Game 4: Michigan vs. Pittsburgh Recap

Dylan Burkhardt
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Michigan’s first three games provided little challenge and proved little more than the fact that Michigan now has the athleticism to overwhelm weaker opposition. Wednesday’s 67-62 win over Pittsburgh was a reminder that this new-look team has toughness too. Pittsburgh trotted into Madison Square Garden with a bigger lineup and plenty of talent but Michigan took the Panthers’ best shot on the chin before regrouping and knocking off the Panthers.

For the first time this season, John Beilein’s team played with its back to the wall and passed the test with flying colors. Four Wolverines reached double figures but those four were the only players to score during the second half. It was Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III that carried the bulk of the Michigan offense through the comeback effort as the duo made eight of Michigan’s 12 second half field goals and assisted on two others.

Michigan’s offense struggled to shoot the ball from the perimeter, connecting on just 18 percent of its three point attempts, but was able to scrap together 1.12 points per trip. Michigan continued to finish well around the basket, 61% on twos, despite Pittsburgh’s length and athleticism in the paint. Pitt entered the game as one of the best shot-blocking teams in the country but didn’t block a single Wolverine attempt.

The difference in this script was that Michigan was able to manufacture a win despite shooting poorly from three point range. Michigan didn’t continue to fire from long range, attempting just 34% of its shots from beyond the arc, rebounded 33 percent of its missed shots and got to the line often. The Wolverines overcame poor shooting in ways that they simply haven’t been able in past seasons.

Defensively, Michigan hit some snags. Pittsburgh hit 5-of-12 threes in the first half and gave Michigan fits with the high pick-and-roll. In the second half, John Beilein countered with the 1-3-1 zone and it was enough to change the complexion of the game. Michigan’s 1-3-1 has been stashed away in some back closet of John Beilein’s brain but apparently it’s still being practiced. It was also more effective than we’ve seen in recent seasons because of the length and athleticism on the wings. With Nik Stauskas (6-6) at the top, Tim Hardaway Jr. (6-6) and Glenn Robinson III (6-6) on the wings, Mitch McGary (6-10) in the middle and Trey Burke running the baseline suddenly the zone becomes a turnover machine. Pittsburgh never looked comfortable against the zone and even when Michigan wasn’t forcing turnovers, it was getting deflections.

The zone was a game-changer but Michigan won this game with its defensive rebounding. The Wolverines grabbed over 81% of Pittsburgh’s missed shots – compare that to Pitt’s 46.2% offensive rebounding rate on the season entering Wednesday night’s game and you have the game story. Pitt’s offense, similar to Michigan State, is predicated on corralling those second chances and turning them into second chance points. Pitt scored just five second chance points, all in the first half.

Often times winning ugly is more important than winning pretty. There are plenty of teams across the country that can win on their best nights but being able to withstand another team’s best shot without playing a perfect game is what separates good teams from great teams. On Wednesday, Michigan proved that its new toys are legitimate threats. The Wolverines are a team that can battle around the basket, win the rebounding battle (on both ends) and defend — winning games without the three point shot.

That’s not to say there weren’t teaching moments in the tough win. Michigan’s ability to play two posts, even against a much bigger Pitt front line, is still just a work in progress as U-M leaned on two posts for little more than six minutes of clock time. Pittsburgh executed well down the stretch but Michigan’s free throw shooting held and kept the Panthers at bay. The two most impressive late free throws came from Robinson, who made a pair after missing two earlier in the half.

Next up is a Kansas State squad that squeaked past Delaware to move to 5-0 in Wednesday’s early game. The Wildcats have returning experience even though they have a new man in charge – former Illinois coach Bruce Weber.

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Player Bullets:

  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway struggled in the first half. He settled for long jumpers and his defensive effort left something to be desired. John Beilein even opted to replace him with Eso Akunne at one point. The only two highlights of his first half were two strong plays where he rebounded the ball and took it coast-to-coast for a score. In the second half, he began to attack. Hardaway was aggressive in slashing the ball to the basket and the rewards followed. He finished the game 5-of-6 on twos and got to the line three times. Hardaway managed to maintain his composure despite early shooting woes and that resiliency was perhaps even more impressive than the fact that his newfound handles – 1 turnover – held up against an aggressive Pittsburgh defense.
  • Glenn Robinson III: Robinson finished the night with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting with five rebounds and a block, steal and assist. He was absolutely critical in the second half including a triple, mid-range jumper and a tip-in down the stretch. What was perhaps the most impressive element of his strong finish to the night was that he really hit some hiccups in the first half – he was ripped for an easy bucket, missed some early jumpers, and didn’t seem all that comfortable – before making all of those plays in the second. He also showed off his athleticism with a monster block at the rim. He makes plays that scream ‘pro’ but he needs to continue to be more assertive offensively. 5-of-8 is nice but there’s no reason he shouldn’t be accumulating double-digit shot attempts often by the end of the year.
  • Nik Stauskas: Vogrich started the game but the Stauskas era may have arrived. The 6-foot-6 Canadian simply makes too many plays to keep him off of the floor. You can’t leave him open (see his first made three) and he’s versatile enough to make defenders pay for taking away the three. 15 points on 4-of-8 (1-4 3pt) shooting with five rebounds, six free throws, a block and a steal is a monster game for a freshman in his first collegiate game against a high-major opponent. He had a nifty finish at the rim, knocked down long pull up jumpers off of both the pump-fake and spin and even tried to dunk on someone when driving the hole. His offensive game is complete and he’s playing with confidence, five rebounds is just icing on the cake.
  • Trey Burke: There’s a lot to digest with Trey Burke’s performance. Michigan’s offense certainly stagnated at times, and Burke took some ill-advised shots but he was also left in late shot clock situations quite a bit. A lot of credit needs to go to Pittsburgh for playing strong defense and forcing Michigan into “shot clock shots”. Burke absolutely needs to avoid the 30-foot jumpers (at any point) which trigger painful memories of Michigan’s NCAA tournament loss. Despite his struggles, he also still made a lot of plays for Michigan. He had six of Michigan’s eight total assists to just one turnover (which means he accounted for nearly half of U-M’s offense). He also had a huge buzzer beater in the first half and made some really great plays pushing the ball all the way to the hole in transition. Overall it was a forgettable night from the long threes to a foolish foul in the final seconds and Burke definitely seemed to get caught up in the moment just a bit.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan has been the unsung hero of Michigan’s early season success. He’s not doing anything spectacular but he’s playing hard and giving solid and reliable minutes on the block. He grabbed eight rebounds (four offensive) and played 29 minutes and had a couple of nice finishes (although he still has the tendency to hesitate when caught in that middle ground). It’s clear that Beilein trusts him, given his significant workload early in the season.
  • Mitch McGary: McGary made some mistakes – a charge, botched outlet pass stand and blown pick and roll switch stand out– but he’s also making energy plays while he’s on the floor. McGary grabbed three rebounds (1 offensive) and two steals (including one he took the distance with a nice finger role) in 13 minutes. He was disruptive in the middle of Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone defense and will only continue to improve as he learns to be physical while avoiding foul trouble (4 in 13 minutes).
  • Matt Vogrich: Vogrich was overpowered while attempting to box out a Pitt player early and saw a lot of the bench from that time on. He ended up playing just eight minutes to Stauskas’s 33 and its tough to imagine that his days as a starter aren’t limited.
  • JimC

    McGary’s finger roll was amazing……
    KSU game should be another tight one – good experience for all these freshmen

    • Andrew

      Bruce Weber is their coach, I don’t think it’ll be that close.

      • rlcBlue

        And on the flip side, Illinois looks pretty good with Groce coaching…

    • Mattski

      I’m dying to see the replay.

  • Charlie

    Don’t you mean “knocking off the Panthers,” in the first paragraph?

    • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

      Sheesh yep. Sorry for any typos.. Late night travel night. Took train out of NYC late, then drive after that.

      • Mattski

        Really great analysis, though.

  • Jack

    Morgan was such a valuable presence in this game battling for rebounds, but he needs to avoid sloppy turnovers. He had a couple that I remember.

    • Champswest

      Morgan impresses me more and more each game. He seems much more aggressive and active this year. I think that I have already seen him make 4 or 5 plays that he wouldn’t have made last year.

  • CDeSana

    I agree that Stauskas will most certainly become the starter but Vogrich had some huge defensive minutes in the second half. Maybe that is why he is starting to make sure we do not give up easy baskets early in the game.

    • Champswest

      I am not so sure that Nik will be the starter, even though he is earning it. Beilein likes his instant offense off of the bench. However, if the gap continues to widen between Nik and Matt, he may not have a choice.

  • CDeSana

    I also look forward to seeing Burke trusting the youngsters because when he does (hopefully sooner than later) both Stauskas and GRIII are going to show they can both score in a variety of ways (3 ball, mid range and driving to the basket).

  • Marvin

    Great recap. Thanks for taking the time. UM looked great in the 1-3-1 and I would like to see more of it. It seemed like we didn’t get the same run out on fast break out of it though. Rough night for Burke. He reminded me of Darius Morris and how we would rely on him sometimes late in the shot clock. Sometimes we need it but he has to work harder at getting a quality opportunity.

    • DeepBlue83

      Beilein needs to take Burke aside (if he hasn’t already) and remind him that he has a much better supporting cast this year, and that he doesn’t have to do everything himself (as it sometimes seemed he had to last year). That we had only two assists not from Burke, and only 6 points from our big men is mildly worrisome. Trey needs to learn to trust his teammates in tough games for this offense to work at its best.

      • Mattski

        I was nervous about Burke’s performance, too–sometimes you get a hint that a degree of ego informs his play. But Dylan’s analysis points to a lot of great moves he made, and he’s going to be facing similar strong defenses in the Big Ten. Good to get a handle on these things early.

        Loved, meanwhile, that every single player on the starting six asserted himself at some critical point in the game, keeping the momentum from going over to Pittsburgh completely.

      • A2JD

        There were two or three times that McGary was open in the post after a pick and roll and Trey didn’t really even look his way. I hope he recognizes it in the future.

  • DeepBlue83

    While it’s true that great teams find a way to win even when they’re not playing well, it’s also true that great teams find a way to simply play well more often than good to average teams, and to do it against teams that are merely good. I’d like to see this team be able to come out against a quality opponent and be sharp, hit on all cylinders and administer a licking. That’s a sign that you really deserve a top 10 ranking. There’s a lot of talent out there, and of course that’s not going to happen every night, but it should happen at least some of the time. We beat some quality opponents last year but, almost without exception, we struggled to do it. We need to show more this year.

    • Mattski

      Give ‘em time.

    • Dye

      Pitt is a top 20 type of team. Vegas line was Mich -2.5. We outperformed.

      • DeepBlue83

        Vegas line is based on betting and bettor tendencies, and isn’t always the best guide to relative strengths of the teams. If the Vegas line is Mich -2.5, that means that’s the line they think will have as close to a 50:50 split of people betting on each team, not that that’s Michigan’s expected or most likely margin of victory.

        Pitt’s a pretty good team, but there were certainly some worrisome things about our performance. Our offense looked a bit too much the way it did in a lot of the games where we struggled last year…poor outside shooting, minimal inside game, and Burke trying to do too much. Our rebounding saved us this time, but 3-17 three point shooting nights, with only 6 points frommour bigs are tough to overcome, if we want to compete at a top 10 level.

        • billiam

          Kenpom disagrees with you. Don’t recall, the link, but it’s one of last years posts.

  • Mattski

    Highlights at mgoblue.com:

    http://www.mgoblue.com/

    I loved the way we somehow turned that Pitt crowd into a Michigan crowd in the second half. Water into wine. Fine, BIG game.

  • jsimms

    I’ m not quite as distressed with burke as other posters—especially early in the game it seemed that burke was the only one able to get his shot, while the others held back a bit [for example, i do not recall many gr3 sightings in the first half]. Just as burke must keep his eyes open better for his teammates—-his teammates must not only demand the ball, but do more to make themselves available to get the ball.

  • A2MIKE

    When is the last time a Michigan team dominated the glass against a “rebounding reliant” team like Pittsburgh. To me that is the difference in the game. Michigan didn’t shoot it as well as they could, and Trey was a little off his game, but this team could be scary good if they keep attacking the boards like that.

    • mstein23

      I was very pleased with this same point. Outrebounding by 10+ against a tough, defense/rebounding focused team like Pitt really speaks to the increased size and athleticism of this team. And it’s not just the bigs. I believe Tim, Trey, Nik and Glenn all had 5 a piece.

  • UM Hoops Fan

    Trey’s biggest problem was not the late 3s, it was failing to find the roll man on the high ball-screen. We kept running it and Trey couldn’t do anything once they doubled/hard-hedged. Once there’s 5 on the shit clock you’re in trouble, though maybe he could’ve done better.

    • rlcBlue

      In the future, when Burke is drawing as much attention as he did last night, I expect to see more pick and roll action with Hardaway and a big. Timmy’s too tall to be smothered beneath a hedge. If teams let McGary roll free to the rim, they’d better stock up on some replacement backboards.

      • UM Hoops Fan

        Me too, but we run that so much with Trey and count on him so mich we need to figure something out. Maybe swing it to the wing who can pass it on. Or run it a bit more from the side to give trey more angle.

  • rlcBlue

    KenPom likes Pitt much more than Georgetown – #14 vs. #39. If the Panthers come close to his projected 24-7 overall, 12-6 third place Big East finish, this win will look very nice in March.

  • Chip

    will there be a torrent for this game?