Photo: Dustin Johnston
Michigan’s season kept on rolling on Tuesday evening as the Wolverines beat Cleveland State by a final score of 77-47. After winning its first three games by a combined margin of 105 points, Michigan couldn’t have started the season on a better note.
Michigan junior Tim Hardaway Jr. displayed his improved skill-set once again in scoring a game high 17 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists. Freshman guard Nik Stauskas was impressive in his own right, adding 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting off of the bench while Trey Burke was steady with 12 points and seven assists.
The Wolverines jumped out to an 8-0 lead, which ballooned to 28 points at halftime, and controlled the game throughout. With the win, Michigan punched its ticket to New York City for a NIT Season Tip Off semifinal match-up against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, November 21st at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
Michigan’s primary recipe for success was unchanged from earlier tilts. The Wolverines excelled by grabbing clean defensive rebounds and pushing the tempo. The strategy worked flawlessly in the first half as Cleveland State shot just 4-of-15 on twos and 2-12 on threes while Michigan rebounded 95 percent of those missed shots. Cleveland State salvaged just two points in the final 11:43 of the first half and easy offense snowballed for the Wolverines. Michigan led by 28 at the half after holding the Vikings to just .41 points per trip in the first stanza. For all intents and purposes the game was decided after 20 minutes and before Cleveland State managed a more respectable offensive output in the second half.
The Wolverine offense scored 1.22 points per trip and continued to get easy looks from the field. Michigan made 21-of-35 (60%) twos and 9-of-24 (37.5%) threes for a 58.5% effective field goal percentage. The Wolverines only turned the ball over on 16% of their possessions against Cleveland State’s aggressive defense. Michigan’s depth and balance was on display as four players reached double figures and 10 notched the scoring column.
Michigan’s offense slowed down a bit in the second half as Cleveland State threw a multitude of different “junk defenses” at the Wolverines. Gary Waters went with various zones and traps, even opting for a diamond-and-one defense that was keyed on Michigan freshman Nik Stauskas. While Stauskas was effective in the second half, Michigan’s offense against the various Cleveland State zones left a bit to be desired. Michigan attempted twice as many threes in the second half and the offense seemed to stagnate just a bit.
Through three regular season games and two exhibitions, the two posts experiment still has a ways to go. Michigan has flirted with two posts but not for more than 10 minutes per game at this point. Glenn Robinson III has been tremendous at the four which makes it hard to justify taking him out of that spot. While McGary is somewhat versatile in the open court, none of Michigan’s bigs do one thing consistently well enough offensively (notably score on the block or pass from the high post) to justify playing two of them together for significant periods of time. The experimenting will continue, especially against more physical teams, but there’s plenty for John Beilein to figure out in that regard.
For Michigan, the easy part is over. Next Wednesday’s match-up (9:30 p.m., ESPN2) with Pittsburgh will be the first legitimate test. Pitt has impressed in early season play and last year’s disappointing season appears to be an aberration for Jamie Dixon’s team. The Panthers have a physical front line that can get after it on the offensive glass and will challenge Michigan’s recipe for success this far.
- Nik Stauskas: Against man defense in the first half, Stauskas had several strong takes to get all the way to the basket or draw a foul. In the second half, he proved that he can bust a zone as well. In just his third career game, Stauskas was so effective that Gary Waters opted to play a diamond-and-one defense solely designed to take him out of the game. That’s respect. Stauskas finished with 15 points on 5-of-6 (3-4 3pt) shooting and six rebounds in 27 minutes. The freshman played 27 minutes to Vogrich’s 14 (three in the second half) and it appears that Beilein is comfortable going with the hot-hand between the two on a game-to-game basis.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway is far and away the most improved player on Michigan’s roster. Whether he can keep playing like this against better teams is another question for another day but he’s locked in mentally in ways that we haven’t seen before. He’s gone from streaky shooter to efficient scorer and rebounder. In the off-season he spoke of having a “Draymond Green-type effect” for Michigan this season and he’s come closer to it than I could have imagined. His rebound-and-push efforts have been well documented but most importantly that aspect of his game comes first, allowing the threes (3-6 today) to come naturally. 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting with six rebounds and four assists to just one turnover is another extremely impressive game from the Michigan junior.
- Trey Burke: Burke has been in cruise control early on this season. Finishing with 12 points and seven assists on the night, he wasn’t at his best but he was still the best player on the floor. His change of pace has reached another level of effectiveness and he was able to get anywhere on the floor when he wanted. His transition passing and scoring were both lethal but he needs to not settle for threes (1-4 3pt second half) against zone defenses.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson finally looked a bit like a freshman but still scored 9 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished two assists. He missed a couple of close finishes around the hoop (including an alley oop) and never found his three point stroke (0-3 3pt) which prevented him from having a big game. Robinson still found offense, rebounded well and got to the free throw line six times. His most impressive play might have been when he pushed the ball in a 3-on-2 break, drew the defense and found Jordan Morgan at the hoop. The play was simple but remarkable because Robinson adjusted to make a different (and correct) read than he did a day earlier when he took the mid-range jumper in a similar situation.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan played another strong game despite picking up two fouls in the first half. He continues to be in the right spots cutting to the basket and finding his fair share of easy buckets. He had a dunk and lay up early to set the tone and finished with 8 points in 14 minutes. He, like Michigan’s other bigs, needs to be more assertive and decisive when catching the ball in the post, going straight into a move rather than hesitating.
- Matt Vogrich: Vogrich started the game with two strong defensive rebounds and had a steal for an easy transition layout but the black cloud over his head is three point shooting. Vogrich was 0-3 from three point range on the game and is now 2-8 on the year, compared to Stauskas’s 7-10. Beilein will play the hot hand but the freshman is outplaying the senior as things stand today.
- Mitch McGary: If nothing else, McGary’s minutes on the floor are eventful. McGary scored six points, grabbed nine rebounds and a steal in 17 minutes on the night. He pushed the ball himself in transition off the steal finding Stauskas for a drive, then made it back down the floor to take a charge. He’s clearly not at full stamina (asking to be taken out of the game in the first half) but he’s only going to improve as the season wears on.
- Jon Horford: Horford never found a groove: he missed a finish down low, dribbled the ball off of his leg and got called for an over the back. He did grab three rebounds in 11 minutes but Michigan isn’t in a position where it needs Horford. If he struggles, Beilein has the luxury of simply moving to the next option.
- Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt gave Michigan a very solid first half shift, racking up 2 points, three rebounds and a steal in just 3 minutes. He had a deflection for a steal, grabbed an offensive board and then knocked down a turnaround jumper. He rebounded well on defense and looked comfortable at the five. He’s not a rotation guy this year but flashed the potential of a solid post player down the road.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht didn’t look intimidated by Cleveland State’s pressure defense but had a quiet night, missing his only two field goal attempts and handing out an assist.