Game 20: Michigan at Arkansas Recap

Dylan Burkhardt
Arkansas Basketball

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%
1st Half 1.45 1.05 73.1% 48.2%
2nd Half .68 1.05 34.1% 47.0%
Game 1.08 1.05 55.2% 47.5%

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.

Arkansas Basketball

Player Bullets:

  • 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.

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  • gpsimms

    Nice work, like always.  Zack has not looked outmatched physically like that for two years.  He really, really killed us during the terrible start.  It felt like he had 3 TOs in our first 5-6 possessions.    On top of that, while the transitions D was bad for everyone, Zack was getting worked when he was matched up on a quick guard wing in the half court sets.

    That said, Zack shot great, and played so much better in the second half.  Was he getting a different matchup in the second half or something?  Because it was crazy the way he was getting beat off the dribble in the first half, but suddenly wasn’t an issue in the second.

    Stu’s day was schizophrenic like Zack.  If he goes 3/8 from deep, I think this is the best game in his career.  He didn’t do much on the glass, but man he created more for his teammates by getting into the lane than he ever has.

    And I know everyone is ragging on Tim right now, but he completely deserves it.  I can handle a kid not shooting well, but when he is all set to take a charge, and then puts his hands up and shies away from the contact…I mean, there are no words for that.

    • gpsimms

      ok, 3 TOs in our first 6 possessions was a but of hyperbole, probably, but he had four of our total 10 TOs.  Pretty shocking we finished with 10 TOs, it felt like we had 8 or so by halftime.

  • Mattski

    I’ve been perplexed for two games running by times when Hardaway just seems to get out of the way of a defensive player. It’s so egregious-looking that I have to think he’s following instructions not to get in foul trouble. 

    I also suspect that the green light is now off for Hardaway, and that has him more confused than ever. 
    This recap cheers me up, though. Because I’ve been asking myself all afternoon how the heck this team can win without Timmy and Smotrycz hitting, and while they almost have to get going a little, an emerging and confident Jordan Morgan can help carry this team. I still believe the guy shows glimmers of greatness.  A painful sign of the lack of bench depth is the way–when Smot is not contributing–I keep asking myself why he is even on the floor; then I realize there is no one else to put out there! I’ll bet his recent play will influence the Horford decision. . . and then Smotrycz–all expectations discarded–will start hitting them again. 

  • Mac

    When the play broke down Burke probaly should’ve penetetrated.  Even if the shot was close he shouldn’t have settled for that low % of a shot.  If he took it to the basket he could’ve kicked it out to Novak (who was on fire and probaly would’ve knocked down the three) or taken it all the way to the hole or pulled up or stepped back to hit mid-range jumper. 

    • Ghoward44

      Burke not scared to win or lose the game. Hardaway didnt want the ball. 

      • Goingfor4inarowoverMSU

        Burke is going to be special. He will hit that shot in time

  • maxwell’s demon

    Hardaway was clearly the first option coming off a pair of screens but they had some guy just sitting in the wing, so when Hardaway curled right in front of Stu that guy was there to pick him up. I wish the safety, giving Burke the ball, didn’t have to be so deep in the backcourt because I don’t think it gave us enough time to use the Smotrycz screen appropriately. I don’t think Burke was able to set his man up for the screen, so I don’t really blame Smot. If anything I think it was Burke’s fault, but given the time I don’t think it was anyone’s fault. The defender did a nice job to contest that shot without fouling, sometimes players are too scared to pick up the foul and give an easy look. Better win Tuesday.

  • WolverineBBFan

    Thanks Dylan for your work. The team showed a lot and it is a testament to the coaches that this team can compete against any team despite its severe shortcomings: Our supposed shooter is terribly inconsistent (really has improved very little over last 3 yrs offensively), Zach is physically overmatched (not his heart though), and our thin bench (Vogrich’s and Blake’s poor production, and Carlton not being ready). So I expected ups and downs this year and hopefully be consistent over the stretch. However next year should be a different story… Go blue!!

  • ChathaM

    Beilein mentioned in his post-game how difficult it is to simulate a team like Arkansas, and that showed in the first 10 minutes. I’m sure the players were shown exactly what Ark does defensively, where they like to trap, etc. But, their quickness defensively really seemed to catch UM off guard. The early turnovers were brutal, and I think it was the raw shock of the Ark pace that caused them. It may really benefit UM that they played this game, as they won’t see another team like this during the regular season, but they very well may in the post-season.

    I thought that the defence was better in the 2nd half than the 1st, but I also thought that Ark got plenty of good looks in the 2nd that they simply failed to convert. All of those misses, plus the misses from the line in the last minute, kept UM in the game as much as anything UM did defensively. Going into the game, I figured that this was a good matchup for UM, given Ark’s relative lack of size and rebounding ability. I had no idea that they were so much quicker, almost to a man, than UM. It wasn’t a good matchup at all.

    I haven’t seen a team this year that clutches and grabs defensively the way Ark did today.  I thought the officials were negligent in that area, and it defenitely affected UM’s rhythm out of the gate.  

    The reliance on the 3 is getting frustrating, but this is Beilein’s MO, and for the most part, they’re getting good looks from 3. I still trust that Smotrycz’ shot will come back. I still think that Vogrich can really shoot it. I like the shots that Douglass chooses to take. But, Hardaway; he is so much more efficient a player when he attacks the lane that I think his mindset should be that of a “scorer” more than that of a “shooter”. I can’t read minds, but he sure plays like he thinks he’s a shooter, rather than the true scorer that he can be. Frustrating.

    So, on to Purdue, who got pummelled at MSU after a trip from hell to even get to the game. I’m sure the guys will come to play, but for whatever reason, the road just does not agree with this team. Enough near misses and feel-good comebacks (and I’m sure the players/coaches feel the same way); this team needs a road win.

    • rlcBlue

      Back in November, UVa’s Malcolm Brogden hit a game-tying three pointer with just under 12 minutes left in the second half. Since then, Michigan has held the lead on an opponent’s court for a grand total of 10 seconds (in the first half at Iowa).

      This team desperately needs a fast start. I’m really impressed with their perseverance and their versatility and the ability to make adjustments at half time, but against Purdue there are no mysteries; we know exactly what they’re going to try to do and what we need to do to beat them, and we really need to start doing it from the opening tip, not an hour and a half later.

      • Quaint06

        I don’t know if we need a fast start–we clearly have a knack for going on second-half runs when behind. We just can’t get behind by 15.

  • Ace_maker4

    This game as do most of our losses truly expose the weaknesses of our offense. We often on the road have players who stand and watch the point guard dribble the air out of the ball until we settle for a 3 without the ball ever entering the paint. We can not rely on a 5ft 11in point guard to create all our offense.

    More players have to be able to create scoring opportunities by getting by the defender  for dribble drive or kick out opportunities than just Trey. That needs to start with THjr as he is just too good and we rely on him to much to stand in the corner and toss up 3’s.

    In addition what has happened to our backdoor cuts? Have not seen one in the last few games and I think that is because we just stand around and watch Trey too often.

    • gpsimms

      it’s always been like this.  backdoor cuts work after we make someone take our 3 point shooting seriously.  also, we did do a decent job getting in the lane last game.  see morgan’s easy 2’s and douglass and burke’s many assists.

      • gpsimms

        (except against memphis, where their idiot coach decided to take our 3 away before we even made one and we torched them in the paint all game long)

      • Ace_maker4

        I could be wrong but my impression was that most of Morgan’s paint scoring came in transition as he was rewarded for running the floor. I am talking about in the half court set.

        • gpsimms

          no you’re not wrong, but stu, for example, had a lot of penetration into the lane and dish to other dudes who hit shots.  morgan was the recipient of 2 or 3 of these.  Probably about 3-4 of his looks were in transition.

  • Kool Breeze

    I agree with a few of the posts, that our offense has become the Trey Burke show.  Granted, Burke is awfully good, but it appears he is looking to shoot first much more often, rather than create.  Hardaway and Smotrycz have to be able to hit the open shot, or we will continue to struggle on offense.  In addition, a few folks commented on Hardaway’s need to break defenders down off the bounce, which is true.  However, one glaring weakness in Tim’s game is his lack of a good handle.  He has the athletic ability to be a great slasher, but he vastly needs to improve his handle.

    I do have a question for you Dylan, it appears Hardaway’s jumper is a little different than a year ago.  He seems to not be square to the basket when he shoots, slightly turning his body/shoulders to the left perhaps?  I have not looked at any video to confirm, but I was curious if you noticed anything?

    • Ace_maker4

      Agree THjr does not have the best handle but he does a great job on those little curls either getting to the rim of kicking it out for an open 3 as the defense reacts to  him in the lane. In addition he looks very comfortable in the post when the match up works in his advantage; we should try that now and then as well.

  • JimC

    THJ “struggling” and still scores 9 and gets 7 rebounds…no real worry IMO.  As always, when our designated 3-point shooters (Stu, Smot, Vogrich) do nothing we’re in trouble.

    • ForeverBlue

       Novak was hitting his 3s so the need for an offensive role player to hit some 3s was filled yesterday.  Hardaway is the number 1 or 2 offensive option and Burke didn’t shoot well either.  That isn’t going to be consistently overcome. 

  • storm33

    live by the 3 die by the 3

  • bones

    another big factor, again and as it will be all year, is the lack of depth.  Arkansas bench scoring-34. our bench 4.

  • fresh

    it would be nice if they could run some plays for these shooters to get some good medium range jump shots…….. stu must have had no confidence yesterday he obviously struggled with his 3 but he also had a handful of opportunities to pull up for some wide open mid range stuff  i would think vogrich should excell…..its tough to watch supposed shooters only shoot 3s……..lets move these guys in and get some confidence going here

  • section13row15

    When Stu shoots a three lately it’s almost like turning the ball over. He’s been much better when he drives to the rim and kicks to the corner, it’s worked for us lately. A lot of road games coming up, gotta find a way to match the other team’s energy early on and not dig a giant hole.