Saturday, April 6, 2013
Making their first Final Four appearance since 1993, Michigan meets fourth seeded Syracuse, one of two Big East teams remaining in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Fresh off yesterday's reception of the 2013 John R. Wooden and Oscar Robinson National Player of the year awards, Trey Burke figures to be the X-factor for the Wolverines. Though Burke's points are down during the NCAA Tournament from his regular season totals, the sophomore's game changing heroics saved Michigan's season against Kansas. Burke is one of the few players in the NCAA with the capability to take over games, and has done so on several occasions throughout the season.
Michigan head coach John Beilein and Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim are no strangers to one another. During nine years coaching at division II LeMoyne college, Beilein would often listen to Syracuse games on the radio, and occasionally see Boeheim in the stands. As a coach at West Virginia, Beilein compiled a 0-8 record against Boeheim, and is looking for his first win ever against the Hall-of-Fame head coach.
Matchup to watch: Michigan offense vs. Syracuse defense
Out of the four remaining teams, The Wolverines have arguably the deepest and most complete rotation. Guards Trey Burke (15.5 ppg, 7.8 apg) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (13.5 ppg, 3 apg) offer the complete package of shooting, driving, and dishing, while Mitch McGary (17.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg), and Glenn Robinson III (13.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) have dominated on the boards. Nik Stauskas (12.3 ppg) is the NCAA Tournament's most accurate three point shooter, and went 6-6 from behind the arc in Michigan's 79-59 Elite 8 win over Florida.
Syracuse has thrived defensively in their four Tournament victories, thanks to a stingy 2-3 zone defense focused on attacking opposing offenses. The Orange are surrendering a mere 45.8 points per game, and held Montana (34), Marquette (39), and Indiana (50) to their lowest point totals of the season. Syracuse's opponents have shot 28.9% from the floor and 15.4% from three-point range.
"It's incredible," acknowledged Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "I would have never thought those numbers would be possible."
When Michigan is on defense...
The Wolverines have had mixed results. Michigan is surrendering 63.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, and opponents are shooting 45% from the field. Thanks to the most athletic roster he's ever coached, John Beilein hasn't needed the 1-3-1 zone in this year's tournament, and Michigan's pressure man-to-man scheme has limited opponents to 25% shooting behind the arc.
The size of Syracuse's forwards may present a problem for the Wolverines. Standing at 6-8, 210 pounds each are junior C.J. Fair (14.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg), senior James Southerland (13.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg), and freshman Jerami Grant (4 ppg, 2.8 rpg). Fair and Southerland each shoot over 40% from three point range.
"We feel like it creates matchup problems for opposing defenses," said Fair of the forwards' ability to shoot the three.
The meeting is the first between the Michigan and Syracuse since November 26, 2010, in which the Orange defeated the Wolverines 53-50. A total of 17 of the 30 roster players from that game will also be on Saturday's rosters.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Quick Recap: The Wolverines, who led by 12 points early, had to overcome a 12-point deficit of their own last night to defeat the Purdue Boilermakers and keep their Big Ten title hopes alive. Tyrone Johnson scored 32 points for Purdue, who fell to the 7-10 in the Big Ten. Michigan, at 12-5, moved to within one game of the Hoosiers for first place in the Big Ten.
Burke to the Rescue Again: After submitting one of his worst 20-minute stretches of play throughout the entire season in the first half, Trey Burke scored 22 points in the 2nd half and propelled Michigan to victory in a tough road environment. Burke was the offensive catalyst for the Wolverines in their 21-8 run during a 7-minute stretch in the second half in which Michigan retook the lead at 61-60 with 4:16 to play. Burke was money from the free throw line down the stretch, going 7-8 in the last minute of the game to ice away the victory. His performance only strengthened an already compelling Big Ten and National player of the year resume.
Mental Lapses on Defense Continue: Ten minutes into the first half, the Wolverines, leading 21-9, looked like they were going to cruise to a blowout victory, while Purdue looked erratic on offense. Suddenly, Michigan seemed to relax their focus on defense, a constant theme on the road as of late, and Purdue responded with 4 three-pointers and a 34-30 lead to close the half. Michigan lost their toughness near the basket, got lazy closing out on jump shooters and struggled to secure defensive rebounds. Even though Michigan eventually made up for it on the offensive end, their weak defensive trends continued into the second half and will continue to plague the Wolverines and limit their ceiling in March if they do not get tougher and more committed to their defensive game-plan.
Stauskas Back Strong: Nik Stauskas showed no ill effects of the elbow he took to the face against Michigan State that sidelined him for most of the game on Sunday. He came out aggressive on offense, notching 17 points, including two 2 three-pointers, along with 8 trips to the free throw, 7 of which he converted. His confidence is essential to opening up Michigan’s offense and will be pivotal for the Wolverines to make a deep run in March.
Big Picture: Despite the erratic rollercoaster of a game, it was nice to see Michigan hold their composure facing adversity on the road. This would have been a crushing and mentally debilitating defeat at this point in the season. The Wolverines played with a little extra chip on their shoulder, looking like a team in desperate search for a championship. They have the opportunity to go out there and seal one on their home court on Sunday against Indiana. There’s really not much more that any Michigan fan could ask for.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Quick Recap: Michigan survived a wacky end to their contest against Michigan State, defeating the Spartans 58-57. The victory vaults Michigan into a 4-way tie for 2nd place in the Big Ten at 11-5 with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. This means that Indiana has clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title. For the Wolverines though, this victory was a huge mental boost to a team that struggled against elite Big Ten competition in the past month.
Big Time Players Make Big Time Plays: Michigan’s only points in the last 2:53 of the game came courtesy of their leader, Trey Burke. With Michigan State in the midst of a 7-0 run to tie the game at 56, Keith Appling brought the ball up the court with 32 seconds left and Michigan State looking to holding for the final shot. As Appling gazed to the bench to attempt to call a timeout, Trey Burke smartly went for a steal, got it, and streaked uncontested up the court to the Michigan basket for a flush. Later, on the game’s final possession, Trey Burke picked off Gary Harris’s attempted pass to Appling with under 2 seconds remaining to play, allowing Michigan to escape with the victory. Burke finished with another player-of-the-year resume building afternoon, posting 21 points, 8 assists, 5 steals, and 4 rebounds.
Two Bigs on the Court? Throughout the season, coach Beilein has received some criticism for under-utilizing Michigan’s post players. With 3 legitimate post-men in Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary and Jon Horford, Beilein rarely showed any lineups featuring two of them on the court at the same time. However, this afternoon, against a Spartan team that historically uses two post-oriented players on the court 100% of the time, Beilein finally decided to match them. This lineup decision may have been coming with or without the matchup against the Spartans, as Michigan’s defense, particularly their rebounding, has struggled of late. This alignment was used for close to 65% of the game, and it worked perfectly, as Jordan Morgan matched up well at the power-forward position guarding the lengthy Adrian Payne, who was a matchup nightmare for Glenn Robinson III.
Caris Pushing for a Starting Spot: Nik Stauskas suffered an elbow to the face, right above his left eye, early in the game and did not return. Therefore, Caris Levert spent much of the game at shooting guard, making up for Staukas’s lost offense with brilliant man-to-man defense. He may find himself starting soon if Michigan continues to emphasize defense moving forward.
Big Picture: Michigan badly needed this victory to re-legitimize themselves as national title contenders. Furthermore, we saw a Michigan team that looked like they were playing with an extra edge that will be necessary to advance far in March. The Wolverines showed that correcting their defensive woes are a top priority and that their mental toughness can no longer be questioned. The Spartans threw every punch at Michigan and they responded, defending their home court in an almost personal way. The Wolverines put to bed any questions of whether they can compete on an elite level and they turned a corner as a team, right as the calendar flipped to March. Next matchup is Wednesday at Purdue.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Quick Recap: The Wolverines suffered an inexplicable mental collapse in State College, falling 84-78 to Penn State, previously 0-14 in Big Ten play. Michigan led by 66-51 with over 10 minutes to play, but did not convert a field goal in the last 6 minutes and 37 seconds of the game. With the loss, Michigan has fallen out of contention for the Big Ten title, now trailing Indiana by two full games with three to play.
The Defense…Disappeared: Penn State scored 48 points in the 2nd half of tonight’s game. There is not much that can be said to justify that sort offensive output from the worst team in the Big Ten. This erased much of the progress on defense that was made in the previous matchup against Illinois. The presence of Jordan Morgan back in the starting lineup did not have much of an impact on Michigan’s ability to rebound the basketball or defend the pick-and-roll, as Penn State carved up the Wolverine defense, just like many other teams have in the past seven games.
Moving Forward? This game only illuminated many of the flaws in the Wolverines that seemed to reveal themselves throughout the tough February schedule. Most observers tended to pass off those flaws due to Michigan’s youth and the level of competition Michigan faced going up against the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana all in a two-week stretch. However tonight, it was clear that those flaws still exist. Michigan’s defense is below average. Their crunch time offense is very one-dimensional. The Wolverines rarely open basketball games with energy and urgency. And John Beilein can’t seem to find an on court combination of players that balance good offense and good defense equally.
Big Picture: Michigan can easily erase this mentally debilitating loss by beating Sparty on Sunday. For now though, Michigan has probably slid out of contention for a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament and will now need to fight just to get a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. There are still many opportunities for the Wolverines to correct their flaws and end the season on a high note. But they will have to do it against superior competition and can ill-afford any more mental lapses like tonight. We will find out a lot about the character of the players on this team and their coach on Sunday against Michigan State.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Quick Recap: The Michigan Wolverines played their most complete basketball game in what seemed like quite a long time, topping the Fighting Illini by a score of 71-58. Michigan kept pace in a crowding race for second place in the Big Ten, improving to 23-4 on the season and 10-4 in conference play. The Wolverines turned a 31-28 halftime deficit into a blowout in the second half, putting up 43 points while looking like the Wolverines that rose to #1 in the country earlier this season.
Finally….Some Defense: After a lackadaisical defensive performance allowing 71 points to Penn State, following a rough stretch of 4 games where Michigan’s defense was, well, not very good, John Beilein finally found a combination that worked for him on that end of the floor. After starting center Mitch McGary picked up his 3rd foul early in the 2nd half, Beilein went back to the veteran Jordan Morgan and Michigan went on a 12-3 run and never looked back. Caris LeVert played the majority of the final 10 minutes of the game in place of Nik Stauskas, whose poor defensive performances of the past month have made him somewhat of a liability when his shots aren’t falling. Sporting the lineup of Burke, LeVert, Hardaway, Robinson and Morgan, the Wolverines put on an absolute clinic on defense, holding Illinois to 18 points over the first 17 minutes of the 2nd half. Illinois’s 3 starting guards combined for 10 turnovers and Michigan held the hot shooting Illini to 32% from 3-point territory.
Glenn Robinson III is Back: Sure, a modest 10-point and 3 rebound performance is not anything to get overly exited about. But Glenn Robinson appeared as if his energy level has heightened back to the point where it was earlier in the season when his athleticism was such a crucial part of Michigan’s success. Robinson was on the receiving end of 2 dunks, one on a nifty pass from Jordan Morgan, and he took his jump shots with a confidence that was unseen in the past month against the Big Ten’s best. This performance, along with last week’s dunk-fest against Penn State, will hopefully restore Robinson’s confidence back to the point where he’ll be able to make an impact on a bigger stage against better competition.
Trey Burke’s Stats Continue to Impress: Trey Burke, amid all of Michigan’s recent struggles, is quietly amassing performance after performance of unparalleled efficiency. Burke scored 26 points on 8-11 shooting, including 8-10 from the free throw line, to go along with 8 assists and only 1 turnover. This followed a 29-point performance on 16 shots against Penn State. The more Trey Burke impresses, the more Michigan fans realize that they might not see another player like him come along in the next 20 years. I’m not sure if he’ll win national player of the year, but if he continues to operate at this high level of play, he might singlehandedly lead Michigan deep in March and potentially April.
Big Picture: This was a game Michigan absolutely could not afford to lose if they wanted to keep their slim Big Ten title hopes alive. Michigan’s home winning streak is up to 15 and they remain the only in the Big Ten without a loss at home. Positive momentum heading into matchups against Michigan State and Indiana will be crucial. Next matchup is Wednesday at Penn State.