Game 17: Northwestern at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

(caption) Michigan freshman point guard Trey Burke hits one of his six consecutive free throws in overtime, leading the Wolveirnes to a 66-64 victory over Northwestern. Burke led Michigan with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. *** The University of Michigan Wolverines beat the Northwestern Wildcats 66-64 in overtime. Michigan trailed by 10 points early in the second half at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor.  Photos taken on Wednesday, January 11, 2012. ( John T. Greilick / Detroit News )
Photo: Detroit News

John Beilein wasn’t surprised that Michigan responded well to a tough loss at Indiana by beating Wisconsin on Sunday. Time and again he’s reminded reporters that handling success is every bit as difficult as handling adversity. Michigan’s Wednesday night match-up against Northwestern was a classic let down game with a short turnaround after the emotional home win over Wisconsin. Michigan missed its first eight shots and was behind 8-0 in less than four minutes. At that point, the Wolverines had created their own adversity and were left to spend the rest of the game digging out of the early deficit. It took overtime, and was far from aesthetically pleasing, but when the dust settled Michigan had grabbed its fourth Big Ten win in five tries.

Michigan struggled to shoot the ball early and never warmed up. This was the worst shooting performance of the season for the Wolverines by a large margin. Michigan made just 42% of its twos and 23% of its threes on the night for a 33% effective field goal percentage. That’s 10 percentage points worse than the previous season low (43% vs. Wisconsin) and this was the first game that Michigan won with an effective field goal percentage under 40% since 2008 (a 49-43 home win over Illinois).

Despite the horrendous shooting, Michigan was still able to surpass 1-point per possession due to what can only be described as sheer determination. For the second game in a row, offensive rebounding was the differentiator for the Wolverine offense. Michigan rebounded 38 percent of its missed shots and scored 13 second chance points in the second half and overtime. Michigan further maximized possessions with just a 10.9% turnover rate and attempted 18 more field goals than Northwestern. As in any comeback, free throw shooting was critical and Michigan made 15-of-16 freebies including six critical makes in the final 65 seconds of overtime by Trey Burke.

Despite the strong offensive rebounding effort, it was the Michigan defense that pulled through in the end. John Shurna and Drew Crawford combined to score 41 points on 31 shots but their teammates had just 23 points. Michigan’s defense was far from consistent, allowing numerous open shots for long stretches, but it did two things very well for the entire 45 minutes: force turnovers and grab defensive rebounds. Michigan rebounded 79% of the Wildcats’ misses while forcing turnovers on a quarter of the their possessions. In consecutive games, the Wolverines have forced two of the country’s most disciplined teams into an unusually high number of turnovers.

The Michigan defense truly excelled in the final eight minutes of regulation. The Wolverines trailed by four at the eight minute media timeout and surrendered just four points and zero field goals before the end of regulation. Michigan’s offense sputtered to the finish line but that late defensive effort was enough to extend the game to overtime.


Bill Carmody seemed to make a lot of great coaching decisions in this one, many of which John Beilein and Michigan didn’t seem to have an answer for. The small starting lineup, with Shurna at the five, was a nice wrinkle early and once Novak sat with two fouls it was nearly impossible for Michigan to guard. The hard hedge on the pick-and-roll gave Trey Burke fits as he was unable to pass around or through it to the rolling man. Burke actually had the best luck rejecting the screen and taking the ball to the basket in the other direction. Carmody also seemed to mix up his defenses extremely well, most notably going with the 1-3-1 zone on the final possession of the first half and leaving Michigan befuddled. (Photo:

The Big Ten is a grind and no win is a bad win. Michigan shot the ball terribly but didn’t panic and simply outworked Northwestern down the stretch. That’s an encouraging sign. I think we’re all pretty confident that Michigan could beat Northwestern while playing its best game, but teams that want to compete in this league need to win games when everything doesn’t go their way. Next up for Michigan is a chance at its first road game of the season with a Saturday afternoon game at Iowa.


Player Bullets:

  • Trey Burke: It’s been tough not to drift into hyperbole about Zack Novak’s toughness and hustle over the last four years and we might run into similar problems with Trey Burke. Burke played all 45 minutes and while he struggled shooting the ball – 5 of 17 (1-6 3pt) – he made winning plays down the stretch. Despite an “off night”, he finished with 19 points, seven assists and seven rebounds. His six free throws down the stretch were as clutch as can be despite tired legs. One late play that really stood out was on the defensive end of the court. Burke got crumpled by a screen from Mirkovic around the key but managed to pick himself up and still get out to contest a Dave Sobolewski jumpshot.
  • Zack Novak: The fact that John Beilein won’t play Zack Novak in the first half with two fouls shows what a hardline stance he has with the theory. Novak had what might be the most explosive play of his career, a two handed slam in transition, and provided Michigan with a second half spark despite struggling offensively. He had five second half rebounds and created a big jump ball late in the second half that gained Michigan a defensive stop.
  • Stu Douglass: Douglass did so many things very well but went 0-for-6 from three point range. He provided Michigan’s most consistent perimeter defense, switching onto Drew Crawford around halftime and doing an impressive job despite giving up significant size. Crawford was 5-of-8 in the first half compared to 2-of-7 in the second half and overtime. Douglass made tough twos (3-4 2pt), had two big steals, two assists, made four free throws and scored 10 points but missed all of his threes. If he hits just a couple threes we are probably calling this one of the most complete games of his career.
  • Jordan Morgan: At times analyzing Jordan Morgan’s play feels more like a psychology project (Hardaway and Smotrycz are probably somewhere on this list too). Morgan was 0-for-4 with a turnover in the first half but 3-for-4 for six points in the second. Then he made one of the most mind boggling, seemingly out-of-character, plays of his career by throwing a retaliation shove at Sobolewski. Morgan was rushed in the first half but played with purpose in the second. This game was a bit of a defensive nightmare for Morgan who was left to try to chase Shurna around the perimeter or on an island (you can’t double against Northwestern) against Northwestern’s bigs, who were 3-of-4 for six points.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway is starting to find his swagger once again. He had an early offensive explosion for 11 points and hit the game tying shot at the end of regulation. Hardaway opened Big Ten play by making 1-of-18 threes but he’s hit 7-of-12 over Michigan’s last two games. It was also encouraging to see him with another solid rebounding game (6 rebs) because good things generally happen when he pushes the ball.
  • Evan Smotrycz:  Everything was clicking for Smotrycz in December but he’s run into a January slump. Smotrycz was just 1-of-7 today, got backdoored badly a couple times in the first half and definitely seemed to grow frustrated. However, I give him some credit for bouncing back and making some big plays late. He had five points, two offensive rebounds and a block in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime.
  • Matt Vogrich: I thought Vogrich had one of his best halves of the season in the first. He stepped in with Novak and Smotrycz in foul trouble and knocked down a three, just missed a couple others and grabbed a pair of steals. He didn’t really see the floor after that, and I understand why Michigan wanted Novak, Hardaway, Douglass and Burke on the floor all the time but he might have been worth a shot.
  • Blake McLimans: With Novak and Smotrycz sidelined with two first half fouls, Beilein gave McLimans a try at the four. It didn’t work. Blake missed a three and had trouble guarding John Shurna. However, just about everyone had trouble guarding Shurna so it’s tough to hold that against him.
  • rlcBlue


    • Joshua Bock

      Good point. Great minutes from Vogrich tonight, finally. A 3 and some hustle plays.

    • Oops, late night. He’s there now.

  • DB

    I don’t feel as bad about this poor performance in a win as I have about others because a lot of the problem here was they simply couldn’t hit shots, many of which were good looks.  That’s most likely not going to happen very often (as opposed to their problems on defense earlier in the year).

  • Chris

    “At times analyzing Jordan Morgan’s play feels more like a psychology project (Hardaway and Smotrycz are probably somewhere on this list too).”

    This is why I worry about next year.  I remember how glad everyone was that CJ and David Merritt were graduating because surely it would be a talent upgrade! Then came the muddle until Zack and Stu could get established as leaders. These three are the most likely leader candidates but they are tough to figure out. How is this going to go? Who is going to set the tone for the guys coming in?

    • eddieben

      Burke will be the guy to fill that void.

    • ForeverBlue

      It’s pretty tempting to be “star struck” by the class coming in but I agree, Stu and Zack are going to leave a critical void.  They are 2 guys that just don’t disappear from the floor for stretches; something Morgan, Hardaway and Smotrycz all seem prone to in one degree or another.  

      Having said that I do think somebody will step up.  Burke seems like the most natural  combination of desire, attitude and basketball smarts.  Hardaway, if he can bring a consistent emotional approach is another candidate.  Zach and Stu have the benefit of years in the system and being seniors, that guys have fallen in line behind their leadership doesn’t mean that they won’t be ready to fill the void.    Hopefully JB does something similar to what I’ve heard Hoke talk about in terms of building leadership skills.

    • Dr_ZC

      Chris, good points. I could see the team was struggling in the first half, and I am sure, everybody could see this as well. I would question Beilein’s decision to keep Zack on the bench. He is a leader and you need him on the floor when the chips are down. He knows how to avoid unnecessary fouls. After he was taken out,  there was nobody to take a charge when Crawford was penetrating. We had trouble catching up. Burke seemed lethargic in the first half as well. I do not know how many times he ran the pick-and-roll missing Morgan rolling to the hoop free. Defenses  by now know he likes to drive and pull for the mid-range jumpshot, so he was always well defended. Morgan has improved a lot but he seems to have problems catching the ball. Stu is a stabilizing factor and a great defender, while Smot is back to his old disappearing acts. He seemed totally lost and that affected his shot. He was missing badly and he was not even looking to get the ball on offense.

      If it was not for THJ to keep us afloat in the first half, the game would be over. Beilein has to realize he cannot keep Zack on the bench while the team is struggling on the floor.

    • dustindbo

      One guy that I think has the potential to step up as a leader next year could be Matt Vogrich. Just because he doesn’t play just as much as Tim, Smotrycz, or Morgan doesn’t mean the younger players don’t look up to him. I remember when I went to the Open Practice at the beginning of the season, Vogrich was out there teaching the younger guys and being pretty vocal. And whenever he’s in the game, it seems like the younger players feed off him. Just a thought

  • oldblue


    Watching the game, I kept thinking we should get Tim to go inside, by running plays for him, isolating him, or having him post up, and we never did.  Northwestern had no one who could stay with him inside, and he spent most offensive possessions just standing in the corner. I am surprised I have not seen any mention of this.  Am I missing something?

    • ChathaM

      I remember one first half possession where Hardaway did post. He was immediately doubled, and I think it resulted in a turnover. In any case, posting Hardaway it didn’t appear to be part of the game plan. 

  • GregGoBlue

    Spot-on analysis as usual, Dylan. I too was impressed by Carmody’s coaching decisions, since we just simply couldn’t keep up with Shurna at the 5. That 1-3-1 at the end had me terrified, and I’m glad we got lucky because we looked inept the first time he threw it at us.

    Even as an admitted Stu critic, this game (where he wasn’t his usual self from 3) has changed me into a Stu supporter. Stu was impassioned out there, and finally showed some emotion in his hustle, and leading by example. When the going got tough, Stu guarded the living daylights out of Crawford and played some of the most aggressive on the ball defense I’ve seen him play all year. Hopefully the lightbulb will stay on for Stu (as we know that consistency isn’t exactly his forté), but wow what a performance.

    Lastly, I don’t know how many of you were at the game but Novak’s dunk made Crisler go absolutely insane, myself included. I haven’t seen Novak that lit up since MSU last year. I’m going to miss that guy bigtime.

    • Mith

      I just got done 2 minutes ago telling a friend exactly the same thing, “I’m going to miss Novak a ton”.  It’s been fun watching his career progress from a guy who hit an occasional three to an indispensible team leader.

    • bird

      I propose that we win the national championship and put “0” in the rafters.

    • mikey_mac

      Carmody put on a clinic — although I have to think had Beilein had a full week to prepare for this game as well, it would’ve been a different story.

  • MGoTweeter

    The thing that stood out most to me about last nights game was the fact that this team misses Morris’ ability to hit the roll man on the pick and roll.  The roll was open all night long, but Burke just does not have the size or the craftiness yet, to make the pass when there is a hard hedge by the big.  I do find myself beating a lot of the same drums about this team this year, and I know this is one of them, but UM needs to go to Hardaway more in the pick and roll game when teams play it that aggressively.  His size allows him to make that pass where Burke cannot.  In time Burke will figure out how to get that pass to the roll man, but until he does, the play just becomes way too one dimensional when it is defended that way.  

    • ChathaM

      Great point, and I thought that Dylan addressed the required adjustment in the summary. If the hedge defender starts to cheat (which they pretty much have to do if they’re going to hedge as hard as NW did), Burke’s best option is to refuse the screen by crossing back over and beating his man off the dribble.

    • mikey_mac

      Agreed, that pass is there, and Burke is too good not to figure it out eventually. Until then, the book is out on how to defend Burke in that set. Kudos to the rest of the team for not showing frustration when they are alone under the hoop and not getting the ball. Once it clicks with Burke, their patience will be well rewarded.

    • Rdogoblue

      I noticed that as well. Burke has a tendency to go to the basket with blinders on. His aggressiveness should pay off with some easy baskets for Morgan. Trey is playing way beyond his years, so I expect his ability to find the open man in the paint will come along shortly.

  • Anon

    Does anyone know why Carmody called 2 or 3 timeouts when NW had the ball and the shot clock was 10 seconds or less? Every time they got a bad shot or took a shot clock violations. Those decisions could have cost them the game. Just wondering if anyone saw something that I didn’t.

  • Bhallcidera

    Were winning games this year that we werent last year, thats a great sign but id like to see us have a good shooting performance at iowa before we hit that difficult stretch