Game 4: Michigan vs. Memphis Recap

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John Beilein described today’s game as a measuring stick and his team answered the challenge. Michigan is clearly ready for its next test. A Wolverine offense that lacked direction in early season play was suddenly operating efficiently in the Lahaina Civic Center and the Michigan defense which gave up abundant open looks to Western Illinois stifled the Memphis attack. The game was played at a pace suitable for Memphis, 70 possessions, but the result went with the Wolverines, 73-61.

The Michigan offense was able to exploit Memphis’ over aggression and lack of discipline for the entire 40 minutes. Jimmy Dykes noted that Josh Pastner told him before the game that Michigan “couldn’t make enough twos to beat Memphis” but that proved to be a fatal miscalculation. The Wolverines welcomed the Memphis pressure and found an abundance of easy looks, backdoor cuts and driving lanes that were absent in early season games. Michigan attempted 60% of its shots inside the arc and made an astounding 21 of 30 two points attempts (70%). The Wolverines still weren’t perfect as they struggled shooting the ball from the perimeter (30% 3pfg) and turned it over too often in the first half but the result was still a season best 1.11 point per possession output.

As crisp as the Michigan offense looked, defense carried the day for the Wolverines. Memphis had it’s fair share of blow-bys and easy looks but Michigan’s team defense – in both man and zone – was tremendous. The Tigers scored just .88 points per possession with a meager 37 percent effective field goal percentage. It wasn’t the 1-3-1 zone but the 2-3 zone that stifled Memphis as Michigan dared the Tigers to shoot threes and they obliged, making 4 of 21 long range attempts. Not that Memphis was much better inside, making 42% of its twos and having six shots blocked. Michigan’s defensive rebounding performance was impressive as anything as U-M rebounded 85% of the Tigers’ misses on the game (StatSheet lists a still impressive 76%, due to team/OOB rebounds).

Michigan did very well in the superlative statistical categories. The Wolverines got 19 points from the bench and also outscored Memphis in transition (9-8) and in the paint (28-21). 56% of Michigan’s made field goals were assisted, a clear sign that the offense was effective and Michigan got to the line often, making a slightly improved 72% of its freebies. Michigan’s six blocked shots also stood out as Michigan has only blocked six or more shots in a game twice over the last three seasons. The Wolverine big men – Smotrycz, Horford and Morgan – deserve significant credit after receiving the majority of the criticism in Michigan’s first three games.

It’s just one game but it was the sort of performance that makes it a lot easier to look ahead on the schedule with confidence. The bad taste of mediocre games versus cupcakes at home is gone and Michigan looks every bit like the team that we expected to see. Memphis probably isn’t the eighth best team in the country but the Tigers are going to win a lot of games in C-USA this season and this will be a quality neutral site RPI victory. Now it’s a short turnaround with the next game taking place at 7 p.m. tomorrow evening against the winner of the Duke-Tennesse game Duke on ESPN. A full preview of that game will be coming shortly.

Player Bullets:

  • Trey Burke: It was just his fourth college game and Trey Burke made a statement. The freshman point guard wasn’t perfect but he controlled the game and made plays: scoring 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting and handing out four assists. He’s a playmaker and was extremely effective attacking the basket and in the mid-range. His block of Joe Jackson at the end of the half was impressive stuff and, yes, he clearly outplayed Jackson.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway scored 21 points on 6 of 12 shooting, grabbed seven defensive rebounds and handed out five assists. He turned the ball over three times and tried to force the issue a bit but he very quietly carried the Michigan offense. Hardaway continued to excel inside the arc, making nine of 10 free throws and six of nine twos. He was active off all sorts of cuts and back doors and also had some very nice passes including a beautiful pick and roll look to Horford.
  • Evan Smotrycz: He had three frustrating turnovers but quietly had an impressive game: 7 points on 3 of 5 (1-1 3pt) shooting, eight rebounds (a career high), an assist and a block. The dagger three was impressive but I was more impressed with his aggression on both ends: attacking the basket and on the defensive glass.
  • Stu Douglass: No, he’s not a point guard. Yes, he took some absolutely terrible shots. But yes, Michigan needs Stu Douglass on the floor for long stretches. He’s the Wolverines more disciplined perimeter defender, hit two threes (2-7 shooting overall), grabbed four rebounds and handed out three assists to one turnover. From the assist on the Smotrycz three late to a couple big threes when the game was tight in the first half, Douglass played well enough overall to outweigh some of his questionable three point attempts.
  • Zack Novak: Novak didn’t have a huge influence on the game but he did score eight points including a pair of huge threes. He turned it over just once and there’s no denying that he’s a leader on the floor – even in the halftime scrum when he came to Evan Smotrycz’s defense.
  • Jon Horford: Morgan was shelved with foul trouble throughout and Horford stepped up and made some big plays, grabbing six rebounds, blocking four shots and scoring four points in 12 minutes. He battled around the basket, made hustle plays and should continue to develop into Michigan’s best post defender.
  • Jordan Morgan: He was productive when he was on the floor but foul trouble really prevented him from having a chance. The result was four points and one rebound in 11 minutes. The production that Michigan got out of Smotrycz and Horford at the five position with Morgan on the bench was a dramatic improvement over a season ago.
  • Colton Christian: Eso Akunne had the big shift off the bench in the second half but it was Christian who produced in the second. In one short stint he scored on a back door layup, took a charge and grabbed an offensive rebound.
  • Matt Vogrich: He had a nice drive to the basket but Michigan needs him to hit open three point looks off the bench. He hasn’t been consistent this season and missed both three point attempts today.
  • Eso Akunne: John Beilein promised to use his bench and he was true to his word. Eso Akunne didn’t turn the ball over, managed the game and hit a huge three in the second half. That’s the way to earn a coach’s trust and a sign that it just might be your day.

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