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.
- 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.