Saturday, December 6, 2008

UM/Duke Recap: Everyone On The Bandwagon!

A packed house at Crisler. Top 5 opponent. National TV.

In a type of game that they routinely struggled with in the past, the Wolverines rose to the occasion as they beat Duke at home for the first time since 1997.  This was their second time beating the 4th ranked team this year (UCLA @ MSG last month) and now boast one of the best non-conference resumes in the country.  It was the type of win that teams wish they had when they are one of the last few teams left out of the Big Dance in March.

Side note: Give the Men's Basketball program a lot of credit for going back to the yellow jerseys with black shoes/socks.  It was as close a respectful nod to the Fab Five as we have seen in quite some time, and the closest thing Michigan has with regards to a throw-back look.  We might not see the Fab Five prominently displayed in the arena, the move was a great idea that a lot of fans enjoyed.  It showed this program had not forgotten its rich history and storied rivalry with another historic program.

A couple things to take away from the win:

Brick by Brick: Duke shot 2-18 from 3pt range in the first half and, at one point were 4-28 from beyond the arc.  Kyle Singler went 1 for 9 BY HIMSELF!  Even Anthony Wright was telling him "Man, your shot selection really needs to be better." Duke is notorious for establishing a low-post presence and kicking it back out to the wings for a 3-pt shot.  Beilein's quirky 1-3-1 completely shut down the wings, and Duke was forced to take outside shots from well beyond the arc.  While they were able to find their rhythm down the stretch, it was "too little too late" for the Blue Devils.  Couple that with the fact Michigan shot 44% from long-range and Duke was doomed.

Also, Michigan did a terrific job on the glass.  They managed to out-rebound Duke 35-34 and limited 2nd chance opportunities to only 10 the entire game.  Keep in mind, this is a team that couldn't out-rebound a GLIAC team a few weeks ago.   Michigan has done a great job in adjusting their game week-to-week and Coach Beilein deserves a lot of credit for this.  The system is working.

Calm, Collected and..."Oh, @#$&!!!! We are down by 7"... It was interesting to watch Duke's demeanor change from the beginning of the game and how they reacted in the second half.  For much of the first half, Duke  looked poised and calm running their offensive sets ( Coach K remained in his seat until the 9 minute mark in the 1st half).  However, in the second half, Duke looked rushed after Michigan made a run coming out of a timeout late in the second half with about 6 minutes left.  The knock against Duke (as it has been with storied programs, like Michigan football) is that they show up and sometimes expect teams to wilt because of their reputation.  It's this lack of focus that cripples them when their opponent hits them in the mouth.  Consider this game the "round-house righthand" to Duke's jaw.

However, I have a lot more respect for Coach K after today than I did before.   I know people hate on him and Duke the same way people hate on the Yankees, but I have a new found respect for him. In hearing him speak to the media afterwords, he talked about how great the Crisler fans were and how proud Michigan should be for boasting not only a great team, but also a great academic program.  He's a class act and is definitely deserving of his place as one of the greats of all-time.

The 3rd Shooter:  One of Michigan's biggest problems this season has been their inability to find scoring from Sims and Harris.  Today, that issue was solved by Zack Novak's 14 pts and 4-7 3pt off the bench.  At times, Novak showed signs of brilliance by hitting bomb after bomb whether it was coming off a screen or in transition.  Novak played well and he needed to, especially after Stu Douglass got two quick fouls, definantly pouted to Coach Beilein,  and decided to mail-in the rest of the game.  It'll be interesting to see how Douglass responds after his 2nd straight sub-par game and whether or not Novak's performance, and recent play, warrants a starting spot against EMU.  

Speaking of starters, I really liked Beilein's decision to start Senior Jevohn Shepard instead of Wright.  Wright's on-the-ball defense was great, but Shepard's athleticism and ability to rebound was a real advantage against Duke.  It also eliminated any chance of Wright getting trigger happy and "heat-checking" five times before he realizes he has totally taken his team out of the game. Shepard gave Michigan another athletic body to throw at Gerald Henderson, who had one spectacular put-back in the first half and then disappeared.  Credit Shepard for kidnapping Henderson's game (and, at times, doing the same to Singler).

Sims' Meteoric Rise:  I still can't figure out whether John Beilein was trying to motivate Sims by bringing him off the bench to start the season, or if Sims was really that bad in the pre-season as to warrant playing under Zach Gibson for 5 games.  Either way, Sims played one of the best big game performances I have seen in a long time.  Duke had no answer for this guy.  They threw Zoubek at him, and Sims hit the jumper he was given.  If it was Singler or Thomas, he used a variety of nice low-post moves (including a nice lefty hook that could be a weapon if developed properly).  Sims had a swagger in his step, and at one point, looked like he was about to flash the famous "I don't know what's going on" shrug that Jordan used on the Blazers in the early 90's.  A career day, a big win, and a statement to all those who thought Manny Harris was the only All-Conference player on this team.

Here they come... :  It was a sold out crowd of over 13,000 people at Crisler, many of whom hadn't been there since the last time Michigan beat Duke.  In talking with an alum I happened to be sitting next to during the game, he told me about how today's crowd was nothing compared to how crowded Crisler would get when the Fab Five would play.  It didn't matter if it was Duke or Little Sisters of the Poor, he talked about how students would look forward to basketball just as much as football season and how much fun the games were.  This made me feel sorry for student fans who have come and gone in the past ten years without having experienced what that feels like.  While today's crowd was great, I'm not sure how many people will be back until Michigan meets MSU in a few months.  However, a ranking will certainly help their chances at consistently filling Crisler.  This, plus the fact that students are now aware they can experience the rest these games for free (sans MSU), should help the Wolverines get a healthy student turn-out each week.

I've previously said that Crisler's crowd could help Michigan account for a few big wins this season if enough people and students showed up.  I'm not sure wins get any bigger than the one we saw today.

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