NCAA Tournament: Michigan vs. VCU Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

DSC_1956Bryan Fuller

MICH 78 1.20 31-60 52% 25-40 63% 6-20 30% 10-11 91% 12 41 17 12 7 0 7
VCU 53 .81 20-42 48% 20-42 48% 3-16 19% 4-6 67% 7 17 6 11 9 2 14

Michigan is headed to the Sweet 16.

Despite a long month of hard questions, doubts and frustration the Wolverines regained their form on the NCAA tournament’s grand stage at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Michigan breezed by South Dakota State and VCU by a combined 40 points to punch their ticket to Dallas.

The swagger is back and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Wolverines.

VCU might have had the stronger brand but Michigan left no doubt who had the better basketball team.

The Wolverines handled VCU’s vaunted ‘havoc’ full court press with ease and played their best game in over a month, if not the season. Michigan controlled the glass on both ends of the floor, exploited VCU’s pressure defense and shutdown a usually capable Ram offense.

The end result was a decisive 25-point Wolverine victory punctuated with three signature second half dunks by Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Michigan’s star of the weekend: Mitch McGary.


Michigan’s offense excelled not because it handled VCU’s press but because it exploited it. The Wolverines turnover percentage, 19%, was slightly above their season average but well below VCU’s average forced turnover rate. However, Michigan made an impressive 63% of its two point attempts, most of which were easy layups and wide open shots due to VCU’s overextended defense, and picked apart the Ram defense. The Wolverines didn’t shoot the ball great from three point range – just 6-of-20 – but still finished with an impressive 57% effective field goal percentage.

It was VCU that was touted as the team with dangerous ‘spurtability’ but Michigan went on a number of huge runs. The Wolverines had two stretches where they made five consecutive field goals and two different stretches where they hit six out of seven consecutive attempts. VCU never managed to string together more than three consecutive makes and allowed the game to slip away.

This wasn’t a VCU-style game, it was a Michigan game. The game was played at a comfortable but brisk 65 possession pace and Michigan outscored the Rams in nearly every superlative category: 12-6 in second chance, 40-34 in the paint and most impressively 15-4 in fast break scoring.

The key to Michigan’s win was its dominance on the backboard at each end of the floor; something it hasn’t managed often in the last month. The Wolverines rebounded over 80% of VCU’s missed shots and over 40% of their own missed shots. Michigan imposed its will down low thanks to the emergence of Mitch McGary. The abundance of clean defensive rebounds also helped eliminate prime pressing opportunities for the Rams and helped generate secondary break opportunities for Michigan’s offense.

Michigan had ample defensive rebounding opportunities because it was finally able to buckle down and force some missed shots. VCU struggled with long range shooting, 3-of-16 (19%), and was slightly below average inside the arc at 47%. Overall Michigan held the Rams to a 42% effective field goal percentage and just .81 points per trip, their second worst offensive output of the season.

How good was Michigan’s defense? This was the Wolverines’ best per-possession defensive performance since December 20th against Eastern Michigan.

Next up is the Sweet 16 in Dallas, Texas where the Wolverines will face the winner of Kansas and North Carolina (Sunday, 5:15 p.m.). Anything less than the Sweet 16 would have felt like a massive disappointment for this team but now the Wolverine will head to Dallas within reach of one of their ultimate goals: win two games at Cowboy Stadium and advance to the Final Four.

Bryan Fuller

Player Bullets

  • Mitch McGary: McGary dominated the weekend at the Palace and played the best game of his Michigan career on Saturday afternoon. McGary took two charges, crippled a VCU defender on a screen and dominated the defensive glass. But he was also the difference maker on the offensive end for the Wolverines as he scored 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting and grabbed four offensive rebounds in 34 minutes. McGary was everywhere on the floor and looked like the five-star prospect that scouts were enamored with in the Summer of 2011.Graham Brown would be proud of this screen:
  • Glenn Robinson III: McGary’s former SYF Players AAU teammate must have felt like the two were back out on the circuit as he had himself a big game as well. Robinson finished with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds, two steals and two assists. Robinson is Michigan’s best finisher in unsettled situations – residual action as John Beilein puts it – and he must have loved the easy opportunities that Big Ten teams have done such a good job of eliminating.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Watching Hardaway dribble the ball up the floor against VCU’s pressure to open the game was somewhat reassuring as he managed the feat with relative ease. Hardaway was a combined 8-of-12 from three point range in this weekend’s NCAA tournament games; his teammates were just 7-of-28 from long range. His timely shooting carried Michigan through a lot of tough stretches offensively.
  • Trey Burke: Burke had a season high seven turnovers (over half of Michigan’s 12) but he played very well other than some dicey stretches. Burke finished with 18 points on 6-of-14 (2-6 3pt) shooting with seven assists (and the aforementioned seven turnovers). He had a patented midcourt steal and layup early on to set the tone and did a great job of finding his other weapons in breakout situations.
  • Nik Stauskas: Stauskas was 0-4 from three but still had a strong game. He finished with eight points on 2-of-7 shooting with three rebounds, an assist and zero turnovers. Stauskas handled the pressure defense fine and was aggressive taking it to the rack several times; evident by his four free throw attempts.
  • Spike Albrecht: Albrecht wasn’t fazed by the press and made arguably his best play of the game – a left handed bounce pass in transition to Glenn Robinson for an easy basket. Albrecht also stuck an open three and played 14 quality minutes. His ball handling wasn’t just steady against the VCU pressure, he was aggressive and looking to make plays as well.
  • Jon Horford: Horford missed a tip in that he probably should have dunked and grabbed two rebounds in five minutes. He also had a nice kick out for a three pointer in the lane. Still this was a solid performance and it is becoming clear that Horford has leapfrogged Morgan in the rotation, but if McGary keeps playing like this (and stays out of foul trouble) then there might not be much playing time for either player.
  • Caris LeVert:: LeVert was one Michigan guard that did look a bit rattled against the pressure and he missed both of his field goal attempts; an open three and a drive to the basket. His potential is clear but he’s been fairly ineffective since the win over Michigan State.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan did not play and something is clearly off; after the game Bacari Alexander noted that Morgan’s timing was off since his injury and that was affecting his overall game.
  • Mith

    “Anything less than the Sweet 16 would have felt like a massive disappointment for this team”
    I agree completely. Now that we got out of the opening weekend, I feel like I can relax. The season will be a success in my mind even if they lose the next game. That said, I feel like I can just sit back and enjoy the week and we’ll just see what happens.

    • jemblue

      Same here. We had to end the Sweet 16 drought, especially after last year. But now, whatever happens is icing on the cake.

    • gobluemd16

      While I agree that it is relieving and feels great to get out of the opening weekend, we shouldn’t just settle for making it this far. This is a top 10 team and winning a game or two more should be something to strive for, we are not done yet! Especially with Trey, Tim, and possibly Glenn leaving too, this is a great chance to make the Final Four.

      • Mattski

        Agree–make it to the round of 8 and we are where we belong among the best.

      • Indiana_Matt

        I know the word seems to be Tim leaving. But isn’t he projected as a second rounder? Why leave with no guaranteed money. Well, I guess his family isn’t exactly strapped for cash. I just want him back so bad!

        • Zach JOnes


        • AADave

          He might go in the second round but as I’ve said many times before, whoever passes on him in the draft is making a huge mistake. He’s not completely polished but he has all the tools and an extremely high ceiling. He’s a lottery caliber pick.

          He should go pro after this year and make anybody who passes on him regret it.

          • Indiana_Matt

            His improvement this year has been phenomenal. Pulling for him, whatever happens. Let’s just say if he came back I would not be angry.

      • Billiam

        I think you’re misunderstanding him. Mith is saying that He As A Fan can relax. The team should still strive for greatness, but Mith himself doesn’t have to go crazy — he can merely relax as he watches Michigan excel. I think people get confused on this argument a little…

        • Mith

          Yeah, all I’m saying is that if they lose I feel like I can shrug my shoulders, close the door on a nice season and move on to baseball. If they had lost yesterday, I would have spent the offseason with a little pit in my stomach about how this program can’t even if make it to the Sweet 16.
          Of course I want them to win more games and I do realize this is a great opportunity to make the Final 4, but I am content if that doesn’t happen. Just my opinion!

          • jakelam2116

            Perspective is the key. Regardless of what will happen Friday, if you look at the whole picture and how Beilein’s building up the program, it’s impossible not to be happy with this season.

    • $584645

      Not sure how we can go from massive disappointment to a success with one win. For me, anything less than he final four will be a disappointment, especially with no conference title.

      • Mith

        I’m not sure that there are rules to this…it just feels like a big difference getting to the second weekend I guess. To each his own…

  • ColinNer

    A couple of notes on the game:

    1) Michigan matches up really well against teams that are predicated on turnovers creating quick baskets. In the last 2+ years Michigan has had great games against VCU, Memphis, and Tennessee (all on neutral courts). Seems a little strange that they fell behind at Arkansas last year.

    2) Michigan played great today. They showed the national media they are national title contenders. They also showed the most loyal Michigan basketball fans that the swagger is still there. If Stauskas hits a couple of his threes and Trey doesn’t dribble the ball into the corner as often, Michigan could have beaten any team in the country today even if their opposition played their best (Indiana and Louisville included).

    • jemblue

      In the Arkansas game last year, Ark literally didn’t miss for 10 minutes. That was the main problem. We dominated the final 30 minutes but that early deficit killed us.

  • Mattski

    Good stuff. Are you saying that the Final Four is in sight because a win over Florida or SDSU is not hart to contemplate, or just forgetting that little additional hurdle?

    You guys can take a few days off, I hope!

  • JimC

    Three highlights:

    3) Mitch leveling that skinny dude, that you have the fabulous .gif here.

    2) Spike’s left-handed bounce pass to GRIII for the slam

    1) THJ’s behind the back “oh no he didn’t” dunk late in the game.

    • gobluemd16

      Please let these all be a part of the key plays!

    • jakelam2116

      Spike’s pass was incredible. When he made that, I immediately thought: Magic Johnson, Lakers. That one-handed, lefty bouncer was Magic’s staple.

  • David

    One thing to take away from 3 days of action is that the Big Ten is really tough, especially when it comes to half-court defense and the ability to eliminate easy buckets (i.e., “residual action).

    I think the faster tempo of either Kansas or North Carolina will be good for us. I would much favor those opponents over, say, Syracuse who plays slower but can really lock down in the halfcourt.

  • Wayman Britt

    This game will help UM mentally. We all know they do great when they can get transition opportunities.

    If KU wins we will still need Morgan for interior defense. Mitch had a great game, but still could get in foul trouble with a team with a post presence.

    • gobluemd16

      I agree, I just hope JMo’s confidence and psyche are somewhat in tact because we will NEED him if we play Kansas. Can’t imagine what it feels like to go from starting every game to not playing a single minute (maybe, 30 seconds) in two tournament games. Not only was he lacking confidence around the rim before, but his ego must be hurting a little too. Everyone still loves him and at some point we will need his defense, rebounding, and experience

  • David

    One more note: KenPom got gamed in this one. He should have modeled it as a “semi-home” game and did not. His model also gave VCU far too much credit for their 46-point win over depleted Akron, which on a per-possession basis biased his data and bumped VCU’s ranking up about 10 places.

  • JeremyS

    What an amazing game Michigan played! I agree, it was the best of the year. McGary has really stepped up to a new level.

    But this is the type of team that Michigan has dominated all year long. Its the lock-down half court defensive teams that Michigan has struggled with. Kansas is a top 5 defense and will be a real challenge. But I’m not going to think about again that until Monday. Here’s to a great weekend!

  • AG

    Man, oh man. That West region is a disaster! You might as well pencil in Ohio State for the Final Four

    • Kenny

      gonzaga was highly overrated anyway. buckeyes was clearly the favorite to win the region.

      • gobluemd16

        I can happily say that I picked Wichita State over Gonzaga. The rest of that bracket is screwed for me besides Ohio St., however. Big Ten is proving it is by far the best conference in America

    • Jeff

      Yep, they’ve definitely had the red carpet rolled out for them. The only legit threat I see is Arizona.

  • Champswest

    I hope Devin Booker was watching today.

  • ChathaM

    That was an extremely impressive win. My worry was that the freshmen, and Hardaway, wouldn’t be able to handle the VCU pressure, and that the game could get away early. But, the freshmen, except for Caris, were outstanding with the ball. I never would have guessed that Hardaway would spend so much time with the ball in the backcourt and not be a turnover waiting to happen; so impressive. Beilein and staff had the guys prepared beautifully, and they were smart to keep Caris on the bench after he’d looked so uncertain in his few minutes of play. This should keep the criticism of Beilein to a minimum as well, which will be a nice break (until the next loss, of course).

    I thought that both teams left a lot of points out there in the first 16 minutes. There were a lot of open looks (UM threes, VCU runners in the lane) that were missed.

    VCU doesn’t transition from fullcourt to halfcourt defence well at all. If you break their initial pressure (usually between half and three quarter court, but sometimes not truly until just across halfcourt), you can attack the lane pretty easily, and UM did that all day. They really do gamble a little too much for their own good at times. That was another great bit of coaching; to not settle for breaking the press, but to break it and look for immediate shot opportunities.

    If you recorded the game, watch some of the second half’s key plays and keep an eye on the reactions from the UM bench. Fantastic.

  • CDeSana

    This game showed a few things that some here always thought were the case and maybe just maybe took others a little more time figuring out.
    – Mitch is not only a very good basketball player but a great athlete.

    – We have a lot of options when it comes to handling the ball.
    * I think if we would have taken advantage of this earlier in the year we would have won the Big 10 Title.

    The biggest key to the game was that starters THjr, Nik, GRIII and Spike off the bench were able to handle the “havoc” of VCU; and give Trey a rest now and then. This will pay dividends going forward not only for the rest of this year but next as well.

    Nik is struggling to find his rhythm from behind the 3 pt line; he seems to be hesitating/thinking too much before he lets it go. To be honest it does not really bother me because his turnovers are wayyyyyyyyy down; and the stroke will come back hopefully sooner than later.

    GRIII showed where his real strength is in this game; he is so smooth in the mid range game and we simply need to run more plays for him getting a shot at the elbow.

    Last but not least lets hope Timmy continues to play great confidence; his handles, shot and decisions are top notch right now.

  • David

    I think there’s a decent shot that all 5 of our starters have at least a short NBA career. They all bring at least one pro-level skill and decent-to-good size.

    • gobluemd16

      I believe all 5 starters today will be drafted at some point, for sure. Glenn, Trey, and Tim would all get drafted this year, and possibly even McGary based on his potential and play so far in the tournament. Nik will get there too once he improves his strength and defense because he has a defined NBA skill, shooting.

  • section13row15

    anyone else notice that Trey burke is sharing the ball better and getting teammates involved more which seemed to be his m.o. early in the season. When everyone is a threat in this offense it makes it nearly impossible to guard. Doesn’t hurt that McGary is all over the place making plays-he is playing out of his mind right now.

    • rlcBlue

      The consensus in the Big Ten formed after OSU beat us in Columbus; the way to stop Michigan’s offense is to get back in transition and to defend the pick and roll as a two man game, never, ever by leaving the shooters. Basically they were only willing to let Burke beat them by scoring or hitting the roll man. The shooters were not open.

      I’m not sure why South Dakota State didn’t want to use the same strategy – maybe they didn’t trust their guards and posts to defend the P&R that way – but sagging off the shooters to keep Burke out of the lane obviously only worked to keep Burke’s point total down. As a way to win the game, it was a catastrophe.

      VCU only knows one way to defend, and it was going to lead to many open court baskets for one team or the other. Happily it was our team that it worked for.

  • Mr_Sledge

    Up until the game against Akron, I kind of liked Shaka Smart until he ran up the score against a depleted Akron team by continuing to press when his team was up 30 pts with like 8 mins to go. This throttling was the worst loss since Smart has been at VCU and was well deserved.

  • Chris in NC

    Dang, my body aches in sympathy of Weber. He didn’t even budge McGary when they collided…

  • A2JD

    Stauskas stats:

    Nik has only shot 34% (33-97) from 3 since the B1G season started. He shot 57% (39-69) before that. He’s 1 for his last 12.

    Come back soon, Nikki Buckets!

    On the bright side, he’s made 32 of his last 34 FT’s.

  • CDeSana

    Was anyone else listening during the VCU game when the announcers called Morgan a Sr.? Is there a chance he may not be back for his 5th year?