Photo: Dustin Johnston
Post Game: John Beilein Press Conference / Hardaway, Burke, Smotrycz & Novak Video / Photo Gallery
The message from the Michigan basketball players and coaches after a season opening home win over Penn State was clear: good Big Ten teams defend their home court. Zack Novak emphasized that point before the game and John Beilein expressed relief after the game, admitting that he wasn’t sure how his team would react to Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions are far from the best the Big Ten has to offer but Michigan put together a convincing win comprised of relatively ordinary individual performances. Despite an average performance, Michigan dominated the game in all facets and cruised to an easy 71-53 victory.
Michigan’s NCAA-leading two point shooting took another step forward as the Wolverines were lethal inside the arc yet again Michigan made 17 of 28 (61%) two point attempts but connected on just 32% of its three point looks. The final tally for the Wolverine offense was 1.18 points per possession, a mark that the Wolverines reached in just four Big Ten games last season. The second most encouraging aspect of the Michigan offense was its ability to value the basketball against an aggressive Penn State defense. Michigan turned the ball over on just 13% of its possessions, well below what Penn State has forced this season and Michigan’s second lowest turnover rate of the season.
The Michigan defense, which has been a slight question mark lately, shut down a middling Penn State offense. The Nittany Lions scored just .88 points per possession and that number was buoyed by some cheap baskets late once the game was out of hand. Penn State’s offensive rebounding attack was quelled as Michigan grabbed 69% of the Nittany Lions’ missed shots. Tim Frazier was neutralized, requiring 18 shots to score 20 points and tallying five turnovers, and his supporting cast wasn’t much help. Almost every Penn State stat is a Michigan win: 45% two point shooting, 27% three point shooting, 13 turnovers on 60 possessions, 12 free throw attempts to 53 field goal attempts. This was a performance to build on for Michigan’s defense.
Routine games are a coach’s best friend and this was certainly the start that John Beilein hoped for to open Big Ten play. Michigan has to make the most of the soft start to its Big Ten schedule and this was an encouraging early performance. Next up is another home game with Minnesota traveling to Crisler for a New Year’s Day battle. Michigan continues to build and improve, brick by brick, but there’s a certain sense of uneasiness and anticipation that continues to hang over the season as Michigan searches for that marquee win to legitimatize its status.
In related recruiting news, Mitch McGary was at the game and Dustin managed to snap a photo.
Photo: Dustin Johnston
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: It’s been a common theme of Hardaway’s post game bullets: don’t fall in love with the three. There aren’t many better examples of why than today’s performance: 26 points – 10 of 11 2PFG, 1 of 7 3PFG. Hardaway was unstoppable attacking the basket and finished with an array of moves from sky hooks to dunks to crafty layups. It’s a fine line to balance because Hardaway willed Michigan to so many victories last season using almost entirely the three point shot. However, his two point improvement is remarkable as he’s connected on 62% of his twos this season. If he starts making threes at a similar rate to the end of last season he could be nearly unstoppable.
- Evan Smotrycz: Like everyone I expected improvement from Evan Smotrycz this season but I would have laughed if you would have suggested he’d notch three consecutive double-doubles in his sophomore season. Smotrycz wasn’t as involved offensively but he still scored 10 points including a pair of threes and had a pair of nifty back door passes, two steals and a block to boot. Beilein called him a high risk-high reward player which is a notion hammered home by his three turnovers.
- Trey Burke: Burke struggled shooting the ball – 3 of 10 (0-3 3pt) – but still put together an impressive performance: 13 points, seven assists, five rebounds, two steals and zero turnovers. He seemed to get caught forcing up some shots that were more difficult than they first appeared but he got to the free throw line often and was perfect from the stripe. He also received a lot of praise from Beilein after the game for his ability to handle different Penn State defenses.
- Zack Novak: Penn State head coach Pat Chambers noted Novak as the most challenging player to defend on the Michigan roster. He was enamored with how well Novak affects the game and what a smart player he was, even interrupting a question about Hardaway to discuss more about Novak. Novak was 3 of 6 (1-3 3pt) from the field but what was most impressive were his four assists. He sparked a late first half run and just seems to make significantly more confident decisions in transition and around the lane, mastering the dump off pass after getting to the paint.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan played 25 minutes and didn’t record a defensive rebound. He struggled shooting the ball (1-4) but did seem to battle defensively, coming away with a block and a steal.
- Stu Douglass: You can live with a 2 for 6 three point shooting game for Douglass because he took good shots. Most were within the flow of the offense and they weren’t excessively deep looks. It’s clear that Douglass is still the most trusted perimeter defender in John Beilein’s eyes as he was tasked with guarding Tim Frazier for almost the entirety of his time on the floor. The one play that really stood out was a first half offensive rebound where Douglass crashed the glass to rescue an early shot clock miss.
- Matt Vogrich: Vogrich is now shooting 100 percent on threes in Big Ten play. He was two for two today and shot both without hesitation and with confidence. He also took a charge and grabbed a pair of rebounds in 10 minutes. That’s the Matt Vogrich that Michigan needs off the bench.
- Blake McLimans: Blake had a really solid first half shift but it’s clear that he’s the third option in the post behind a lineup with Smotrycz at the five. He set good screens, grabbed a couple of rebounds and had no glaring mistakes.