Game 8: Western Michigan at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Photo: Detroit News

Michigan opened Tuesday’s game against Western Michigan slowly but eventually found its groove to cruise to an easy 73-41 victory. The Wolverines looked lifeless out of the gate but managed to sleepwalk their way past a Western Michigan team that simply didn’t have the horses to compete.

Trey Burke was nearly flawless on the night, scoring 20 points on 8-of-11 (2-4 3pt) shooting while handing out seven assists to no turnovers. But Michigan’s effort was balanced as 10 Wolverines saw action in the first half, eight played at least 10 minutes and nine found the scoring column. Michigan’s defense stifled Western Michigan on the other end of the floor. The Wolverines managed to force more turnovers (18) than allowed field goals (13) while holding the Broncos to a dreary .67 points per possessions.

Michigan’s offense was far from perfect but this isn’t an offense that needs to be hitting on all cylinders to be dominant. In fact, Michigan’s shooting (57% 2P, 38% 3P), rebounding and turnover numbers were all within a couple percentage points of its season averages. The free throw production, and efficiency, left a bit to be desired but the overall offensive performance still netted 1.15 points per trip. That mark was still the highest offensive efficiency the Broncos have allowed this season. The strongest endorsement of Michigan’s offense might be that the Wolverines have the best per-possession offensive performances that each opponent has allowed all season.

Michigan’s defense surrendered a number of easy looks in the first half – WMU converted 53% of its twos in the first – mostly because Wolverine interior defenders were getting pulled away from the basket hedging the pick-and-roll and the backside help was continually late. But Michigan’s aggressive play at the top of the key paid off in the turnover department. The Broncos turned the ball on over 40 percent of their first half possessions (29% turnover rate for the game) which offset the fact that they got to the free throw line fairly often. The Wolverines corrected those interior woes in the second half as Western Michigan shot just 27% on second half twos and 11% on threes. That improvement allowed Michigan to steadily increase its lead until the game was out of hand.

Michigan’s offense found the roll man on the screen and roll early and often on Tuesday night. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary were both extremely effective in slipping the screen early to roll to the basket – and U-M’s guards and wings found them. Michigan’s big man duo combined to go 9-of-11 from the field while all 11 attempts were dunks and layups and eight of nine makes were assisted by one of Michigan’s guards.

Next up for for Michigan is an opportunity to avenge one of last season’s more disappointing losses. Arkansas makes the trip North on Saturday after picking up a solid home victory over Oklahoma on Tuesday evening. The Hogs are just 4-3 but will provide a unique uptempo, high ball pressure test that Mike Anderson’s teams are renowned for.

Photos: Detroit News

Player Bullets:

  • Trey Burke: You can’t play the point guard position much better than Burke did today. The stats (20 pts, 8-11 fg, 7 ast, 0 to, 3 stls) speak for themselves and they were quality stats. Burke simply made plays: step back jumpers, mid-range off of the curl, threes when defenders go under screens, cross-over dribbles. Burke’s patience with the ball in his hands is marvelous to watch as he picks apart opposing defenses. His defensive production wasn’t bad either as he grabbed three steals and even took a pair of charges. When the only play meriting real criticism is a questionable three point shot at the end of the half, it was a pretty good night. Burke has now handed out 23 assists to just two turnovers in the last three games combined.
  • Nik Stauskas: Stauskas showed off more of his passing game, doubling his season total with four assists on the evening, but still was plenty proficient from beyond the arc. Stauskas finished with 11 points on 3-of-6 (3-4 3pt) shooting and is now at 64% from three point range on the season. One play that will probably go unnoticed was Stauskas defending Darius Paul on the block and knocking the ball away for a turnover.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway struggled from the field for the second straight game but it’s too early to panic. The encouraging aspect of Hardaway’s night was that he kept doing what he was so successful with to start the season. Hardaway continued to attack the basket even if he missed a few shots around five or six feet from the bucket that he usually hits. Hardaway finished just 3-of-10 from the field but did grab three boards and hand out three assists along with a late three pointer. His monster slam early in the game also provided a bit of energy to an otherwise listless night.
  • Glenn Robinson III: Robinson can’t just be a jumpshooter. His early jumpshooting this season was encouraging but he’s capable of so much more and its inevitable that he’ll have his fair share of nights like this (3-10 fg) where his jumper isn’t connecting. The 6-foot-6 freshman continues to find his role in the offense and it will be interesting to see where he progresses throughout December. Does he start putting the ball on the floor? Can John Beilein find his sweet spot on the floor? One thing about Robinson that just doesn’t add up, he continuously out leaps everyone for alley-oops or put-backs but often misses the easy put in.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan was very solid, scoring 8 points, grabbing eight rebounds and even a pair of steals. If teams don’t take him away in the pick-and-roll then he’s very capable of finishing at a fairly high level – although he did miss two of six layups on the night.
  • Mitch McGary: McGary scored a career high 10 points on perfect 5-of-5 shooting in 14 minutes. He did a great job catching and finishing passes off of the screen and roll but needs to improve in the next element: what to do if a shot isn’t there. McGary struggled with turnovers (4) and seemed to force things when the Broncos trapped or doubled him on the block.
  • Caris LeVert: LeVert has clearly surpassed Vogrich on the depth chart and is the first two guard off of the bench. A week ago he was on the scout team, so it’s clear that he’s still feeling his way out but he made some strong plays. He took a charge, hit his first shot (a shot clock beating three) and was active on the floor. He finished 1-of-4 from the field although he had another shot rim in and out. His development should be fascinating to watch throughout December leading up to Big Ten play.
  • Spike Albrecht: Albrecht continues to be steady when backing up Burke, handing out a pair of assists and scoring on a turnaround up-and-under slow motion basket in the lane.
  • Jon Horford: This was a very strong performance from Horford. He rebounded well – five rebounds in 10 minutes – and picked up a block. The offensive production wasn’t there but the defense and rebounding many expected from Horford was very evident.
  • Matt Vogrich: Vogrich got a first half opportunity but picked up a turnover on a cross court pass and a foul in limited time. Late in the second half he did check in and bury a three pointer.
  • Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt was sidelined with a sprained ankle and Beilein reported that his status for Saturday’s game is up in the air.
  • Alex

    Fun game to watch.

    Hardaway just has to remain calm and keep driving toward the rim. Don’t get frustrated sometimes the shots don’t fall.

    You do not have to do everything every game. Just keep plugging away and getting better and good things will happen for you and for the team.

  • Ted

    “The strongest endorsement of Michigan’s offense might be that the Wolverines have the most effective offensive outputs that each opponent has allowed all season”

    That’s an amazing stat. If we can keep up a rate of offensive production like that through BIG play Michigan will be a force to be reckoned with.

  • Mattski

    Places things in nice perspective. Such a ragged game at times that I grew frustrated. But already we’re expecting so much from this team! Terrific that there are still five games to go before Big Ten play, and even then it’s a schedule to sort of ease into. Could we really be 16-0 heading into Columbus in mid-January?

    McGairy coming on. . .

  • section13row15

    I love that for the first time we’re not just jacking up threes when the first rotation with the ball isn’t there. We’re continuously probing for the best look possible and in some cases it is a three, but in others it’s a drive to the hoop or a pass off the screen and roll. It’s a thing of beauty when everyone is working in tandem.

  • ChathaM

    I saw more patience offensively than I’ve seen in any game thus far, so it’s clearly being stressed by the staff. There were a couple of times when I was certain that Burke was going to launch a long range 3, but he kept the ball alive and moved it to more open teammates. Hardaway showed a lot of patience as well, and got himself good 10 foot looks all night.

    That was the most concerted effort I’ve seen any team make to stay in Stauskas’ face and not allow any open looks from 3. Western defended him very well all night. I think 2 of his made 3’s came with a defender right in his face.

    Horford’s energy was encouraging. McGary, Morgan, and Horford are 3 very energetic, active, big men that are a lot of fun to watch play. They carry frustrations (eg.- McGary’s frenetic decision making, Morgan’s guaranteed at least one missed finish per game), but they’re collectively a positive force.

    I got a kick out of watching LeVert’s confusion within the offence. There were several possessions where you could tell that he simply didn’t know what to do. If he still looks like that a month from now, I won’t get a kick out of it. But, that won’t happen.

    I could see Michigan putting up 90 against Arkansas on Saturday.

  • JimmyZ5

    Horford looked really good in limited time against an overmatched opponent. 5 boards, 1 emphatic block, and general disruption in 10 minutes. I want to see him get more minutes, but where do they come from? First Class Hoops Program Problems.

  • Chabvis

    My one concern right now for this team was mentioned here. The pick and roll defense, specifically the way that the bigs are playing it. They are clearly being told to hedge very hard on the screen, which is a good thing, but they are so unbelievably slow recovering that it gave WMU a bunch of free layups. The initial hedge is nice and really holds up the ball handler, but the bigs have to get back to their man more quickly (especially McGary). There is not a whole lot that Stauskas can do even if he plays the help side defense perfectly when one of their bigs catches the ball 5 feet from the rim.

    One other thing that I was complaining to myself about was Morgan and McGary’s ability to just catch the ball. If they can catch smoothly they will get so many free layups and dunks. At the start of the game Morgan bobbled and eventually lost at least one free layup and I have been noticing that happening somewhat regularly. The pick and roll has been running magnificently and getting the bigs free dunks, they just have to make sure to hang on to that ball.

    Overall, this team is looking great at the moment. Just some minor complaints.

    • MGoTweeter

      there are lots of different ways to play a screen and roll and Michigan has used just about all of them under Beilein at some point or another. This year, they have almost exclusively gone to a hard hedge where the big stays with the ball handler until such a point that he picks up his dribble or takes himself and the ball way out towards mid court. The big in this situation is not responsible for recovering to his man right away, instead the wing defenders are being tasked with sliding over in front of the roll man. Then the big recovers once the threat of the ball handler has been taken care of.

      The issue Michigan has run into with this is where the ball handler makes a quick pass off the screen to a wing. Once that happens the wing players who helped on the roller have to play kinda midway. They are still responsible for the guy at the basket, but now their men are only one pass removed from the ball and wide open. This has led to a lot of passing lanes and easy scores.

      Although Michigan is giving up some things with this look, they are also taking away things and they have caused some turnovers with the aggressive nature of this defense. I am sure that we will see them defend the pick and roll differently if a team really gets in a groove against this look.

    • Mr_Sledge

      I’m with you Chabvis. For the first 6-8 minutes, I found myself yelling at the TV because Brandon Paul’s little bigger brother was coming wide open on the pick and roll. It definitely seemed like UM figured it out and made some adjustments in the 2nd half. I believe I remember Hardaway rotating over and stealing that roll pass in the 2nd half. Either way, it’s good that the team gets to see that now and learn how to make adjustments.

      Honestly, I’m impressed with the diversity of opponent styles that we’ve scheduled and played against. I think this will pay off big once B1G season starts.

      Side note: Darius Paul looked good for a freshman. He quietly had 10/10. Did Michigan recruit him?

      • rlcBlue

        Scout had Paul as a 2-star, ESPN didn’t rank him; neither site mentions him being recruited by anyone outside Kalamazoo.

  • Champswest

    I thought Tim was forcing it a little and I question a couple of the shots, but I like him being aggressive and taking it to the hoop. By contrast, Burke seems so relaxed and confident when he shoots. The bigs had a great game.
    Defensive improvement is needed if this team wants to be great. They are young, so they should keep getting better.
    Happy to see Caris get his first bucket. He will be fun to watch improve as he learns the offense better.

  • Quick Darshan

    They must be REALLY high on Levert. Even though Vogrich has been sporadic with his outside shot. He plays smart defense, fights for rebounds and is good for a backdoor layup per game. If Levert can do more than that, this team becomes scary

    • rlcBlue

      My guess is that it comes down to LeVert’s athleticism on defense. (I hope) they’ve seen that he’s quick enough to play B1G level man-to-man defense and he’s shown the commitment to learn the fundamentals this season. LeVert defending the 2 is potentially a game changer – Jordan Hulls, for example, would have a miserable night if he were being covered by a 6’5″ guy with long arms, good quickness, and solid fundamentals. And of course 8-10 minutes of rest per game for Hardaway wouldn’t be a bad thing, either.
      Caris’s strength is still going to be an issue, but hopefully less at the 2 than if he were defending the 3. Hopefully he doesn’t lose his 3 point shot as the season wears on.

      • eddieben

        I agree with your hope RLC. He has to be a lockdown defender to get some run, because as far as my eyes can see, the dude is lost on the offensive end. I’m sure that will improve as he sees more court time, but last night whenever the offense settled into the half-court Levert really looked like he didn’t know where he should be or why. He was attempting to set screens for guys who weren’t looking for them, running from one spot on the floor to another when he realized that he was in the wrong spot, and generally didn’t command much attention. That said, if he becomes the defensive lock-down that Coach claims, I’m completely fine with him being absent on the offensive end.

  • John

    Not sure if this was caught on the television coverage, but there was one instance during the game that got me very uneasy. Hardaway was called for a moving screen early in the second half, after which he immediately screamed at McGary for slipping the screen too early. And when I say he screamed at him, I don’t mean that he walked over to McGary and started chatting in his hear. He literally yelled at him from across the court for everyone to hear. And I’m all for constructive criticism. But it came off as super aggressive, combative, and condescending. As a leader of this team, i think hardaway needs to be more cognizant of how he acts towards the young guys. Especially with a guy like McGary who is clearly a bit all over the place and trying to buckle-down mentally.

    • gpsimms

      Hardaway always come off as little…off in the player interviews. His heart is in the right place, he is always making an effort to say/do the right things. I’m sure he didn’t mean to be a aggressive/condescending, and was thinking about the aneurysm of leadership (Novak against MSU), but like I said he’s just a bit off on these things, so they don’t come off right. Hopefully Mitch didn’t take it the wrong way.

      fwiw, that’s why i think as badly as Timmy wants to be a leader/captain, that’s why he can’t be.

  • Shaw

    What people may have forgotton is that Caris was more of a pure scorer than anyone in the class. I think the common term used for him was slippery, so once he learns the offense he can become even more lethal as bench scoring. so it is good to focus on his defense because I don’t think his office will be a problem.