Under 60 possessions, woeful first half offense, lots of whistles and plenty of subpar shooting nights. Despite Michigan leading for most of the game, the Wolverines were never able to put Minnesota away. Minnesota hit just enough big shots to hang around in the game and had two chances to tie or take the lead in the final two minutes of action. Michigan held onto its lead, and perfect Big Ten record, and escaped with a 61-56 victory.
This was not your average John Beilein victory. The four factors graph is atypical of Beilein’s traditional recipe for success. Michigan was outshot by Minnesota in this one but the Wolverine offense managed to score 1.05 points per trip thanks to frequent trips to the free throw line and a strong performance on the offensive glass. Minnesota isn’t a great defensive rebounding team but it’s a rare and impressive occurrence when Michigan grabs over 40 percent of its missed shots. Morgan really battled for a few, grabbing six, but five other players also grabbed at least one offensive rebound.
One point per possession is a good barometer in conference play. If you can hold your opponent below one point per possession, you probably will have a good shot to win the game down the stretch. Minnesota scratched and clawed its way to .97 points per trip in this one and that was just enough. The Gopher offense was powered by some out of character three point shooting – 8 of 19 – but Michigan’s ability to stop the Gophers’ strengths on offense was impressive. Minnesota’s offense is one of the best in the conference at grabbing offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line. Michigan held the Gophers to a 25% offensive rebounding rate, well below their 38% average, and a free throw rate of just 15%, compared to a 44% season average. Despite Minnesota’s offense having a big second half – the Gophers made 7 of 9 twos and 6 of 13 threes in the second half – Michigan’s defense grinded out two key stops to close the game.
This was a game that Michigan couldn’t afford to let slip away. Home games are vitally important in league play and the downside of the soft scheduling start for the Wolverines is that early losses would be more costly. It wasn’t the prettiest game but every Big Ten game is a fight and Michigan has taken care of business thus far. Next up is a trip to Bloomington, Indiana to face the Indiana Hoosiers.
- Trey Burke: Trey Burke is a winner. On a night when Michigan’s other primary offensive options were struggling, Burke took matters into his own hands. He hit his threes, ran the pick and roll and lived at the free throw line. John Beilein praised his composure after the game but Burke also knows how to provide some spark as he fired up the crowd a few times with big plays and even drawing a five second violation.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway struggled throughout this one, scoring just seven points on 2 of 14 shooting. Hardaway didn’t have his perimeter shot and forced several looks around the basket. He just never got comfortable but still had enough confidence to hit the huge shot late in the game when Beilein re-inserted him into the lineup. He’s really struggled with his perimeter jumper over the last four games, making just four of his last 26 three point attempts.
- Zack Novak: Novak had nine points on 3 of 9 shooting and never found his range from distance, going 1 of 6 on threes. Novak also had to play significantly more time at the four position than he has been lately to defend Minnesota’s smaller lineup.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass played a great game. He hit three of four triples and he continues to play solid perimeter defense. Stu’s shots were all big and provided a scoring boost on a day when Michigan’s offense was so clearly struggling.
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz kept up his rebounding surge, grabbing nine boards for the game, but never got going offensively. He was 1 of 4 from the field but did hand out a pair of assists. Beilein sat him for a long stretch in the second half and I think that decision was mostly defensive based. Minnesota plays a small lineup with Williams at the four and Smotrycz seemed to struggle defending the quicker lineups.
- Jordan Morgan: With Minnesota focusing on neutralizing Smotrycz and Hardaway on the wings, Michigan focused on getting Jordan Morgan the ball quite a bit. Results were mixed as Morgan scored seven points (3-6 fg), grabbed 12 rebounds (6 off., 6 def.) but had five turnovers. Morgan had some very frustrating passes
- Matt Vogrich: Vogrich played eight minutes and missed his only three point attempt of the game but he made the sort of plays you want to see from a bench player. He took a charge, he got a steal late and kept a possession alive with a big offensive rebound.
- Blake McLimans: McLimans also had a solid stint off the bench in the first half. He grabbed an offensive rebound. Morgan and Smotrycz are still the two top options at the five without Horford but McLimans should continue to get a few first half minutes going forward.
- Carlton Brundidge: Brundidge got a quick shift in the first half but looked a bit lost out there. He threw a couple of passes that were in the wrong spot and never looked comfortable.