams that they shouldn’t lose to.  They need to get into a rhythm by playing quality opponents. 

    If this actually plays out, I blame scheduling the lack of quality teams to give these guys a purpose to play.

    • KHoops

      I agree with this.  So far, I haven’t seen any sense of urgency, and when they lack that the play on the floor gets very stagnant.  I’m sure a big part of this is the competition, and I am hopeful that a trip to Maui will be just the spark they need.

    • Champswest

      I suspect that the first half of this season will be much like last year, not that great.  However, I’m not so sure that they will be able to turn it around and turn it on in the second half like last year’s team did.  They have enough talent on this team to be decent, but they will need to figure it out.
      I expect a long ride home from Maui.  Maybe that is the wakeup call that they need.

  • Tom Too

    I don’t miss Darius Morris dribbling and dribbling and dribbling…going right, going right, going right.  Tre is going to be fine, we are going to be fine, everything will be fine. Time to panic after three games in November?  Give me a break.  We probably will get out of Maui 1-2…big deal.  Dylan, you more than anybody knows that this team will get better each month and by Late-January we will be fired up about being in third/fouth place in the B10 and on our way to the dance as a five seed.  I’d love to see what we were saying about Tim Hardaway in December last year…..

    • maxwell’s demon

      Are you kidding? Our whole offense was Morris dribbling, dribbling, probing for weaknesses and then finding one. Burke’s threat to shoot is going to help, but Morris was special.

      • Guest

        At times, Morris’s dribbling gives him trouble because the offense just bog down and it can result in an empty possession.  Yes, he was great last year as a passer, but at times, last year, the offense runs better with him at the bench.

        • gpsimms

           are we seriously arguing about this?

      • Isiah

        Morris and his offensive ways were exploited when we played good teams.  6 points 6 assists 4 turnovers against Syracuse.  9 points 6 assists 1 turnover against Purdue.  8 points 3 assists 4 turnovers at Wisconsin.  12 points 4 assists 6 turnovers at Ohio State.  8 points 4 assists 4 turnovers against Wisconsin.  16 points 3 assists 5 turnovers against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tourney.  16 points 7 assists 4 turnovers against Kansas.  18 points 8 assists 5 turnovers against Ohio State.  That’s every game we played against a team that ended up being ranked in the regular season.  He was a turnover machine against good teams and he killed the team for the most part.

        His numbers against ranked teams were pathetic in them 8 regular season games.  11.6 Points Per Game 5.1 Assists Per Game 4.1 Turnovers Per Game.  He was our whole offense when against games they should win?  Cause he sure as heck wasn’t in games against ranked opponents.

        I wont praise Burke just yet.  But he is 10 times the player now then when Morris was a freshman. 

        • gpsimms

           honestly this is madness that people are arguing this.  wait, so darius was KILLING THIS TEAM because he performed below average against the best teams in the country?

          Tom Hardaway REALLY killed the team last year. 
          He was 3/10 vs. Wiscy,
          and 5/19 vs. Kansas
          3/12 vs. MSU
          6/13 vs. wiscy
          5/12 vs. duke.

          Frankly, I would kick THJr off the team right now before he KILLS this season too with his poor shooting vs. TOP TEAMS.

          • 6 of 13 with two threes against Wisconsin is poor shooting? ;-) Tough critic.

          • gpsimms

            well, i didn’t want to cherry-pick stats, like some other people in this thread.  haha

            (i totally did cherry pick these stats, he had a pretty good shooting day against purdue, and i think the second game against osu, too)

    • Beilein’s Swish

      Darius was our leading scorer and was responsible for 50%+ of last year’s points.  He is a huge loss, and the team is trying to figure out how to replace him.  I like Burke and think he’s going to be great, but the team will have to adjust to a new way to generate points (plus he’s just a freshman).  Hopefully they figure it out, or it’s going to be a very long year.  

      You can definitely tell we’re going to be more perimeter oriented this year than last, so the shots better start falling.

  • SJWolv

    In order for this team to meet expectations it is all about easy twos.  Harris could get us easy twos by taking it to the rack, Sims could get easy twos through an array of post moves, Darius could get us easy twos through dishing for uncontested layups.  This season, I don’t see how we are going to get easy twos.  Burke is too small and can’t find the open man as easily as Morris, and Hardaway isn’t as explosive as Manny in terms of taking it to the rack.  

    This season all comes down the 3 point shooting unfortunately.  If we make the tourney it will be a success in my mind as we are definitely not the 17th ranked team in the nation.  Gotta find a way to get easy buckets when the 3 ball isn’t working.

    • mikey_mac

      I actually think THJ is about as explosive as Manny, but the difference is, Manny had a better handle on drives, which gave him the confidence to take it to the rim, knowing he could get a shot off, even if he was fouled. I think THJ will get there.

  • Mattski

    My new candidate for most important player this year is Morgan. I think he still has a lot more upside than most people recognize, and if he can give us four-five rebounds and 10-12 points on a consistent basis, we will be much better off. He’s one of basically three athletes we’ve got out there, and increasingly I believe that he can also create.

    I expect Smotrycz to become a very solid player next year, but he is ruled by his emotions and NOT athletic; basically (this year), he will give us what an assortment of other players give us, height notwithstanding–streaky three-point shooting and heart-in-your-throat layups. Next year he is a great piece of an increasingly powerful puzzle, but I will be surprised if he emerges as a star on this team. 

    Jordan is all about the emotion, too, but if he begins to get into the game physically–body up, pull down rebounds–then he becomes comfortable. He basically needs to get in there and bang from the get-go, make his presence felt and be our enforcer. Smotrycz will become more comfortable with his newfound strength, and opportunistic, but never offer that inside, physical presence.  

  • Tom_McC

    Some thoughts:

    1. Is it time to panic? I don’t think so.  It is visibly clear that this team is still trying to find itself in terms of role definition.  I think guys are trying to force the issue rather than let the game come to them and that is a big explanation for the inconsistent play. 

    2. I think this is Tim and Trey’s team when it comes to the offense.  The offense is going to need to go through those 2 and Evan will need to feed off of that.  I think Evan will make a great 3rd option, but I don’t feel like Trey, Tim and Evan have learned yet how to best play off each other.  I think that will come in time.  When they cohesion occurs, I’d bet dollars to donuts that we will see the ‘complimentary’ bigs and shooters become more efficient.

    3. The hard part about playing 3 ‘tune-ups’ with a big tourney hanging over their head is, I think the focus isn’t entirely placed on the games at hand.  I think the effort was good…but the intensity and focus seemed to wane too much and IMO, that has something to do with the lackluster play.

    4. Talking about last night…there was a lot of tweets and blogs about Hawaii and such…it’s not hard to see that these guys were probably looking ahead a bit.  I’d like to think that we will see a much more focused and spirited effort on Monday.

    5.  A little disappointed in the Sr. leadership thus far.  Quite frankly, I thought Stu and Zack would have more impact in terms of really helping this team stay focused…but I’ve seen some dips in their concentration and focus, which is a bit disappointing. But like I said in #4…I don’t think it is a huge deal.  I can’t really blame them for looking ahead a bit considering what they have in front of them.

    6. I don’t really know what to expect in the Memphis game.  I could see Memphis taking UM to the woodshed but it also wouldn’t surprise me to see UM step up and play it’s best ball of the year.  The main thing I’ll be looking for is to see that UM belongs…even if they lose…I’d like to see UM step up and play good ball for more than 15-20 mins.  I think we’ll see them play better on Monday than what we’ve seen to date.

    • SJWolv

      I think we beat Savannah State on buzzer beater the game before we beat Duke.  Anything could happen.

      • They lost at Maryland after the Savannah State game (a classic down to the Novak missed buzzer beater dunk) and then beat Duke. But the point remains. Similar last year where UTEP beat them up and then they went down and won at Clemson.

    • Mattski

      I bet we’ll play Memphis tough for good stretches of the game. Hard to envision a win, though. . . that’s Beilein’s job.I don’t really “feel” Stu as a leader, and agree that Novak seems strangely peripheral, so far, even as he supplies his typical dogged play. Everyone’s role is in considerable flux.

  • Definitely no panic button. This looks entirely typical for a team beginning to find its way at the start of a season, particularly one with a new and freshman point. They already looked much better last night than they did in the first couple of bodybag games.

    My one major question mark right now is Smotrycz who just looks like he’s trying to run through Jello. He’s front-rimming everything and looks rooted in place on D. I assume that he’ll adjust to the added weight he’s carrying this season, but I’m a little surprised that he hasn’t already.

  • maxwell’s demon

    Beilein seems to do well vs. athletic teams. Hopefully the 1-3-1 forces some turnovers and gets us some easy points because we’re gonna need em.

  • Kalkell

    Back to playing second fiddle to little brother.

    • serious

      Well, obviously considering Michigan is 3-0 and Michigan State is the only team in the B1G with one loss, and they are 0-2. But, yes, Michigan clearly is back to playing second fiddle. Obviously.

      • Quaint06

        All I know is I’m planning on us having an elite team in 12-13 and 13-14. If you look at the roster for 13-14, it absolutely oozes talent. Next year, even if Way doesn’t come back, we should have 26-27 win potential and Elite 8 potential. With McGary–Rob III–Stauskas–Burke and role players like Morgan, Brundidge, and Smot, we really shouldn’t be missing any pieces to the puzzle. Add Irvin, Donnal, and Walton, and one couldn’t ask for more. So, while this year we may have a tourn. bubble team or thereabouts, I myself am living in the future, and what a bright future it is.

      • Erob

        To be fair, I think most teams in the big ten would be 0-2 if they opened with UNC and Duke (except maybe Ohio State).  

        • serious

          To be fair, this poster claimed a 3-0 team should enjoy playing second fiddle to an 0-2 team, even though this 3-0 team beat the 0-2 team twice last year. I was trying to point out the absurdity in his statement. I don’t care that MSU played UNC and Duke; they still haven’t won a game this year.


    Sorry to hijack, but just a little recon for Dylan to consider:

    • John

       No worries. This place will be the basketball hub for the foreseeable future just like that place is the football hub.

  • Jengoblue

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned yet that last year the team had those games in Europe before the season started. I seem to remember some panic button action following those games too. It’ll take time to get better. I’m hoping that playing against better teams in Maui, win or lose, will be what the team needs. I agree with everyone who says that now is not the time to make predictions or to put this season behind us before it’s even begun and look to next year as our only hope. 

  • Brettkp

    As a person that has made an occasional sports wager (is my wife reading this??), getting on a plane, headed to Maui, is a classic trap game.  You could almost bet playing a lesser team, and with Memphis and a trip that EVERYONE is looking forward to looming, we might lay an egg.  That game by no means makes me nervous.  We will hit our stride soon and have the good season we all expect!  

  • JimC

    We definitely do not deserve to be ranked 17th.  We’re not as good as last year’s team right now, which was mostl unranked.   And not sure I buy the whole “this team will get better” line yet…can’t every young team say that.  

    I am not panicking.

    Trey really impressed me in my first chance to see him.

    Hope the guys wake up in Maui.

  • Anthony

    Novak,Smotz,Stu one of these 3 need to be in double figures for this team to have success. Honestly i would like to see hardaway take 15 shots a game he is the only threat right now to score 20 points. The problem with this team is they only have two guys that can create their own shot in tim and tre. I think novak is more of a mismatch at 4 so the question is do you give up offense for defense by playing him there i personally would when this team goes in a funk. Also hopefully cb can pick up the offense and take some of vogrichs minutes.

    One thing about belien that i have learned is his style of play can keep any team in the game it also keeps them in the game against better competition. In maui they will play more zone and slow the game down.