Michigan’s Thanksgiving trip to New York City was business as expect. The No. 4 ranked Wolverines toughed out a victory against Pittsburgh in the semifinal before overwhelming Kansas State in a blowout final game to earn their first preseason tournament title in over a decade.
If this week was meant to be a barometer for Michigan’s preseason hype, the Wolverines passed with flying colors. Michigan proved that it can win close games but also that it has more than enough talent to extend a lead against a good team that’s not quite good enough. Kansas State fell in the second category as the Wildcats battled Michigan close in the first half before allowing the Wolverines to open up a 21 point second half lead. Kansas State kept the game close but never led and there was little question that Michigan controlled the game from the opening tip to the last whistle.
Michigan has played well as a team this season but Tim Hardaway Jr. has been the individual star. The 6-foot-6 junior was named the tournament’s most outstanding player after scoring 23 points (on 10-of-15 shooting) and grabbing seven rebounds in the final. Hardaway continued to attack the basket aggressively and is now 24 of 34 (71%) on two point field goals through five games. Perhaps the most important news of the day was that Hardaway passed his concussion test after the game and should be good to go.
The last several games continue to prove that this Michigan team can win games in ways that John Beilein’s previous teams simply couldn’t. The Wolverines attempted just 21% of their field goals from three point range and were lethal inside the arc, converting on 24 of 44 (57%) two point field goals. Michigan’s inside attack extended to the offensive glass where the Wolverines grabbed 36 percent of their misses for 10 second chance points. This was the second consecutive game in which we saw Michigan out-rebound an opponent renowned for its rebounding ability – on both ends of the floor.
Michigan seemed to have to work for everything in the first half, wrestling its way to 29 points on 27 possessions. The offense never found a groove with Burke and Morgan sidelined due to foul trouble. Tim Hardaway Jr. carried the team with his middle game and U-M was able to keep Kansas State at arm’s length, but in the second half Michigan was able to push the tempo and really break the game open. Michigan’s offense is at its absolute best when Hardaway or Burke are pushing the ball off of a clean rebound or outlet pass. The pressure of Morgan running the middle, athletes like Robinson or Hardaway on the wings and even a shooter like Stauskas drifting to the corner with Burke pushing the tempo is just tough to defend. It took just over eight minutes for Michigan to extend a five point halftime lead to 18 and the game got out of hand quickly once Michigan found a groove.
Wolverine opponents continued to shoot the ball poorly against Michigan’s defense as Kansas State managed just a 40 percent eFG%, connecting on 43% of its twos and 22% of its threes. Michigan’s opponents are now shooting just 40% from inside the arc on the season — almost certainly a byproduct of increased size and athleticism in the Michigan frontcourt. That poor two point shooting combined with Michigan’s dominating defensive rebounding has been a recipe for success on that end of the floor. Kansas State still had 18 second chance points but only rebounded 27% of its misses, well below its season average of 49%. The Wolverines didn’t force many turnovers once again but by simply contesting shots and taking care of business on the glass, they are more than capable of slowing down most offenses.
Michigan has only played five games but this is a good team. They are deep, talented and versatile and there are few, if any, red flags to be worried about early in the season. I’d be the first to admit I was skeptical about Michigan’s top-five preseason ranking but the upgrade over last season’s squad is clear and there’s enough talent on Michigan’s roster to play with any team in the country. Next up is a North Carolina State team that might not quite be as good, or consistent, as many expected but is still plenty talented to give Michigan problems. The Wolverines host the Wolfpack on Tuesday evening at the Crisler Center.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway is realizing that offense doesn’t have to come from behind the three point line and he’s thriving. The confidence and aggressiveness that he’s displayed with the ball in his hands makes him look like a different player. He’s using his 6-foot-6 frame to get in the lane and finish over any defenders. Layups, floaters, mid-range jumpers off of curls or in transition. Hardaway put on a clinic at the Garden. He had a number of highlights including a filthy cross over in transition before a pull-up jumper or a slash to the basket where he switched hands mid-air before putting in a floater. His confidence is sky high and at this point he’s just fun to watch.
- Trey Burke: Burke was almost invisible in the first half, failing to attempt a field goal and picking up two fouls, but he made up for lost time in the second. Burke was pivotal in Michigan’s 8-0 run to open the second half, with two layups, a block and an assist before the first TV timeout. Burke pushed the tempo and Michigan’s offense blew the game open quickly. He’s struggling to find the roll man in half-court pick-and-roll sets and that’s been handicapping Michigan’s half court offense over the last several games.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson led Michigan with 36 minutes and while he never found his offensive game (3-of-11 on the night) he was an impact rebounder grabbing eight defensive and four offensive boards and nearly had a double-double. When Kansas State had cut the lead to two in the first half, he had a strong drive and got to the line for a pair of free throws. Robinson’s game is so smooth whether he’s shooting jumpers off of the curl or just ending up in the right spot for put backs or rebounds.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas flat out knows how to score the ball. He reached double figures again on Friday, scoring 10 points, grabbing four rebounds and handing out an assist in 22 minutes. He hit two of three triples but also had a great drive to the cup early on with a slick lay in. He was a culprit on Kansas State’s primary first half run where he found himself in trouble after over penetrating, but the offensive firepower he packs is potent as a peripheral option. John Beilein’s favorite part of Stauskas’s game? “His swag.”
- Jordan Morgan: This was one of Morgan’s worst foul games in a long time as his old demons seemed to come back to haunt him. Morgan picked up four fouls in just six minutes of playing time. He provided plenty of opportunity for Mitch McGary and Jon Horford but did grab two strong rebounds in limited playing time.
- Mitch McGary: McGary makes things happen – good or bad – all over the floor. He scored six points, grabbed three rebounds, and added an assist, turnover, block and four fouls all in 14 minutes. He did a good job of playing physical defense against Kansas State’s front line and also had a great catch on the block and quick half hook. He hit a pair of free throws and had a critical offensive rebound and put back in the first half. He’s still learning what he can and can’t do on the floor but he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht was thrown into the fire with 12 minutes against a fairly aggressive ball-hawking Kansas State defense. He didn’t turn the ball over and knocked down a three off of the dribble in the second half. He’s not going to overwhelm anyone but he appears to be a solid safety option. As John Beilein put it best, “he looks like an altar boy, but he’s out there playing in Madison Square Garden.”
- Jon Horford: Horford scored six points, grabbed three rebounds and handed out two assists in 17 minutes. As a third big man, he’s an extraordinary luxury for John Beilein because he’s able to step in and play solid minutes when Morgan or McGary struggle or get into foul trouble. The most frustrating thing might be that it takes Michigan’s two other big men getting four fouls to Horford to play a significant role, he needs seasoning and it’ll be tough with the depth chart so clogged at the five.
- Matt Vogrich: Whether Vogrich starts or not, we are probably slowly moving toward a 30-10 minute split between Stauskas and Vogrich. Vogrich scored off of a great back door cut but missed another although he did hand out two assists in a solid game.
- Eso Akunne: Akunne got some playing time for the second straight game and found his way to a mid-range fadeaway jumper. He struggled a bit against ball pressure but when he’s on the floor he’s wired to score the ball.