BTT Quarterfinals: Michigan vs. Minnesota Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Photos: MGoBlue

Over 30 games into the season, statistics do a pretty good job of illustrating what a team is all about. The statistics say that Michigan is a good team, one that struggles to rebound the ball but shoots it pretty well and wins the turnover battle more often than not. The numbers also say that Michigan isn’t nearly as good as its co-Big Ten champions Michigan State and Ohio State. Math defines Michigan’s record and shared championship as something of an anomaly, statistical luck, and promises that the Wolverines will regress toward the mean with an inevitable upset loss. The mathematical reasoning is sound but games like this serve as a reminder that the difference between “lucky” and “unlucky” basketball teams has nothing to do with actual luck. Good teams find ways to win games even when they probably shouldn’t and that’s exactly what Michigan did yet again against Minnesota.

Michigan isn’t going to overpower many teams. Blowouts on Michigan’s schedule have been few and far between and at times it seems that the Wolverines go to great lengths to make things more difficult on themselves. Against Minnesota, Michigan dug itself a hole then opted to dig even deeper before supplying a last ditch comeback effort.

This was another game that Michigan had no business winning. For 36 minutes, Minnesota outplayed the Wolverines. The Gophers shot the ball well – 50% on twos and 39% on threes – and dominated the offensive glass, rebounding an astounding 47% of their misses. Gopher turnovers and fouls allowed Michigan to hang around just long enough for a last ditch barrage of triples. Michigan’s shooting numbers were strong for the game but that’s because of a torrid closing stretch. The Wolverines made six of their final nine field goal attempts and five of their eight made threes came in the final four minutes or in overtime.

With under five minutes to play, Rodney Williams stretched Minnesota’s lead to nine points with a thunderous dunk. The dunk united Minnesota fans with the Ohio State and Purdue faithful who had filed into their seats in preparation for the session’s nightcap. The Wolverines were on the ropes but managed to delay what seemed inevitable with a mini 5-0 run.

Now down just four points, the next seven possessions should have deflated all Wolverine momentum. Michigan’s defense provided three consecutive stops but the offense gave away every opportunity on the other end. First Stu Douglass misfired on a hurried pull-up jumper. Then Tim Hardaway Jr. forced a driving attempt in transition before missing the front end of a one-and-one. If Michigan’s comeback hopes seemed long with five minutes to play, Joe Colemans layup to extend the Gopher lead to six points with 92 seconds appeared to be the death blow.

The Wolverines continued to shoot themselves in the foot but always seemed to have just one more opportunity. It was only fitting that Michigan’s final two baskets were products of offensive rebounds. Both late threes, from Zack Novak and Evan Smotrycz, were made possible by Jordan Morgan corralling Michigan misses and providing another opportunity. Michigan closed the game on an 11-2 run and opened overtime with a 7-1 spurt, and the combined 18-3 run was enough to sink Minnesota.

Make no mistake about it, Michigan played one of its worst games of the season for the first 35 minutes. If Michigan plays that poorly next week, its season will be over. However, the resolve that Michigan displayed once again with its back to the wall will be invaluable in the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines might run into a better team or a hotter team, but there’s no doubt they’ll fight until their bitter end.

Next up, Michigan will face Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. The Buckeyes have ended Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament runs in each of the last two seasons and appear to be rounding into form down the stretch.

: MGoBlue

Player Bullets

  • Trey Burke: Overtime helped Burke one-up his previous career high against Minnesota back in January as he scored 30 points on just 14 field goal attempts. The freshman guard carried the Michigan offense in the first half when nothing was going and then continued to excel down the stretch. Burke led Michigan in minutes, points, blocks, assists and steals (tie) and there’s only so many ways to say that he put the team on his back.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway forced some shots and made plenty of mistakes but he’s also remembering the player he can be – even if it’s only for five or six minute bursts. It’s quite a weapon to have a wing player that can score nine consecutive points in an almost effortless fashion. He provided Michigan’s offense with a second half shot in the arm and continues to trend in the proper direction.
  • Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz struggled throughout, fouling out in just 12 minutes of playing time and going 1-for-4 from the field. However, the rest of the numbers don’t really matter because of his game tying shot that he knocked down cold off the bench.
  • Stu Douglass: Douglass played pretty solid defense throughout but didn’t make a shot until overtime where he buried a three off of a broken play and then hit a pull up jumper that seemed to bounce around the entire rim, twice.
  • Zack Novak: Novak was a big reason that Michigan found itself in such a big hole late but he was also a big reason the Wolverines were miraculously able to fight back into the game.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan had two critical offensive rebounds that led to Michigan’s late threes which tied the game. He, like most of his teammates, struggled throughout the first 35 minutes. Morgan had just one defensive rebound in 35 minutes and was just 3-of-7 at the charity stripe.
  • Chris Niermann

    Close but we’ll take it. On to the next — Beat Ohio!

  • Wayman Britt

    It was nice to get a win, but boy did we look awful.  Tim is picking up his game, Trey and Morgan have been steady all season, but Stu, Zack and Evan have been slumping something terrible.

    Let’s hope they all get it together these last couple of games.

    • This is my worry as well. You can only rely on Trey and Timmy so much. When your center can only get ONE defensive rebound in 35 minutes playing against the other team’s backup center…I worry.

      When your “back-up” center Evan Smotryz accumulates 5 fouls in 12 minutes…I worry.

      When Vogrich (who didn’t warrant a player bullet) provides 2 pts and 2 rebs off the bench, I’m actually happy with that.

      Considering Stu & Zach combined for 11pts against Minny a team not known for playing very good defense…I worry.

      Here’s my outlook for the game against Ohio:

      12% chance we win, and by no less then 6pts.
      88% chance we lose, and by more 12+

      • John

        Your percentages are extremely random…

      • It looked to me, though, that Tubby’s strategy was to “cut off the head” — don’t let Zack or Stu get going at all, stay on them regardless of what was going on in the paint.  It’s a pretty easy concept to teach, and not only does this strategy keep three-point scoring down, it might also get guys frustrated and downhearted, which could result in stupid fouls and lower-quality defense.

        All credit to the seniors for not letting that happen and for taking advantage toward the end of the game when the Gophers seemed to fall apart a bit (even more so in overtime).


    As long as we have “Lamborghini” aka trey Burke. I think we have a chance until the clock reads all 0:00

    • UMQuasi

       Random nickname note, my girlfriend calls him “TreyBurkeulosis” (said with the inflection of tuberculosis).  I like that one because you can say things like, “Minnesota just came down with a bad case of TreyBurkeulosis”

  • Theblabberfish

    “The numbers also say that Michigan isn’t nearly as good as its co-Big
    Ten champions Michigan State and Ohio State. Math defines Michigan’s
    record and shared championship as something of an anomaly, statistical
    luck, and promises that the Wolverines will regress toward the mean with
    an inevitable upset loss.”

    Where are the people that are going to bash Dylan for saying this? I ask this because Brian expressed the same sentiment and people lashed out at him for putting too much stock into tempo-free statistics.

    It is pretty obvious to me that if you can take the homer glasses off the quote above is spot on, even though all three of these teams finished the season with 13-5 conference records.

    • ColinNer

      I agree with you that the quote is pretty accurate. The reason Dylan doesn’t get bashed for saying this and Brian does is because Dylan supplements his tempo-free stats with personal observations. Furthermore, I am more inclined to agree with Dylan on his observations than Brian (when he does make observations) because Dylan follows basketball more closely. MGoBlog is a great resource for football information, however I tend to get very frustrated when reading basketball content on MGoBlog because some of the opinions are localized to one game, not the entire season.

    • Jengoblue

      With all due respect, you took that quote out of context by leaving out a crucial sentence that comes right after.: 
      “The mathematical reasoning is sound but games like this serve as a reminder that the difference between “lucky” and “unlucky” basketball teams has nothing to do with actual luck.”I think the answer lies here. You can look at statistics all you want, but you don’t have to understand anything about basketball to look at statistics. If someone really follows our team carefully they will understand that our team’s heart is a crucial part of its success. Careful analysis requires understanding both the tangibles and intangibles. Dylan understands that and I think most of us are grateful for that.