Michigan’s struggles on the road this season, 0-for-4 in true road games, are no secret. The Wolverines problems on the road can’t be attributed to a lack toughness, fight or resiliency but rather digging themselves too deep of deficits after critical mistakes and wasted possessions. The first half in Fayetteville was a perfect demonstration of the crushing mistakes that cost teams road victories. The Wolverines looked shell shocked against the Razorback press and Arkansas began the game 11-for-11 from the field, opening up a 20 point lead. The Wolverines were left to fight their way back. Michigan didn’t fold and began the tumultuous journey back over the final 26 minutes of play before their efforts fell just short when Trey Burke’s potential game-winning three point shot rimmed in and out at the final horn.
It was defense that fueled the Michigan comeback effort. The differences in the defensive statistics between both halves are striking. Michigan’s defense allowed Arkansas to score 1.45 points per possession in the first half compared to just .68 points per trip in the second half.
|Half||Ark PPP||U-M PPP||Ark eFG%||U-M eFG%|
Michigan dominated Arkansas on the defensive glass, rebounding over 80 percent of the Razorbacks’ missed shots. That wasn’t tough in the first half, when Arkansas hardly missed, but was impressive down the stretch. The Wolverines didn’t force many turnovers, just a 13% turnover rate, and definitely got a bit lucky when the Razorbacks went to the free throw stripe where they converted just 13-of-21 freebies.
Michigan’s offense struggled with Arkansas’ quickness and shotblocking ability around the basket but was relatively steady. The Wolverines had nearly identical per-possession output in both halves at 1.05 for the game and were were unable to shed their recent shooting struggles from the outside. Michigan made 17-of-33 twos (52%) but just 8-of-28 threes (29%) for an effective field goal percentage of 47.5%. Zack Novak had five of Michigan’s eight three point makes while his teammates were just 3-of-21 combined. It was offensive rebounding that kept Michigan’s offense afloat as the Wolverines rebounded 35 percent of their misses on the game for 17 second chance points. Turnovers didn’t hurt Michigan that much over the course of the game – 16% turnover rate and nine Razorback points off of turnovers – but they seemed to come at crippling times either early on or in the midst of a comeback run.
There were three stretches that doomed Michigan:
- The opening Arkansas run: Michigan hasn’t played a team like Arkansas and it showed. Morgan’s missed layup early seemed to set everything off balance and then the defensive intensity just wasn’t there. Arkansas hit some tough shots but the defense was simply not at that level required to win. This was the classic snowball effect where two difficult made shots turns into 11 before you know what happened.
- Four minutes without scoring midway through the second half: Michigan was in the game at this point, well within striking distance, and was finally playing good defense. As a testament to that defense, Arkansas didn’t score over this stretch as well. However, it seemed like every Wolverine possession was rushed – seven missed shots or turnovers in four minutes – and this was a chance for Michigan to make early headway into the Razorback lead without having to try to steal the game on the final possession.
- The final play: It was a smart use of the foul to give by Arkansas even if it was a little early. Burke said the play was designed to go to Hardaway, cutting toward the basket on the sideline, off of the inbound but the alternative option was a high ball screen. Burke catches the ball in the backcourt, Smotrycz’s screen is less than impressive, but Burke still gets a clean shot off. The ball was half way down the basket before it popped out. If he makes it, he’s a hero, but it was not to be.
These road losses sting but Michigan needs to figure out a way to build from them. The tests ahead won’t be any easier as the next week features trips to Purdue and then Ohio State. There are plenty of learning opportunities but sooner or later Michigan needs to put together a strong performance on the road and steal a game or two.
- Trey Burke: Burke has shown no hesitation to put this team on his back and that’s what he did again today. He struggled to finish against Arkansas’ big front line and had a poor shooting game but it was his sheer determination that got Michigan back in this game. His deep late three was eerily reminiscent of his shot against Michigan State and his put-back in the final minutes was even more impressive as he outhustled Arkansas’ front line for an offensive rebound. Seven rebounds for a 5-foot-11 player should tell you everything you need to know about Burke’s effort. Final stat line: 13 points on 6-of-19 (1-6 3pt) shooting with seven rebounds, six assists, one steal, one block and two turnovers.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan had 16 points for the game, 12 in the second half, and really spearheaded Michigan’s comeback effort. He simply outran Arkansas’ big men down the floor for a number of easy baskets and began to finish with authority as his confidence surged. Those easy baskets in transition are invaluable, especially when Michigan’s shooters are struggling.
- Zack Novak: Novak looked more athletically overwhelmed than any Michigan player, especially early, and had four frustrating turnovers as well as the flagrant foul and should have been costly missed box out late. Other than that, Novak gave just about everything that Michigan could ask from its senior captain. He made 5-of-7 threes and led Michigan in scoring (17) and rebounding ( 8 ).
- Stu Douglass: Douglass was in his best shooting stretch all season entering this game but he was dreadful today: 2-of-10 (1-8 on threes) for five points. If he hits even two or three triples it’s a different game and it’s a lot easier to point out his five assists to just one turnover against Arkansas’ pressure defense.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Slumps begin to take over your game mentally and that’s what is starting to happen to Hardaway. He seems to be questioning every move rather than relaxing and letting the game come to him. He had nine points on 3-of-8 (1-4 3pt) shooting with seven rebounds (all defensive), two assists and two turnovers on the day. He was an integral part of Michigan’s dominance on the defensive glass but there’s no denying how badly this offense needs some of his scoring prowess.
- Evan Smotrycz: Another sophomore searching for his game, Smotrycz had four points and three rebounds in 15 minutes of playing time, roughly half of which came at the five position. A month ago his three point stroke looked nearly automatic and now it just feels like it has no chance.
- Matt Vogrich: Even more than anyone else on the Michigan roster, Vogrich is in the game to make three point shots. He had two pretty good looks today and came up short on both. He can provide energy at times but just needs to find a groove shooting the ball.