2012 NCAA Tournament: Michigan vs. Ohio Recap

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The NCAA tournament is a fragile yet unforgiving contest of absolutes. The finality of the tournament is a far cry from the college basketball regular season which is a battle of attrition, consistency and steadfastness over more than 30 games. One bad performance during the regular season is a bump in the road, one bad performance in March is enough to end seasons and careers. Michigan’s season, one defined by winning close games in a dramatic fashion, came to an abrupt finish in Nashville as the Wolverines fell upset victims to the No. 13 seeded Ohio Bobcats.

After playing over 1300 minutes of basketball this season, statistics generally paint a pretty informative picture of teams and players. We track shooting percentages to the decimal and measure efficiency to the tenth of a point per possession but eventually every game comes down to just a few plays. The statistical outliers are what truly decide any game. DJ Cooper, a 31% three point shooter, hitting three-of-six NBA range triples. Or TJ Hall, a 27% three point shooter, knocking down a critical second half three, his only shot of the game. Add in Michigan, the ninth best two point shooting team in the country, missing nearly a dozen layups and Ohio, a 68% free throw shooting team, hitting 15-of-17 freebies. More often than not, those statistical anomalies combine into a perfect storm and make this tournament what it is. Michigan, like Duke and  Missouri on the same night, learned a stern lesson of the cruelties of March.

From the tip off, one thing was clear: Ohio was the aggressor. The Bobcats took the floor with confidence and hit a couple of early shots from their two most important players – DJ Cooper and Ivo Baltic. Michigan started on the wrong foot and was always trying to fight its way back. Cooper began the game with a deep three, his first en route to 21 points on 11 shots, and never looked back. His numbers were particularly remarkable given the degree of difficulty of the majority of his attempts and he will fully deserve every bit of praise that he earns during the 36 hour media whirlwind leading up to Ohio’s game against South Florida.

On this night, Ohio was the better team. The Bobcats hit big shots and, most importantly, Michigan looked hapless defending DJ Cooper on the screen and roll. The Wolverines tried to double Cooper which led to defensive breakdowns, late rotations and open threes across the court. A similar double team look to the one that’s given Michigan’s screen and roll action problems on the other end all season posed no problem to Cooper and Michigan was simply unable to adjust. Michigan tried zone at times but it was generally not much more effective.

Despite woeful defense throughout, the loss was especially painful because the game was there for the taking in the final four minutes. The Wolverines had fought back into the game and were down just three points with 4:12 on the clock but would fail to score again.

Out of a timeout, Michigan ran a great set to get Evan Smotrycz an easy look at the basket. He couldn’t finish. The Wolverines got Zack Novak a corner three point look – his favorite spot on the floor – and he missed. Twice Trey Burke found himself guarded by a bigger Ohio defender after a pick-and-roll switch and he missed a pair of deep threes. Like it or not, that’s Burke’s shot. The same one that he hit minutes earlier to get the Wolverines this close and the same one that he’s hit many times throughout his freshman season. The Wolverines had a seemingly endless number of chances but came up short. It was Ohio’s night.

The final four minutes were so agonizing because they were the antithesis of Michigan’s season. Whether it was against Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern or Minnesota, the Wolverines have prevailed more often than not in late game situations. The things that had gotten Michigan this far suddenly dried up and took a turn for the worse. Trey Burke, who had willed Michigan back in the game, came up short for what seemed like one of the first times all year.

The final opportunities will likely be analyzed ad nauseam but here’s my quick take. Ohio played good defense and I don’t think the Burke shots were as awful as some seem to say – although they weren’t great – but it’s inexcusable that Tim Hardaway Jr. didn’t have at least one serious touch in that final stretch.

For Michigan’s seniors, it wasn’t supposed to end like this. The very fact that it could end seemed to leave Michigan a bit uneasy. Stu Douglass said after the game that he thought the team was “anxious” and the nerves certainly crept through. While Ohio played with nothing to lose, a mindset that the Wolverines have embraced in previous tournaments, Michigan was faced with the reality of expectations. The Wolverines seemed just a little tight which could help explain at least some missed opportunities.

This loss wasn’t bittersweet, it was downright rotten. Michigan’s two previous tournament losses have come with some acceptance. They were in the round of 32 and came on the end of incredible late season runs. It’s tough to feel truly heartbroken when you lose to Blake Griffin or Kyrie Irving. Being upset in the round of 64 leaves an entirely new sort of hurt.

Life, and basketball, goes on. Zack Novak and Stu Douglass will move on but what they accomplished can’t be overlooked. Michigan’s career leaders in minutes and games played, respectively, more than left their mark on this program. They were never stars but they’ll graduate with three NCAA appearances and a Big Ten title. Not bad for a pair of kids fighting for any scholarship offers in high school. 136 games later, the duo that has defined John Beilein’s career at Michigan to date will never wear a maize uniform again.

The disappointment hurts but the future remains bright. Trey Burke, Evan Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway Jr. all return and combined to score 45 of Michigan’s points on the night. They’ll be joined by Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas who arrive on campus in a couple of months. Michigan will be bigger, taller, faster and more athletic next season but for now that’s a conversation for the spring, summer and fall.

In the present, the retrospection and drooling about the future can wait. This one hurts and there’s no sugarcoating it.

  • http://www.ideafusionmedia.com MaizeNBlueJ

    Couldn’t have said it any better myself, Dylan. One line really stood out to me. It’s one that I kept repeating over and over after the final buzzer sounded.

    “It’s not supposed to end like this.” And I still don’t think it’s really sunken in for me. Zack and Stu won’t ever suit up for us again. There’s no way around it, this hurts. Similar to Stu in the press conference, I haven’t cried after a game in a long time, but tonight certainly changed that. 

    As bad as I feel, I know that those two men are suffering a million times more than me. They came into this program unheralded and largely unknown. They leave as the class that put Michigan basketball back on the map. 3 NCAA Tournament appearances and a share of the first B1G title for the program in 26 years.

    These two guys from Indiana who basically no one else wanted changed the culture of Michigan basketball. They deserved a better ending than this.

    It definitely wasn’t supposed to end like this.

    • Jengoblue

      ^This, this and this. That is a cry-worthy comment. 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SFUAEHTIALDLYZXDJOK7VXATFA digging in the dirt

      Zach and Stu will be remembered fondly over the years.  You are exactly right when you say they changed the culture and the perception of our program.  
      10 years from now we won’t think of this lousy game.  We’ll remember the picture of Zach with the trickle of blood on his face.  THAT is his legacy.  We’ll remember the just when we needed them 3’s from Stu.  THAT is his legacy.  Not this.  Not yesterday.  That’s just a footnote.  

      • wolverine_longhorn

        I’m getting tired of the deification of Zach/Stu.  They were good role players who were good glue guys and overachieved.  That’s a good way to remember them.  They were the Pelinka/Griffin/Voskuil/CJ Lee/Merrit role players, who were simply forced to play too many minutes due to recruiting failures 3-4 years ago but performed admirably.  Kudos to them, but in the end the guys who drove the program forward were Manny Harris/Deshawn Simms/Darius Morris/Trey Burke/Tim Hardaway helped by said glue guys/role players.

        I’ll remember them fondly, but any talk that I’ve seen in newspapers that they were the saviors of Michigan basketball is frankly ridiculous.

        • Fred Z in Ann Arbor

          OK on being tired of the deification of Zach and Stu, but you’re wrong, they were a lot more important than Pelinka, Griffin, Voskuil, and even Lee and Merritt.   Zach was three-time captain beginning in his sophomore year. That means something.  

          Past saviors like Chris Webber, Tractor Traylor, etc. turned out to have problematic legacies in terms of their legacy to the program as opposed to the NBA.  I’m betting these guys wind up being remembered better than that. I hope I’m still around when their jerseys are retired.

          • Adam St Patrick

            I think those guys are indeed more important than Pelinkas and Voskuls, but the myth is growing IMO and I can sympathize with the fatigue. A team with such great senior leadership shouldn’t have folded as it did. Zach and Stu share some responsibility for that. 

          • Fred Z in Ann Arbor

            True. I don’t think the team was just tired at the end of the season, I think something went wrong with team chemistry.  The Purdue game was a big symptom. They should never have been embarrassed like that at home.  Maybe some split or resentment between Burke/Hardaway Novak/Douglass.

            Add to that the other flaws discussed here: lack of consistent shooting from almost everyone, Hardaway’s problems with the dribble, Smotrcyz’s uneven game, having Novak guard power forwards, etc.  

            I haven’t seen a really persuasive explanation yet of what went wrong.

  • Iluvthebullets

    Great write up! It really was a perfect storm of unimaginable missed shots, atrocious refs, bad bounces, and anything else that could possibly not turn our way. Zach and stu should hold their head high for two college careers that are marked by stark overachievement and phenomenal moments. As horribly depressing as it is now, those two will always be two of my favorite of all time and I will never forget how much they have changed this program or the better!

  • Wayman Britt

    Yes it hurts.  Very disappointing that UM played their worst basketball the last four games of the season, but overall it was a successful season.  I think having no bench might have caught up with the team.

    I feel so sorry for Stu and Zack, but they did what many others before them in the 2000’s could not do and that was turn UM around. 

    • Fred Z in Ann Arbor

      And what many others in the 1990s did not do as well…

  • Mbee1

    Thanks for the excellent writing and coverage this year. While yesterday was disappointing, I think the team played above its head all year. Their record in close games (7-2 in 5 points or less) showed this team can play clutch basketball. Yesterday was just one of those days where if we got a big basket, Ohio would come down and match it. If we got a stop, we didn’t convert on offense (aka the last 4 minutes).
    The future is bright. And next season will still start with a banner being raised.

    • lurker

      Agree! Thanks for all your hard work and great coverage all year. I just
      donated and hope others will as well. It was a fun season.

  • WolverineBaller

    Zach and Stu are Michigan men. However, they were always role players logging starter minutes and with them Michigan had their share of wins (speaks volume of the coaching staff) but also had a low ceiling. Sometimes frustrating to see them, sometimes wonderful. They set the stage for a bright future!!

  • Lordfoul

    This is a better review of the circumstances than I could have ever produced.  This loss sucked.  Missing all of those shots at the end sucked.  Missing ALL THE LAYUPS sucked.

    Most of all, losing Stu and Zack sucks hard.  May they both find unbridled success in life.

    I’m not ready to look forward to next year yet really, but I’m sure Stauskas, McGary, and Robinson III, + redshirted Horford, a more refined Morgan, and the introduction of Bielfeldt will be great clay for Beilein and Co. to mold.

    Dylan, thanks for all of the great writing this season.  This post was your best, and shows you were made for this sort of thing.

  • Adam St Patrick

    They have been outhustled in every game since the 2/18 OSU game, and by an increasingly larger margin each game. This was the mother of all cases of peaking too early. By the last possession of this game getting into the paint was clearly something beyond their means. It was so obviously not going to happen. The fortitude just wasn’t there. 

  • http://twitter.com/intrpdtrvlr Josh

    One comment I made to friends during the game – those shooting stats for Cooper and Hall are a bit misleading. They’re dragged down by the rough games where they had to force shots and poor shot selection.All shots are not created equal.  If either of those guys has a good, open look, I’m as comfortable as I would be with a 35-38% type deep shooter.  As the announcers noted, Hall hit big threes this season including a couple (if memory serves) in the near-win against Louisville.

  • AG

    I agree.  Cooper is clearly a better shooter than his stats indicate.  The way you take advantage of a bad shooter is force him to take bad shots.  We didn’t come close to doing that.

    Michigan might not be college basketball royalty, but at least we’re upper-middle class again.  We won a Big Ten Title for the first time in forever, I wouldn’t trade that for a Sweet Sixteen blowout loss to UNC or an Ohio-like performance against South Florida on Sunday.

    Next year we’ll be bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic.  I’d say the Big Ten is a 3 team race between us, Sparty, and Indiana.

  • Zok

    The team is still shooting way to many 3’s. UM as it stands now is not a good 3pt shooting team, high volume, but we don’t make many at all. If used to spread the floor so we can attack with back screens or drives it can work but not just sitting back and chucking. Also felt like as the season went on it evolved into just watching Burke dribble and hoping he could come up with something. Felt like we got TOO comfortable just running a ball screen and seeing what happens. Next year it should be A LOT different with at ~3guys that can crearte a shot. Hopefully Burke can get some help.

  • ZRL

    Still in shock. This sucks. I don’t think any analysis does this game justice. It is what it is. Unfortunately, I think this is your best post in a while, Dylan.

    “For the loser now will be later to win, cause the times, they are a changin”

  • Kevin Schewe

     this was a huge bummer.  imo i think michigan lacks a killer mentality, they’re too nice.  it’s a good thing to respect your opponents and give them credit but get mad, don’t be ok with losing to a mac team that lost to eastern michigan (not saying they were, but i don’t think they showed it) that should be unacceptable on every level, no matter the type of game they played.  i understand people slip up or other teams play their best game ever, but i felt this team was extremely prepared and ready for this and they pooped the bed.  maybe it’s still emotions talking but this was devastating.

  • Phil Blue

    After the embarassing loss to OHIO U. will the Michigan basketball/football coaches still refer The Ohio StateUniversity as simply OHIO?

      It certainly has lost some of it sting, if in fact it ever had any.

    • Zok

      Football will basketball won’t (shouldn’t). You lost that right when you lose to Ohio(athens)

    • wolverine_longhorn

      Ohio U = Bobcats
      Ohio = Buckeyes/Cooler Poopers

      Hope that answers your questions.

  • Danguilm

    I love this team and bleed blue, but until the offense becomes less perimeter oriented it will be tough to go to a final 4. The perimeter focus left Duke, Michigan and Mizzou susceptible to mod majors with less alert who are hot. When you have an inside game you an rely on To complement your perimeter game it is so much tougher to be upset.

    This one hurts. So shocked we couldn’t score in the last 4 minutes. Unreal.

    • Danguilm

      Mid majors with less talent

  • Scott1222

    Great write up…as Jalen once said after a tough tourney loss “we’ll be back coach, we’ll be back”!! Although this was such a devastating loss there’s such high expectations on the near horizon…GO BLUE!!

  • Chemist

    Tough loss. As a Spartan, I would recommend that the UM team find a tough, strong center (like Nix and Payne) and a leader like Day-Day Green! 1+1+1+1+1 will be more than 5 when you have the right chemistry! Look forward to the next season againt a much better Wolverine team.

  • Mattski

    You can argue that this one was lost before the opening tip: a faltering team, exposed in several late-season games, prognosticators all plumping for the upset. I’d like to see a bit more nastiness in years to come from Beilein’s teams–too little of that even from Novak and Hardaway this year. 

    I don’t take it as given that Michigan kills everyone next year–the B1G will be very tough again. But Morgan, Hardaway, and Smotrycz all sloughed off their midseason blues last night, and that’s got to be accounted a very good sign. 

    Thanks to everyone for the company this year, and to Dylan for all the great hard work. 

    • Guest

      I agree whole-heartedly. One of the things Darius brought was some attitude (GTFoff my court, and talking after assists, made baskets etc.), and it seemed like the team really fed off of it. I hope they get back to being a little more combative and fiery. Hopefully McGary or Robinson bring a bit of a nasty streak in that gets us to play with some fire every game.

  • Stu Cazzo

    Definitely a shocking way to end such a great season. For whatever
    reason, the boys just looked a touch off today, and I think a lot of the
    credit for that should go to Ohio. It was their night. They played
    well, and while they got some shots going in from unlikely sources, when
    you’re the aggressor you get breaks like that.

    From a basketball standpoint, this game exposed this team’s weaknesses
    in the fact that when Ohio sold out to clog the lane on Burke and sold
    out to run UM off the 3 point line, the Wolverines lacked that slasher
    to get to the rim, and a big that can score or get fouled consistently
    inside. Hopefully the players coming in can help with that next year.

    Such a crappy way for it to end for Stu and Zack. Those two should never
    be forgotten for their contributions to bringing this program back from
    the abyss. Watching the postgame conference and vids on this site, I
    couldn’t help but get choked up watching that. All the best to them and
    Corey in their future endevours.

    Thanks for running a great site Dylan.

  • Mr_Sledge

    I think everyone made some really good comments and understand the areas that this team/system lacks.

    1) We need to be tougher.  It seems that Burke has that killer instinct when he tried to take over there in the second half.  But we need someone else who has a bit of a nasty edge to keep this team fired up (big blocks, dunks, etc).
    2) We need a post game.  Without a post presence we are always going to upset’able’ (also see Duke & Missouri).  There will always be bad shooting nights.  Like we saw with Ohio, who has an average post game at best, a post game creates foul shots and easy buckets.  (Dylan, an interesting stat that I would love to see is “how many halves we actually got into the double bonus?”)

    I’m really excited about next year.  The pieces are there… a great PG, a slasher/shooter in THJ, and a change of pace big with Evan.  Between Horford, McGary, Morgan, and Max – someone has to fill in the gaps from 1 & 2.

    • Izmatt18

      Not to mention GRIII.

  • Ace_maker4

    Wolverine Baller hit the nail on the head. Two often over achieving role players turned into starters helped turn a program around. If they carry themselves the same way in their post graduate life they will be hugely successful.

    That all said many of the other comments are correct as well as we just have to be tougher and more accomplished in the paint. Too often did we have multiple trips in a row where the ball never threatened the paint. I am not saying that anyone next year is going to dominate in the paint but all three of the newcomers like to get to the rim.

    Last but not least THJ just has to get better at handling the ball; he was often exposed this season when teams forced him to put it on the floor.  The depth of talent that is expected next season all adds up to what I think is going to be a very fun team to watch that is going to be pushing the ball down teams throats with high tempo fast break type offense.

  • Bud

    Just not the same team in the last 3 games.  Maybe tired.

  • snoopblue

    People forget we have Horford AND Biefeldt next season too. We’ve seen that Horford has the ability, and JB has said Biefeldt is legit too. Novak and Douglass is a HUGE loss, but I think we have so many players returning and three good ones coming in that someone will step up and fill the void. I’m looking for Hardaway to work on his dribbling this offseason and gain a better understanding of the offense so that when Burke is struggling a little bit he can take over as well just like Douglass did.

  • Justin

    I have to agree with Bud – this team looked tired.  They had overachieved all year and perhaps they just ran out of gas at the end of the year.  I’ve seen this happen with other teams in the past, and it goes to show you how important it is to be peaking at this time of the year.  Novak looked especially tired – he didn’t have his legs for the last 5-6 games of the season.

    Dylan – you captured the story of this game well – a perfect storm of Ohio playing above their mean and Michigan below theirs.  I also thought the calls down the stretch were curious.  There were two fouls that I thought we were hosed on – Smot’s charge and the reach/body on Hardaway under the basket.  Those were not good calls, and we just couldn’t afford that within our margin for error.

    Thank you for the great coverage on the site this year.  You’ve done a phenomenal job and I hope you will keep it going.  This is the first stop I make on the internet for Michigan basketball.  Future looks bright.

  • Izmatt18

    This must be the most grammatically correct forum page I have ever seen. ‘Grats to you all ^^

  • Wkerridge

    Awww, I remember when I was 12 years old, very cute.

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