Game 7: Michigan at Virginia Recap

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Photo: MGoBlue

Michigan and Virginia battled back and forth for 30 minutes but somehow the Cavaliers always felt like the aggressors. Eventually Michigan’s offense sputtered and Mike Scott awoke to help Virginia pull away with a 19-2 run late in the second half. The result was a 70-58 Virginia win, dropping Michigan’s record to 5-2 on the season.

Michigan was never able to find an offensive rhythm against Virginia’s Packline defense. The Wolverines scored just .93 points per trip despite shooting 45 percent from three point range. Michigan, obviously bothered by Virginia’s physical play, was unable to convert the two point shots that carried the offense in Maui and converted just 42% of its two point looks. That lackluster two point shooting was accompanied by first half turnover woes and little to no production on either the offensive glass or at the free throw line.

Michigan’s offense degraded to glorified isolations on far too many plays. U-M players got bodied off of cuts and screens for most of the night and the crisp offensive motion that we saw against Memphis, Duke and UCLA was glaringly absent. This isn’t the last physical and compact defense that Michigan will play against and the Wolverines are going to need to learn how to execute their offensive sets in these sort of match-ups.

Michigan won’t be the first team that struggles to score the ball against Virginia but its struggles on the defensive end are more troubling. Scoring has been a laborious process for the Cavaliers this season and they weren’t scoring in the first half either. Michigan’s defense crumbled in the second half. Virginia scored 1.10 points per trip for the game thanks to an impressive 1.37 points per possession in the second half. Michigan’s defense was plagued by late double teams, Virginia penetration, poor closeouts and an inability to guard Mike Scott. There were some great plays by Virginia but there were also far too many flat out defensive breakdowns.

Memphis and UCLA might not have made Michigan pay for its defensive mistakes but Duke, and now Virginia did. Percentage of made field goals assisted is far from a flawless statistic but it’s a great indicator of how cohesive an offense is on a given night. 73% of Virginia’s field goals were assisted compared to just 36% of Michigan’s makes.

The decision to sit Tim Hardaway Jr. for 16 minutes in the first half can be debated to no end. It’s a risk averse strategy that is often frustrating but John Beilein’s track record says that his players with two fouls in the first half are going to sit. Michigan actually held its own for most of the time Hardaway was on the bench but things got dicey when Smotrycz went to the bench with his second foul as well. Michigan went with a lineup featuring a Novak-Christian-McLimans frontcourt and allowed Virginia, who had been trailing most of the half, to escape with a one point halftime lead.

That stretch gave Virginia confidence entering the second half but the 19-2 run that won the game for Virginia was fueled by Mike Scott dominating the game. Michigan’s double team from the baseline was relatively effective against Scott in the first half but he got loose in the second. Scott began to beat the Michigan double and force the U-M defense to collapse – the result was consistent: an easy bucket for Scott or a kick out to a wide open three point shooter.

There’s no denying the fact that Michigan took one on the chin tonight. Virginia played a more physical game and clearly outplayed the Wolverines. Virginia’s non-conference schedule is not difficult, so it might be a while before we know exactly how good Tony Bennett’s team really is. However, this was a road game against a team that should finish in the top half of the ACC. A loss is frustrating but far from inexcusable. Michigan has the week to regroup before playing its first home game in over two weeks as it hosts Iowa State.

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Photo: MGoBlue

Player Bullets:

  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: The two early fouls were critical but even when he was on the floor Hardaway struggled. Virginia’s physical defense just never allowed Hardaway to get comfortable as he finished with 5 points on 2 of 9 (1-3 3pt) shooting with two assists and two turnovers. Hardaway had a number of up-and-down performances last year but was unable to shoot Michigan’s way back in the game tonight.
  • Trey Burke: Burke and Novak were the primary reasons Michigan was able to stay in the game offensively in the first half. He hit some big shots on the night including a step back three at the shot clock buzzer, a nice floater in the lane and a beautiful spin move in transition. He makes things happen when he pushes the ball but still bogs down a bit in the half court, final stats: 11 points on 4 of 10 (1-4 3pt) shooting with four assists, four rebounds and three turnovers. His biggest area for improvement is on the defensive end where he needs to fight through and over screens rather than going underneath the pick.
  • Zack Novak: There’s no doubt that Zack Novak has broadened his offensive game. His consistency with the 15-18 foot jump shot off the pump fake is dramatically improved. He had some huge buckets in the first half to keep Michigan afloat and finished with 12 points on 5 of 8 (2-3 3pt) shooting. The flip side is that he really seems to be the struggling on the defensive end and seemed to miss a handful of defensive rotations and closeouts that he’s made in the past.
  • Evan Smotrycz: When he can stay on the court, Evan Smotrycz has produced this season. Against Virginia, he had 10 points, five defensive rebounds and a steal in 22 minutes. Unfortunately he couldn’t stay on the floor because of his tendency to pick up silly personal fouls.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan makes some great plays, like the fake hand off and drive, but he hasn’t been nearly as consistent as last season. He seemed to be a step late on the double team quite a bit and also had three turnovers.
  • Jon Horford: Horford has had some great stretches but he seemed to struggle with the physical nature of the game today. He played just six minutes, didn’t grab a rebound and had a pair of awkward rushed missed shots around the paint.
  • Stu Douglass: Douglass needs to take smarter shots. A couple of his misses were late when Michigan was trying to shoot its way back but his shot selection has been crippling this year. A bad, rushed three point shot is every bit as bad as a turnover and Douglass had a couple that simply killed momentum tonight.
  • Matt Vogrich: This seems to be the theme every game but Michigan needs Matt Vogrich to start hitting threes. Vogrich had some very productive stretches down the stretch last season, especially when Tim Hardaway Jr. struggled, but he just couldn’t answer the bell today. Vogrich was 0-2 today and is now 1 of 10 from three point range on the season and Michigan’s options at the three position behind them are thin.
  • Eso Akunne: Akunne has done a good job of just being solid when called on. He’s not going to make anything out of the norm happen but he’s proven that he can play in control and spell Michigan for one or two minutes at a time.
  • Colton Christian: Christian provides energy but he had a very rough stretch to close the first half including a missed layup, pair of free throws, open jumpshot and a turnover.
  • Blake McLimans: Blake blocked a three and made a three. Two things that he didn’t do last year.

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