There’s nothing quite like a mid-December finals week guarantee game. This one was never in doubt but it was a far from aesthetically pleasing get-me-over performance. Michigan opened the game on a 34-8 run and Pine Bluff failed to reach double digits until there were under four minutes to play in the first half. The most exciting play of the opening was a hard screen that led to a Burke buzzer beater and you could count Pine Bluff’s first half field goals on one hand. The game was effectively over at half time but Michigan’s lackadaisical second half performance – Pine Bluff outscored the Wolverines by 13 in the second stanza – left much to be desired. In spite of a comedy of second half errors, Michigan moved on with a 63-50 victory.
Turnovers were the story in this one. Michigan coughed the ball up on 30% of its possessions and seemed to lack any real focus or execution in the second half. The Wolverines gave the ball away on 42% (13 of 32) of their second half possessions and made just nine second half shots – two inside the arc. While this was certainly a healthy dose of “playing down to the competition after establishing a big lead”, it’s impossible to call the performance anything but underwhelming. It was three point shooting – 13 of 26 – that carried Michigan as its early season success inside the arc was set off track with just 38 percent two point shooting for the night. When the Wolverines didn’t turn the ball over they moved it well, notching assists on 17 of their 22 made field goals.
The defensive stats appear solid but are not nearly as impressive when considering the opposition and accounting for Pine Bluff scoring eight points in the first 16 minutes. The Golden Eagles actually scored a point per possession in the second half, well above their season average, but not enough to offset their first half ineptitude for a poor .74 points per trip over the full 40 minutes. The Michigan defense’s primary flaw was its inability to stop Lazabian Jackson, who scored 23 points on 7 of 15 (6-11 3pt) shooting. His friends didn’t provide much support as Savalance Townsend scored 15 points on five shots but the other eight Golden Eagles that played combined to make just five shots combined. Pine Bluff still turned the ball over on nearly a quarter of its possessions, was a non-factor on the offensive glass and attempted just five free throws.
I wrote in the preview that this would be a great opportunity for the bench to get some run but that only proved partially true. Matt Vogrich seized the opportunity when Tim Hardaway Jr. took a hard fall, scoring 11 points in 21 minutes, and Blake McLimans also played 11 minutes as Jon Horford rested a foot injury. Akunne (2mins), Brundidge (1 min) and Christian (1 min) didn’t enter the game until the final ticks of the clock as Burke (37 mins) and Novak (37 mins) shouldered a heavy workload yet again.
It wasn’t very impressive but it’s a win. These games probably have a larger impact on Michigan’s Pomeroy rankings more than anything else and it’s tough to gain much tangible insight from games of this nature. Next up for Michigan is another cupcake *ahem* SWAC opponent on Saturday afternoon as the Wolverines host the Alabama A&M Bulldogs.
- Trey Burke: Michigan is a different team with Burke on the floor. The freshman had 15 points on 6 of 15 (3-5 3pt) shooting, seven assists, six rebounds and three turnovers in 37 minutes tonight. I thought he opted for a few too many mid range jumpers but it’s tough to argue with 15 points and seven assists from the freshman guard. Burke is also starting to heat up from three point range, hitting 6 of his last 11 triples.
- Evan Smotrycz: Evan is playing some of the best ball of his career; 16 points on 4 of 6 (3-4 3pt) shooting with eight rebounds… and five turnovers today. He got carried away in the sloppy nature of the game and tried to be a bit fancy but he’s shooting the ball with great confidence and doing a better job of staying out of foul trouble. Smotrycz was at least tied for the team lead Michigan in points, rebounds, steals and blocks on the night.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway fell hard on his tailbone and played sparingly from that point on but he still scored eight points thanks to a pair of threes. Like just about everyone else that played Hardaway struggled to value the ball tallying three turnovers in 19 minutes.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan’s offensive game was out of sync – 3 TOs to 2 FGAs – but he is playing with the sort of combative attitude that we saw a season ago. He took a charge, had a big block and was generally aggressive on the defensive side of the ball.
- Zack Novak: Novak has handed out 14 assists in the last two games. John Beilein mentioned that he’s really feeling comfortable at the two guard and it’s tough to debate that. Novak had handed out six assists twice before in his career and has surpassed the mark in each of the last two games. Even on an off shooting night, his individual improvements are more obvious than any other player on the Michigan roster as he becomes more and more comfortable pump faking and making plays inside the arc.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass made the most difficult of his four three point attempts and finished with six points in 19 minutes. A quiet night for Douglass but sometimes it’s better to be quiet than struggle.
- Matt Vogrich: It was great to see Vogrich hit three triples on five attempts but it was most encouraging to see him grab three offensive rebounds – all of which came before he attempted a three point shot. Michigan needs Vogrich to build on this game and bolster a weak bench.
- Blake McLimans: Blake got Horford’s minutes and was 0-2 from the field with a rebound and a block. It was his hard screen at the end of the first half that stood out. He’s probably not there yet but he sets good screens and if he can hit the occasional three he could provide Michigan with some spot minutes.