Game 6: NC State at Michigan Recap

Michigan 79, NC State 72 - #17
Photo: Dustin Johnston

NC State had the talent to score the ball against Michigan but the 18th ranked Wolfpack lacked the discipline, depth or will to stop the Wolverine offensive attack. Of course, that Michigan offense that NC State couldn’t stop looked like a unit unlikely to be slowed by many, if any, opponents this season. The Wolverines controlled the game throughout, despite allowing the Wolfpack to creep back with a late run, and marched to a Big Ten-ACC Challenge win by a final score of 79-72.

It was a tale of two halves for Michigan’s All-American point guard, who played the position to near perfection. In the first half, Trey Burke was content to play facilitator and let Nik Stauskas unleash his entire offensive repertoire. Burke handed out nine assists while Stauskas shot and slashed his way to 13 first half points on just five field goal attempts. In the second, Burke got involved in the scoring column, adding 18 points of his own to accompany a career high 11 assists on the night. Burke and Stauskas were extraordinary but they received plenty of support from Tim Hardaway Jr. (16 points) and Glenn Robinson III (11 points and seven rebounds) in the big win.

Make no mistake about it, this was a dominant offensive performance. Michigan scored 1.25 points per trip despite a 4:20 scoring drought late in the second half. For about 33 minutes, the Wolverines were nearly flawless offensively. Michigan hit 60% of its twos, 38% of its threes, and got to the free throw line consistently. The Wolverines didn’t attack the offensive glass as aggressively (to counteract NC State’s transition game) but their prolific shooting efficiency was more than enough to win the game.

Michigan’s defense wasn’t nearly as effective as it has been in early season play. As I wrote in the preview, NC State has more than its fair share of individual one-on-one talent and Michigan had no answer on the defensive side of the ball. The Wolfpack matched Michigan’s heroic shooting effort, connecting on 60% of their two point attempts and racking up a 59% effective field goal percentage. Michigan’s front court defense couldn’t slow CJ Leslie, TJ Warren and Richard Howell as they combined to make 22 of 34 shots inside the arc and would have done even more damage if not limited by foul trouble. Michigan’s defensive rebounding also hit a snag, allowing NC State to rebound a third of its missed shots including seven second half offensive boards. 54 of NC State’s 72 points came in the paint and 14 of those were off of offensive rebounds.

The Wolverines have been stout on the interior and on the glass throughout early season play but this performance should serve as a red flag. Michigan’s offense was so great that it masked a subpar defensive performance that simply won’t be good enough to consistently win games as the season wears on.

John Beilein’s option to play two posts was critical for surviving against NC State’s front line. McGary and Morgan were far from dominant but battled and played hard, even if they didn’t always win, and allowed Michigan to hang in there. Offensively, the two post option still isn’t nearly as effective as it needs to be. Morgan still looks a bit uncomfortable at the four offensively while both Michigan posts botched an easy basket or two by bobbling catches or hesitating around the basket. The next month should provide opportunity for Beilein to continue to tweak this look offensively whether it’s a high-low set, specials designed to get one or the other the ball or just allowing Morgan to be more comfortable away from the basket.

Michigan has done a pretty good job at closing out games this season but came dangerously close to letting this one slip away. The Wolverines appeared to be in cruise control, up 15 points with 5:57 to play, before setting off on a victory lap before the final whistle. NC State held the Wolverines scoreless for six possessions and mounted a quick 10-0 run. Hardaway bailed Michigan out with a big finish at the bucket before McGary sealed the deal by drawing an offensive foul on CJ Leslie in the post. The late game sloppiness should serve as a lesson for Michigan’s young team (McGary and Robinson both had critical turnovers late) that it’s important to execute to the final horn.

The buzz on Twitter, ESPN or anywhere else is that Michigan looks like a team capable of making a Final Four run. The offense is clearly good enough. John Beilein is spoiled with far too many weapons including Burke, Hardaway, Stauskas and Robinson to not score points in bunches. The defense has been good through six games but Tuesday’s performance serves as a reminder that it’s not quite at an elite level just yet.

Michigan 79, NC State 72 - #29
Photo: Dustin Johnston

Player Bullets:

  • Nik Stauskas: Stauskas’s offensive game is as advertised and more. He’s hitting NBA threes but that’s just the start. His most impressive plays continue to hinge on his ability to attack: a nifty finish after a dribble drive, a pump fake before a quick dribble into a pull-up two, or drawing two fouls on Richard Howell by attacking the hole. You have to respect his range beyond the three point line but his complete offensive arsenal is mature beyond his years.
  • Trey Burke: Burke’s highlights from this game could probably serve as his draft day highlight reel. He did it all. In the first half he attempted just two shots (misses from NBA range) but did an incredible job getting everyone else involved by handing out nine assists (topping his career high in a half). In the second half, like we saw against Kansas State, he took over. Burke began making threes off of the screen and roll – his second half 3PAs were clearly one step closer to the line – and he continued to distribute the ball. He scored with the floater in the lane and added two steals and a block defensively in the second stanza. His final stat line is about as good as it gets: 18 points on 5-of-9 (3-5 3pt) shooting, 11 assists, two steals, one block and zero turnovers. Burke will absolutely make opponents pay if they don’t double him on a ball screen, the next step is to become more consistent in going to that next option when the hard hedge and double team comes.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway wasn’t his nearly perfect two-point attacking self that we saw in New York City but he played a strong game. He was extremely comfortable finding space in the middle of NC State’s 2-3 zone and finished the game 6-of-9 on twos, including a critical late bucket. He took nine threes, which is too many, and only made one but at least two of his three point attempts were the product of being passed the basketball with 1 or 2 seconds left on the shot clock.
  • Mitch McGary: McGary came ready to play, he was active on both ends and brought energy. He started the game with a great slip off of a fake dribble hand off with a nice finish, later he got in the scoring column again by executing a pick-and-roll perfectly with Burke. He hit his free throws and played physically against NC State’s post players forcing several turnovers including the icing offensive foul call on CJ Leslie. He, like Morgan, got a bit jumpy around the basket late in the game but he continues to improve on both ends of the floor and this was his best game at Michigan.
  • Glenn Robinson III: This was a learning game for Robinson. The good news is that he scored 11 points on 3-of-5 (1-2 3pt) shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots in his “learning game” while playing against a lottery pick. Robinson surrendered size to Leslie (and Warren) and struggled to make up for it on the defensive end. You still have to love Robinson’s spirit. For example, the next possession after getting abused by Leslie and giving up a big dunk he comes down the floor and drills a three right over the 6-foot-9 forward. Robinson needs to grow more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and driving to the bucket against ball pressure. He dribbled into a charge against NC State and also had a poor turnover late when TJ Warren jumped him on the perimeter.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan is a solid foundation for Michigan’s defense. He draws charges and even did a decent job of defending the four spot – even if he mistakenly tipped the ball into his own basket once. His offense continues to be a bit hit or miss. He had a couple of opportunistic finishes and one really nice play where he caught the ball and immediately made a post move to draw a foul. Later in the game he had a couple of issues around the bucket bobbling catches or hesitating around the bucket, and those are costly.
  • Jon Horford: Horford played just six minutes and didn’t make much of an impact. He didn’t find the stat sheet and never really got involved offensively. For Horford to play a major role, Michigan’s two post offense will need to become significantly more efficient as the season progresses because there just aren’t enough minutes to go around at the five.
  • Spike Albrecht: Albrecht handed out two assists and grabbed an offensive rebound in six minutes. Naturally, Michigan’s offense isn’t as snappy with Albrecht in charge but he’s held his own out there.
  • Matt Vogrich: Vogrich opened the game with a lazy pass and a pair of fouls to create an opportunity for Stauskas to steal the show. He ended up playing just five minutes to Stauskas’s 33. Beilein doesn’t sound like a man with any plans to change his lineup, citing superstition, but if Stauskas is playing 33 minutes per game it might not matter.
  • Eso Akunne: Akunne has no shortage of confidence. He checked into the game midway through the first half and fired up a pair of shots on back-to-back possessions. Unfortunately they were early misses that weren’t great looks and were pivotal in allowing NC State to make a run.
  • gobluemd16

    Great write-up. This team is damn fun to watch, and the players are even easier to root for. How about Stauskas, shooting 60% and averaging 13 per game as a freshman, I absolutely love his game.

  • mith

    Here’s hoping we don’t see Eso out there again unless its mop-up time. I’m not sure what he brings to the game anyway, his ball-handling is suspect and he takes bad shots. This team has enough depth without him playing.

    • Mark Worthley

      yeah, it’s so strange why he is even on the floor….can’t Vogrich play those minutes?

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

        Eso was in the game in the first half because Vogrich picked up the two early fouls. At the three spot, Beilein has been going with Akunne behind Matt and Nik but might have to look for a different option.

        • gpsimms

          Didn’t Timmy slide over to 3 so Eso could play 2?

    • umumum

      Frankly, that was just weird. It’s not like that has been Eso’s history.

  • J

    I wonder why Beilein hasn’t tinkered more with Horford and Morgan/McGary on the floor at the same time. It seems to me like between Horford and Morgan, Horford is the more athletic of the two with a slightly better jumper, and could be a better option at the 4. Morgan plays faster and more decisively, presumably due to his experience and relative health, but this could be a more comfortable rotation and allow Morgan and McGary to both play more at the 5 except for special situations.

    Obviously I don’t have a window into practice so I’m sure they’re showing something or not that makes the current rotation more sensible, but on the surface it sounds like a good combination to try out. McGary is too raw to move away from the basket and Morgan just doesn’t have the skill set (although he’s always working hard).

    • umumum

      Sorry, but it is doubtful Horford will ever be a 4. He looked awkward at the 5 last night ( a high pick block waiting to occur). You can’t really believe Horford is more athletic than Morgan. And I don’t know that he has a jumper–he never displayed it in high school (I saw him play numerous times), and neither of us are at UM practices. I credit Jon for working hard on his strength and conditioning, and next year he and McGrary may get time together, if McGrary can play the 4.

      • Guest

        Horford is a better athlete than Morgan. Morgan is a worse fit at 4 because he is very limited offensively and isn’t a good jumpshooter.

        • umumum

          disagree as to the former, and you have no evidence as to the latter–that Horford is jumpshooter or has any offense beyond dunking. The one thing Horford has is the lure of the unknown. I trust Beilein, and suspect he appreciates what Morgan does (works his ass off and runs the court) and what Horford may not be able to do.

  • A2JD

    Enjoyable write-up. The only thing I saw a little differently was that on 2 or 3 of those bobbled passes from the bigs, the pass came a little late. I’m sure the rhythm between Trey (or whomever is feeding the post) and the Michigan bigs will improve over time. It’s already pretty good.

  • Mattski

    Great analysis–plenty to ooh and ah over, plenty to build on. Legitimate prospect of entering B1G play undefeated now.

    Here’s a great article someone posted at mgoblog about Cazzie Russell. The accompanying video helps you see he and his teammates contributed greatly to building this program, what it was like back in the day:

    http://michigantoday.umich.edu/story.php?id=8502#.ULYmyIe_ErW

  • ChathaM

    I think NCS is the best team M has faced thus far. They’re
    more athletic, and have more scoring options, than either Pitt or K State.
    Given that, it’s impressive that M was able to hold a lead throughout the vast
    majority of the game. That they were able to extend the lead into double digits
    twice is even more impressive. Like M, NCS relies a fair bit on very young
    players. Because of that, both teams have a lot of room for improvement, especially on the defensive
    end. I won’t be surprised if both teams
    are top 10 teams by March.

    NCS man defence seemed focused on limiting Burke’s
    penetration by clogging lanes, then keeping pressure on his dribble after the
    initial stop. I thought they did that well. But, Burke is just so difficult to
    handle for 40 minutes. That he didn’t turn the ball over once against that type
    of defensive focus is incredible. As a team, only 6 turnovers is remarkable, given the 2
    turns within the first 2 minutes of the game. I love that Beilein stresses
    limiting turnovers, as it makes a team so much more efficient.

    M is a matchup nightmare, which I assume is why NCS played
    as much zone as they did. Fatigue may have played a role as well, as NCS isn’t
    deep (noted by Dylan in the pre-game; that pre-game was bang on, BTW). Their
    zone wasn’t sharp, IMO. The one possession that really stands out came in the
    2nd half when, late in the shot clock, a post screened the top left corner of
    the zone, and Burke simply dribbled off the screen for an uncontested 3. That
    was brutal, and while I was clapping, I was also shaking my head.

    I thought that the late collapse was a perfect storm of NCS
    picking up their defensive intensity at the exact moment M tried to use clock. NCS
    was seriously pressuring everything, and there were many opportunities for M
    players to drive that were passed on, presumably to burn clock. That’s a
    dangerous game to play with 4-5 minutes still to play, and I don’t like it.

    Hardaway’s critical late bucket to which Dylan referred came
    on a set called by Beilein during a timeout. I think it’s the same set that
    resulted in a big basket late in the Pitt game. I thought it was very smart of
    Beilein to use a timeout there and call a specific set. My guess was that it
    would be a set play for Stauskas. That it was run for Hardaway, and that he
    converted, speaks to his maturation. Hardaway did settle for a couple of 3′s
    during the game, but there were also a couple of times that he looked like he
    was going to launch a 3, then attacked with the dribble and scored.

    I’m not sure why Burke and Spike were on the floor at the
    same time. It happened in both halves. Perhaps it was a rest issue re: different
    players. I certainly didn’t see a basketball benefit to it.

    McGary seems to be quickly settling in defensively. He
    looked like he had a better feel for positioning and control last night than in
    any other game. Beilein commented on how coachable McGary is, so this isn’t a
    surprise. He needs more confidence offensively, and I expect that’ll come.

    The Crisler facelift is amazing. I didn’t get there early
    enough to walk around and soak in the entire renovation (one of those December
    midweek games will be a perfect time for that), but the place is fantastic. You
    could drop a fan anywhere in the concourse, and they wouldn’t recognize it as
    Crisler. I had heard that the game was sold out, but there were plenty of empty
    seats scattered throughout the building, which was disappointing.

    • John

      The Burke+Spike combo is there in order to give hardaway and Stauskas a break. Its part of the short rotation and I like it, as long as its only a few minutes a game.

      • rlcBlue

        Furthermore, it’s November. What better way for the staff to figure out which combinations are feasible for the conference season than to experiment against the strong teams on the non-conference schedule?

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