Sooner or later it was bound to happen. Michigan had a bad shooting night. Entering their third conference game against Nebraska, the Wolverines’ worst individual shooting performance of the season was still better than the national season average. Luckily for Michigan, the dismal shooting effort came against the league’s worst offense.
Michigan couldn’t shoot much worse (although Nebraska managed to) yet still escaped with a 62-47 win in a 57 possession slug fest. Every team has nights like this one in a 30-something game college basketball season and the Wolverines proved that they are capable of winning games without the big numbers, three pointers and highlights. And that assertion should be particularly comforting to any longtime observer of Big Ten basketball who understands that league championships are often times more a measure of fight than shooting acumen.
Michigan has always leaned heavily on its primary scoring options of Burke, Hardaway, Stauskas and Robinson – the quartet accounted for 72.6% of Michigan’s offense entering the game – but tonight the Wolverines were fully dependent. Mitch McGary contributed the only two points (3%) from someone other than the “Big Four” and they came near the games closing moments. Nebraska did a great job of packing the lane to prevent the easy passes around the basket that have led to so many easy baskets this season. The result was a Michigan offense predicated on isolation situations. Just five of Michigan’s 21 made field goals were assisted and the Wolverines shot 48% on two point attempts, well below their season average.
Michigan still managed 1.09 points per possession despite its worst shooting performance of the year. The Wolverines were below average inside with 49% two point shooting and awful from three point range at 18%, totaling a 42% effective field goal percentage. Michigan’s 16 offensive rebounds were a season high but also a total buoyed by its sheer quantity of misses. But the Wolverines grabbed an impressive 41% of their missed shots and turned them into 19 second chance points. Michigan was also able to get to the free throw line often, in large part because it was in the bonus from the 14 minute mark of the second half. However, the Wolverines did leave a few points at the line, connecting on 17-of-26 (65%) of their free throw attempts (eight percent below their season average).
Michigan’s defense was solid but was facing a Nebraska offense that seemed more concerned with milking the clock than actually scoring. Nebraska’s woeful output of .83 points per possession actually topped its first two outings in Big Ten play. The Cornhuskers made just 43% of their twos and 23% of their threes for a 39% effective field goal percentage. Michigan only forced five turnovers in 57 possessions but managed to hold Nebraska to just seven free throws to 56 field goal attempts. Most importantly the Wolverines dominated the defensive glass once again, grabbing 82 percent of Nebraska’s misses.
John Beilein teams of old were oftentimes unable to overcome poor shooting nights because they didn’t do the two things that Michigan did so well in this game: crash the offensive glass and get to the free throw line. The competition wasn’t the toughest but the Wolverines got it done in both categories. Michigan outscored Nebraska 19-2 in second chance points and 17-3 at the free throw line.
It was far from Michigan’s best game and the Wolverines won’t be able to beat better teams in the league when they play like this – even at home. But a win is a win and Michigan just matched its best start in program history at 16-0. Big Ten play turns from surprisingly easy to frighteningly difficult in a flash as Michigan prepares to travel to Ohio State and Minnesota.
- Trey Burke: Burke labored for all 18 points and three assists on the night. Nebraska opted to go under almost every pick and roll and while the strategy worked (Burke was 1-of-5 from three on the night) it seemed more based on sheer hope than logic (something that Nebraska coach Tim Miles essentially admitted as much) given that Burke had hit 9 of his last 16 threes (56%) entering the game. Burke should (and did) take those shots even if he missed his fair share tonight. The strategy to go under so many screens did limit Burke’s ability to create for others (just 3 assists) but the low assist total was also a product of Michigan missing a number of easy chances.
- Nik Stauskas: Despite missing two free throws and going 2-of-6 from long range, I thought Stauskas played a very strong game. He struggled in the first half but made plays all over the floor in the second half. He hit an early three in the second, triggered a fast break off of a steal and pass ahead to Hardaway and also knocked down a three on a nearly botched fast break that was all hustle. He had a strong drive to the basket for a bucket and also handed out a pair of dimes in an impressive second half.
- Glenn Robinson III: Forget about his back-to-back highlight dunks, we’ve seen all of that from Robinson. His first basket was perhaps his most impressive as he caught the ball at the free throw line extended and scored off of a spin move in isolation. That hasn’t been a part of Robinson’s game to date and he’ll be a pro sooner than later if he keeps making moves like that.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway’s stat line is nothing spectacular – 15 points on 14 attempts and 11 rebounds – but he was one of the few Michigan players willing to attack in the first half. He didn’t have his perimeter jumper falling but continued to attack the basket, converting inside at a slightly-below average rate (5-of-11) and getting to the line.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan had 11 rebounds (three offensive) many of which were of the grown man variety. Several times he simply ripped the ball from a Nebraska player that appeared to have come down with the board. Offensively he was a non-factor (1 FGA) as the Cornhuskers did a great job of forcing Burke to shoot, negating a lot of Michigan’s roll action to the basket.
- Mitch McGary: I would pay to sit in film session with John Beilein and Mitch McGary. So many things – both good and bad – happen so quickly while McGary is on the floor. In the first half he was all over the offensive glass but struggled with rushed finishes (an Achilles’ heel all season). In the second half it was all hustle including diving for a jump ball among four Nebraska players before he finally got in the scoring sheet with a great seal and finish.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert had been shooting the ball very well but missed a pair of great looks from three point range.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht is having a harder time as the season wears on. He missed a wide open three (badly) and saw minimal time.
- Jon Horford: Horford was available but did not play.