Game 25: Michigan at Nebraska Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan at Nebraska 2
Photo: Patrick Radigan

In mid-January, Michigan opened an eight game stretch that featured six road games with a deflating loss in Iowa City. The Wolverines lacked focus and looked lifeless as they were slapped around by Iowa and whispers about their road woes grew louder. Just under a month later, Michigan demonstrated its growth with a convincing win at Nebraska. The lack of energy and execution in Iowa City was a thing of the past as the Wolverines beat a team they should, on the road, with relative ease.

Winning games on the road in the Big Ten is extremely difficult and any conference road victory, especially a win this routine, is a good one. Michigan’s second half offensive brilliance is likely to be forgotten due to the game’s trudging pace and anemic first half shooting but at this point in the season a win is all that matters.

For 20 minutes, Michigan’s offense wasn’t any more effective than it was in East Lansing on Sunday. Over two thirds of Michigan’s first half shots were three point attempts, Tim Hardaway Jr. was 0-for-7 and the Wolverine offense sputtered its way to a 22 points in 25 first half possessions. It was brutal but the second half was a different story:

1st Half .87 42.0% 68% .59 21.7%
2nd Half 1.43 90.5% 33% 1.09 67.4%
Total 1.15 64.1% 52% .86 44.6%

Barring a few turnovers, Michigan’s offense was nearly perfect in the second half. The Wolverines scored 1.43 points per possession and would have tallied a second half effective field goal percentage of 100% were it not for Josh Bartelstein and Corey Person missing shots in the closing minutes. Instead they settled for 16 of 21 (6-7 3pt) shooting and a 91% second half effective field goal percentage.

The shift inside was evident as Michigan attempted just one third of its field goals from beyond the arc in the second half, double the proportion of first half two point attempts. The Wolverines made the threes they did take count, knocking down six of seven second half 3-point attempts. Michigan made more threes in the second half (5-17 first, 6-7 second) despite attempting so few. The shift in philosophy seemed more about patience than anything else as Michigan ran its offense and moved the ball, picking up assists on a remarkable 75% of its second half made baskets.

It was Michigan’s defense that provided enough time for the offense to find its way, holding the Cornhuskers to just .85 points per possession on the game. That’s even more impressive considering that Nebraska scored 13 points, on five of six shooting, in its final six possessions of the game. Eliminate those six garbage time possessions (all after the final TV timeout) and you are left with just 33 Nebraska points in the first 48 possessions of the game, or .69 points per trip. Nebraska has the league’s worst offense but that’s a dominant defensive performance against any opponent. John Beilein praised his seniors for their defensive efforts and rightfully so. The duo combined for five steals, a key reason that Nebraska turned the ball over on 25% of its possessions, and Douglass was phenomenal on Bo Spencer throughout.

Michigan needs a 2-0 week to remain within striking distance for the conference championship and comfortably in the top third of the league and this was the necessary first step. The Wolverines move to 7-0 after losses but have split their last eight games. A home game against Illinois, the only Big Ten team Michigan hasn’t faced this season, is up next on Sunday afternoon and could provide a nice opportunity to string together back-to-back wins.

Michigan at Nebraska 8
Photo: Patrick Radigan

Player Bullets

  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway was 0-for-6 on jumpshots and 3-for-5 on layups. His slump is certainly still in full effect but I really thought he played a complete game in the second half: he attacked the basket (making 3 of 4 shots in the second frame), played with energy defensively and drew a charge and he also handed out three assists. The assists were a product of being aggressive either in transition or attacking the basket and the sort of smart plays that will help him regain that confidence. Michigan did a lot to try and get him going including two post-ups in the first half, and at least three or four of his jumpers were fairly unguarded, and it’s just a matter of time before he rediscovers his jumper.
  • Trey Burke: This was a quiet and efficient game for Burke: 12 points on 4 of 7 (3-4 3pt) shooting with five assists to two turnovers. Burke made a nice read early to split a pick and roll for an assist and really let the game come to him in the second half. He moved the ball and didn’t over dribble but still made big plays. He also had two huge buckets early when Michigan was up 11-8 and 13-11 that helped keep Nebraska at bay. It’s extremely impressive that 12 points on seven shots and five assists has become a “routine” game for the freshman guard.
  • Jordan Morgan: Michigan’s second half turnarounds tend to coincide with Morgan’s improved performance and this game was no different as he was 4-for-4 with eight points in the second half. Morgan grabbed six rebounds, handed out two assists and even drew a pair of offensive fouls in the second half.
  • Zack Novak: Novak was essentially Michigan’s entire offense early, scoring 10 points in the first half, but was also impressive with a pair of nice assists in the second. The early scoring was critical as Michigan got off to the quick lead that it would never relinquish. Novak also broke the 1,000 point plateau for his career, a remarkable achievement for a kid with no scholarship offers from Chesterton, Indiana.
  • Stu Douglass: 13 points on 4-of-7 (3-5 3pt) shooting, three assists, two steals, two rebounds and no turnovers in 35 minutes is a pretty complete game for an off guard. Add in great defense on Bo Spencer and I’m not sure what more you can get out of Stu Douglass. Douglass, along with Novak and Vogrich, has made over 40% of his threes in Big Ten games
  • Matt Vogrich: Missed a first half three but got back into the groove in the second half. It started with some hustle as he made a nice defensive play with a deflection and then had three three point makes and an assist on four consecutive offensive possessions. The reactions on the bench were great to see and Vogrich could add another dimension down the stretch if he finds consistency with his shot.
  • Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz turned the ball over once and didn’t score. He seemed a bit tentative and had little if any effect on the game.
  • Blake McLimans: McLimans checked into the game and made an impact, good or bad, on three defensive possessions: he provided strong help to force a turnover on one play but was also late with his rotation twice, giving up an easy bucket and and-one foul on another. He missed his three point attempt and didn’t grab a rebound so it wasn’t his strongest performance.
  • Carlton Brundidge: Did not travel due to asthma/illness.
  • Mattski

    The Tim Hardaway saga. Need to get Dad a million miles away from the kid and team, let him grow up on his own. Way too many opinions, not necessarily grounded in reality. This team is doing better than it was at this stage last year: 

    Some of the reader discussion that follows the story is just gossip. But you do wonder why a former NBA player needs money so badly that he gets paid to scout his son? 

    Thanks for the recap, Dylan. Do you ever sleep? 

    • sane1

      I don’t think that dad has interfered in any way with the team or the coaches, so I’m not sure what you mean by keeping him a million miles away. He attends the games like all of the other parents do. He was asked about Tim, and he gave his honest opinion. I don’t have any problem with what he said. His advice to Tim is exactly what I would tell him, and what the coaches are telling him. 

      • Mattski

        The complaints that M is not running their offense as well as in the past strike me as unhelpful and inaccurate; this team is more successful, so far, than last year’s. Scouting your kid for money is awful–as any educator or development expert would tell you; it is exploiting him. (In other articles he has bragged about the fact that he wasn’t going to sugarcoat, which makes plain how different from encouraging parenting that role moves him.) And the story of his beating up on Tim as a child are well-known. With that kind of pressure in the past, a much lighter hand is wanted in the present. The kid is now an adult and needs to be left alone to grow and deal. 

        I’ll bet this is a behind-the-scenes headache for Beilein. And I’d place big money that he wishes the dad were much farther out of the picture. 

        • I think this is a bit misguided… Is Hardaway’s dad hard on him? Sure. Is that the reason he’s struggling? I don’t think so at all. 

          Hardaway’s dad is who he is. He scouts for the Heat, ok that’s fine. He gives a quote or two to the newspaper? Not a huge deal. I haven’t heard anything about significant issues behind the scenes and I don’t think it’s worth making something of.

        • serious

          Where is the dislike button?

        • UM Hoops Fan

          I think its unwise to make assumptions on someone else’s parenting without more information.  And the interview sounded pretty supportive to me, encouraging Timmy to keep the effort up and assuring him that the shooting will follow.  Trying to come up with someone to blame won’t solve the problem.  Only time and continued effort and support will, and it seems Timmy has that.

        • rlcBlue

          If there were someone with too much time on his hands, he could chart our plays and answer this question more accurately, but…

          It does feel as if we are running the pick and roll more often and the multiple screening Beilein offense less often than we used to. The pick and roll with Burke and a big has very seldom resulted in an open shot for Hardaway.

          Of course, last year we also ran the P&R a lot. What I remember of it mostly is Morris finding Morgan rolling to the basket, but maybe sometimes THJ’s defender sagged off to protect the basket? I just don’t remember.

          My impression (from the MSU and OSU games, the last two I’ve been able to watch) is that both Burke and Hardaway are not seeing open teammates when they drive the ball to the basket. I suspect that this is partly because they’re being asked to create an easy shot and so they’re looking close in, but the floor is spread for a reason – if the defense packs the lane and leaves a shooter alone outside, that’s who the ball must be passed to.

          Douglass is doing a much better job of detecting what the defense is giving up – although in his case the answer is sometimes “nothing,” since he’s less likely to beat his own man.

          • Zok

            To me, last year DMo was good at running the P&R with Morgan and either getting him the rock down low or driving himself (with an equal threat to kick out or finish).

            Seems like this year the Hard Edge by teams is really disrupting the P&R b/c Burke can’t pass over or around it nearly as effective as DMo due to his shorter stature. 

            Also, when Burke does get around the Pick and drives he is much more likely to keep it and score(or shoot) than kick it out to THjr or the wings. I think this is in part b/c he is inexperienced and part size. He’s just not big enough to make some of these passes out of traffic that DMo did.

            The net result is less wide open spot up opportunities for THjr. Novak has adapted by incorporating a drive followed by jump stop and shot. Stu has increased his dribble penetration as well (and is distributing out of it well for assists).

            What had THjr changed? Not much. Just shoots longer more contested 3s…and makes less. When he does drive he has been successful. He will need to do more of this until Burke matures and the offense is tweaked with the arrival of the Bigs who can run the Pick & Pop (thereby clearing the lane up allowing Burke to keep and score our drive and kick more efficiently).

        • sane1

          He’s at Michigan games to see his son play, not to scout him. I was in Maui, and dad was there along with the parents of all of the players. There is NO evidence that dad is interfering in any way with the coaches or their coaching of Tim. The quote that you cite is pretty innocuous, IMO, especially in the context of his other remarks.  You have read an awful lot into it and make some pretty big assumptions to conclude that he needs to be a million miles away from the team or that he’s headache for Beilein. If you’ve read about the high school criticism of Tim by dad, you know that he decided to back off and that Tim excelled the rest of his career. On what basis do you conclude that he’s ragging on Tim now or interfering with the team?

    • Champswest

      I don’t think his dad is a problem.  I am sure that THJr wants his dad there.  I know that my parents came to every one of my games and I was glad that they did.

    • mikey_mac

       Yeah, I can’t see a reason to feel this way. The quotes from Sr. in the article were reasoned, constructively critical, and sounded fatherly to me. Sure, it’s not gushing, but that’s not the style of a lot of fathers. The only parts that felt too critical were the quotes about the Mich offense in general, and about Burke … He was basically defending his son a little by deflecting criticism.

  • GoBlue

    Hope everyone is voting for Coach B!  Thad’s made a run over the past few days so please re-post and spread the word…..

    • Sven187

      I would but you have to sign up.

  • Quick Darshan

    Draft Express has a scouting report on Nik Stauskas:

  • ChathaM

    Early in January, I broke down and subscribed to the BTN so that I could watch every game. I’m really glad that I did; it’s been a lot of fun to watch the team adjust and develop, and to watch how the opponent chooses to attack and defend UM, etc.

    I like that UM’s perimeter players can handle most defensive matchups, as that allows for the automatic switches on perimeter screens, which has become a staple of the defence. In the first half, N did quite a bit of perimeter screening, and it produced very few good looks because of the constant switching. N also shot the ball horribly, but the defence did play a significant role. What also helped the defence was the fact that N’s post players just aren’t very good; hesitant to do much of anything.

    It certainly felt like UM was taking too many 3’s in the first half, but at the same time, the vast majority of the attempts were open. Maybe a little more patience would have resulted in better looks closer to the basket, but I can’t fault the guys for taking the 3’s they did in the 1st half, except for Hardaway, who took a couple of ill-advised shots. In any case, the halftime emphasis was obvious, and layup after layup resulted in the 2nd half. This game is a good example of why you can’t just look at a team’s overall shooting % and draw conclusions; the half to half breakdown is a huge part of the story.

    For the first time this year, I felt badly for Hardaway. He did take good shots for the most part, but the poor guy just cannot shoot the ball right now. What’s nice to see is one thing that Sr. alluded to in that article; that there are many ways to help the team win. Hardaway hit open men, defended fairly well, and took a charge in the game. Despite the horrible shooting slump, his game is maturing.

    I laughed when one of the announcers noted that Smotrycz is “an extremely gifted player”. I suppose you have to be nice sometimes on the air, but what limits Smotrycz so much is that he is simply not a match athletically for most Big Ten regulars. There isn’t much he can do about it. He is who he is (awful expression, I know; but it fits).    


  • Michigan4

    Great write up Dylan.  I must say that Stu and Zack are playing by far the best basketball of their careers.  While they might not be the most talented players, they are two players that I will never forget.

    I know Evan was shooting the ball well at the beginning of the year, but I can’t help but wonder why JB is not giving Blake a few of his minutes.  Blake is our best shot blocker (with Horford out), out best screener, and can shoot and rebound just as well as Evan.  Its not just Evan’s shooting slump that is hurting the team.  Moreso than that is the fact that he is a HUGE liability on defense.

    Great win and it most certainly feels awesome to still be in the hunt for a conference championship with less than a month left in the season.  Go Blue!!

    • He is giving Blake more minutes, but McLimans hasn’t exactly been a raging success.

      Douglass and Novak are playing so much that Smotrycz is almost 100% a backup five at this point except for one two or three minute stretch with Novak on the bench.

      • Michigan4

        I’m not necessarily implying Blake has played well, just that Evan has played that bad.  Again, it’s Evan’s defense that is the main issue.  If I were JB I would think about playing zone any time Evan comes in to the game.  He simply cannot guard anyone man to man.

    • ChathaM

      I don’t see myself forgetting about those two players, either, even if UM eventually rises to national power status. I was really happy the other day to find a couple of affordable tix to their final home game. I’m generally the exact opposite of the emotional, cheerleader type of fan at a game, but I know I’ll be on my feet that day.

    • mikey_mac

      Fully agree about Stu and Zack. Gets my hopes up about JMo’s next two seasons as well — he’s a similar story to those two, really. Seeing him continue to improve yearly will be awesome.

  • GregGoBlue

    Meyers Leonard looked great last night against Cody Zeller. Though he got in foul trouble late, what I was most impressed with was his vision, finding open men quickly when he was doubled. Considering we got smoked doubling low against MSU, it should make for an interesting matchup. 

    Should also be a good test for JMo, who has risen to the challenge of facing tough big men and isn’t afraid to tangle with them. Couple that with the hard-nosed battle between Leonard and Zeller last night I think this game should be an entertaining one to watch.