Here are a few early thoughts from Joe. We’ll have some more tempo-free centric thoughts from Dylan posted later tonight or early tomorrow.
It’s safe to say that Michigan’s game against Minnesota in Ann Arbor was the turning point of the season. After playing perhaps their worst game of the year against the Gophers on Jan. 22, the Wolverines held a team meeting before traveling to East Lansing and beating the Spartans. They haven’t looked back since, and Michigan’s 70-63 win against Minnesota at The Barn couldn’t have been a more prominent display of how much this team has improved over the final third of the regular season.
Michigan started the game in a similar fashion to many recent games, getting off to a blazing-hot start from beyond the arc in the opening minutes. Tim Hardaway Jr. was unconscious, nailing four 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the game. But after building up a 12-point lead, the Wolverines went scoreless for the last 5:38 of the first half, during which time Minnesota crawled back with a 10-0 run to cut Michigan’s halftime lead to 35-33. After halftime, it was a dogfight. Michigan simply made the big plays down the stretch that they needed to make to leave with a win.
Michigan heads to the Barn for a battle of bubble teams that could end up an elimination game of sorts. Minnesota has lost six of its last seven games and has seen its once promising tournament hopes collapse after losing both point guards, Devoe Joseph and Al Nolen, to transfer and injury. A month ago, Minnesota was 16-4 and 5-3 in the conference, now they are just 17-10 (6-9). But all hope is not lost in Minnesota. The Gophers three remaining games might be the easiest of any Big Ten team as they host Michigan and Penn State with a road trip to Northwestern. If the Gophers win out, their non-conference wins probably carry enough weight for an NCAA tournament bid. For Michigan, it’s winning time. A loss means that the Wolverines probably need to win the Big Ten Tournament for an NCAA bid.
These two plays are a great way to illustrate how Michigan was able to get Jordan Morgan involved in its offense. It has been noted by many people that Michigan strongly dislikes dumping the ball into the low post. Morgan is usually the one who would be occupying that space, but you rarely see Michigan get him the ball on the block and let him go to work. The biggest reason for that is John Beilein doesn’t think Jordan’s ready for that, and he may be right. So while Jordan spends some time down low, he also spends ample time hovering around the free-throw line and the top of the key. This is where Beilein really likes to have him because of the opportunities it opens up for the pick-and-roll. As you can see on the first play, Jordan hovers around the top of the key and receives the ball. Tim Hardaway Jr. runs his man through two picks (by Darius Morris and Stu Douglass) before getting the handoff from Morgan, which functions as a third pick. Morgan rolls expertly to the basket and Tim finds him for an easy dunk. The second play was just great recognition by Zack Novak. After Novak drew Morgan’s defender on the drive, he dumped the ball off to an open Jordan who finished strong.
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