Game 27: Illinois at Michigan Recap

(caption) Michigan defenders Trey Burke (left) and Jordan Morgan trap Illinois' ball handler Tracy Abrams. *** Michigan trailed 31-28 at the half, but took over in the second half, outscoring the Illini by 16 points to coast to a  71-58 victory. *** Michigan hosts Illinois at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.  Photos taken on Sunday, February 24, 2013. ( John T. Greilick / Detroit News ) </p> <p>
Detroit News

Team PTS PPP FG FG% 2P 2P% 3P 3PT% FT FT% OR DR AST TO STL BLK PF
MICH 71 1.15 25-49 51% 19-31 61% 6-18 33% 15-21 71% 7 22 15 10 9 1 15
ILL 58 0.94 21-51 41% 14-29 48% 7-22 32% 9-14 64% 8 20 7 13 3 4 16

Much of the discussion over the last two weeks has revolved around Michigan’s difficult schedule, tired legs, youth, and the proverbial freshman wall. But the problem was far more severe than any of those issues. The problem was confidence.

Michigan reached No. 1 by playing a brand of basketball that was spirited and fun to watch; extra passes, open shots and easy dunks were the norm. Michigan took the floor with confidence every night, played its game, played it well, and eventually overwhelmed its opponents with its offensive efficiency. After opening February with three losses in four games, the Wolverines began to let doubt creep in.  Every movement offensively was calculated and every defensive rotation was just a second late. That doubt manifested itself in a blowout loss in East Lansing and an underwhelming eight point home win over Penn State.

The Wolverines looked no more closer to regaining that confidence and swagger as they headed to the locker room down three points to an Illinois team which looks every bit like the stereotypical 10-seed Big Ten bubble team. One that should have no chance of winning on the road at Michigan.

But for the final 20 minutes on Sunday, Michigan finally began to demonstrate that swagger once again. First the Wolverines eliminated their first half mistakes – cutting down on turnovers and rebounding every Illinois miss in the second half – then the rest fell into place. Michigan had more plays that screamed “that’s Michigan” – fast breaks off of turnovers, secondary transition baskets generated by strong defensive rebounding and lethal pick-and-roll efficiency – than we’ve seen for the past three weeks combined and slowly but surely the Wolverines cruised to a 13 point win.

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Michigan’s offense limped through the first half, failing to reach one point per possession, but exploded for 1.32 points per trip in the second half. That offensive output was fueled by Illinois mistakes and late game fouling but that sort of production is what has propelled this offense all season. Much of the free throw production came late in the game but the Wolverines were unquestionably aggressive in attacking the basket. Michigan attempted just 37% of its field goals from long range and was an efficient 61% on twos, scoring 34 points in the paint and outscoring Illinois 10-0 in fast break points. The first half was ugly but a strong second half was enough to make this a fairly average if unspectacular performance for the Wolverine offense.

Defensively the game shifted on defensive rebounding in the second half. The following graph looks at the four factor offensive performance of the Illini by half.

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Illinois rebounded nearly half of its missed shots in the first half compared and didn’t record a single offensive rebound in the second half. Illinois shot the ball just as well, turned it over around the same rate and actually got to the free throw line more often in the second half but Michigan shut down the Illini by eliminating second chance opportunities. Surrendering .94 points per trip, this was Michigan’s best defensive performance since January against Northwestern.

We’ve hypothesized quite a bit over the last several weeks that the absence of Jordan Morgan has been the undoing of Michigan’s defense. Watching today’s game that was strikingly apparent. Plus-minus statistics are a partially flawed metric for individual evaluation because of sample size and external factors but the difference in Michigan’s performance with Morgan on and off the court is staggering.

Min Poss. UM Pts ILL Pts Margin UM PPP ILL PPP Margin ILL TO%
With Morgan 17 30 46 21 +25 1.53 0.70 +0.83 26.7%
Without Morgan 23 32 25 37 -12 0.78 1.16 -0.38 15.6%

Michigan dominated Illinois with Morgan on the floor. His hedging, trapping and recovery against Illinois’s ball screen offense was simply phenomenal. He was steady on the defensive glass and while he may have only recorded one steal, it’s clear that Michigan was able to force more turnovers with him on the floor.

Michigan sits at 10-4, two games behind Indiana with four games to play. A share of the Big Ten title is still possible but will require the Wolverines to win out and the Hoosiers to be upset along the way. Next up Michigan is a trip to Penn State against a Nittany Lion squad still searching for its first Big Ten win.

(caption) Michigan Wolverines guard Trey Burke (3) steals the ball from Illinois' Joseph Bertrand (2) and cruises for a lay up at the other end in the first half.  *** Michigan hosts Illinois at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.  Photos taken on Sunday, February 24, 2013. ( John T. Greilick / Detroit News ) </p> <p>(caption) Michigan guard Caris LeVert (23) shoots a free throw in the second half.  LeVert contributed 8 points off the bench for the Wolverines. *** Michigan trailed 31-28 at the half, but took over in the second half, outscoring the Illini by 16 points to coast to a  71-58 victory. *** Michigan hosts Illinois at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.  Photos taken on Sunday, February 24, 2013. ( John T. Greilick / Detroit News ) </p> <p>
Detroit News

Player Bullets:

  • Trey Burke: Burke’s mastery of the point guard position is a joy to watch. The numbers do plenty to tell the story: 26 points on 8-of-11 (2-3 3pt) shooting, eight assists, three rebounds, a steal and a turnover. For all of the criticism Burke has taken about forcing long jumpers, I’m not sure he took a single bad shot on Sunday and he managed 26 points. Burke’s game was a statistical gem but I loved that the play which triggered the decisive run involved him being first to a loose ball and starting a fast break – that’s something that’s been absent for Michigan across the board in recent weeks.
  • Caris LeVert: LeVert picked up two quick fouls when he checked in during the first half but I thought he was playing better and more aggressive defense than we’ve seen in recent games. That took a half to materialize but LeVert was huge in the second half. He knocked down two triples (which would have been pump fakes a week ago) and also hit a pair of free throws. His hands are active and even if he sometimes looks skittish offensively he stepped up big as Stauskas had a poor game.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan didn’t look 100% (and the fact that he was the third big man off of the bench proves he probably wasn’t) but his impact was resounding. We harped on his importance above despite his quiet statistical line – one point, three offensive rebounds and three defensive rebounds and two assists. His two assists were nice heads up plays around the basket but I think Michigan still has to be careful bringing him along slowly to prevent reinjury.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: This was far from Hardaway’s best game – 13 points on 4-of-11 (1-4 3pt) shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, four turnovers and two steals – but he played the aggressive sort of game that Michigan needs from him on the wing. After starting the season on a rebounding tear, Hardaway’s seven boards were his best total since the Nebraska game in early January.
  • Mitch McGary: McGary scored six points and grabbed two rebounds in 16 minutes. Michigan ran (scripted?) pick and rolls to McGary to start each half. He bobbled the first half opportunity out of bounds and finished the second half look with a nifty reverse layup. McGary has all of the potential in the world but those two plays illustrate the consistency that Michigan needs from him.
  • Spike Albrecht:  Spike was pivotal in the first half, forcing two turnovers (including a drawn charge on a 1-on-3 break) and knocking down a triple. Michigan’s offense (and defense) were limping along and Albrecht provided a welcome spark. It’s tough to ask for much more than Spike provided given his role.
  • Glenn Robinson III: There were still ugly moments – an early air ball and a couple passed up jump shots stand out – but Robinson played a solid game. He found some easy opportunities and was active with two steals, finishing with 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
  • Nik Stauskas: Stauskas didn’t score and didn’t record an assist in his worst offensive performance since Ohio State in Columbus. Illinois did a good job of preventing him from getting to the basket and he missed all four open three point opportunities.
  • Jon Horford: Horford finished with four points on 2-of-4 shooting with one rebound, one turnover and an assist in seven minutes. He does a good job of establishing position on both ends but his hands and finishing ability are still a problem. He continues to miss easy looks around the hoop and bobble potential rebounds. Defensively he’s struggling to recover after hedging the high pick and roll, something that’s even more obvious after watching Morgan play.
  • gobluemd16

    Great recap, Dylan. One thing, in the team statistics tab at the top Illinois’ 9/14 Ft shooting definitely is not 88%

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

      Fixed, missed that column when updating.

  • DingoBlue

    That J-Mo face… priceless.

  • Wayman Britt

    The active hands on defense must have been a point of emphasis during mini camp, because you sure could see them use their hands on Illini’s perimeter players.

    Boy, I never realized how important Jordan is to this team on defense until today’s game. He was very good. Let’s hope his ankle is not sore tonight.

  • Angman

    Game ball to JMo. Stay healthy big man.

  • JimC

    JoMo’s behind-the-back-no-look assist to GR3 was a thing of beauty!

  • Brad S

    Wow that table comparing the team with and without Morgan says it all

  • CDeSana

    Huge difference in the amount of ball movement and player movement on the offensive side of the ball. Burke gave up the ball to allow others run the point at times and was rewarded with open 3′s as others took a page out of his book in distribution.

    On the defensive side of the ball the rotations were improved but ILL is not a team that makes it’s living in the paint so we shall see how that works going forward.

    Nik is a little hesitant with his shot right now i would like coach to run a couple plays for him (like he did GRIII last game) early in the next game in order to get him rolling.

    Last but not least our bigs just have to do a better job of accepting a pass in the paint; there were multiple times they just did not catch the ball or finish again……..

  • Mattski

    That’s a beautiful photograph. Looks like one of those Renaissance allegories we saw in Art History 101. What was the text? Gardner’s Art for the Ages?

  • Mattski

    Now MSU has a week to look for its mojo, while we play PSU and gird for the Spartans.

  • Champswest

    I hope this game answers the question “Why is Morgan getting so many of the big man minutes” from earlier in the year.
    Watching Trey on the court is like watching Denard run the ball. It just makes you shake your head in amazement. Let’s all enjoy him while we still have him.

  • MGoTweeter

    definitely a noticeable step up on the defensive end of the floor right from the tip. Did not necessarily show up in terms of preventing baskets as Illinois knocked down some threes and got some loose ball rebounds, but it was a much better effort. I thought Morgan and McGary both did a great job on the ball screen. Michigan seemed to stay with the hard hedge the whole game, and those two both prevented the guard from getting the corner. Horford, however, struggled in this area.

    The third defender also did a much better job of cutting off the ball when the ball handler did turn the corner and forcing kick outs. This meant giving up some open threes, but that is better than a layup. GRIII did a real nice job early on a couple of those using his body to stop penetration.

    The first half rebounding was a little troubling, but I dont think it was as bad as the numbers say. A number of the Illini offensive rebounds were due to either loose balls or Michigan players simply mishandling the ball and losing it out of bounds (don’t know what was going on early but Michigan really struggled to just grab the ball in the first half). Late in the half, Michigan went really small because the offense was struggling so much, which meant that they were sacrificing some size on the glass.

    Offensively it seems to me that Michigan is getting way too predictable with ball and player movement. I would like to see them run a lot more of those curl screen plays for Hardaway, Robinson and even Stauskas. Along with throwing in a few post touches for the bigs or inverting the wings. Instead it just seemed like a lot of base offense.

    The biggest difference in the second half was turnovers and missed shots leading to transition. It is tough to rely on those to fuel your offense when you are not a particularly aggressive defense.

    To sum up, this was a big step forward on the defensive end but the offense is still a little worrisome. Especially against teams that are not so perimeter oriented.

  • Little Perm

    You can almost feel things turning around for this team, like cans of whoop-ass are lined up for the remaining schedule!

    • Mattski

      If there’s one reserved for MSU, I would even be willing to forgo the B1G championship.

  • Mr_Sledge

    I don’t think it can be stated enough how important defensive rebounding is for this team… especially when Hardaway gets it. Our offense doesn’t just get point in transition off of turnovers, but also when Hardaway or Burke grabs the board and pushes the tempo. Early on I wasn’t a big fan of THJr taking the rebounds and running the secondary fast-break but he has become extremely effective at it and it is a much needed boost for easy/quick baskets.

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