The (#10) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played two games in the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis last week, and they won one and lost one. On Friday (03/09/2012) they beat Minnesota 73-69 (overtime), then on Saturday (03/10/2012) they lost to (#7) Ohio State 77-55. The win and the loss leave Michigan with a record of 24-9 (13-5 in the Big Ten).
It was a forgettable Big Ten Tournament for Michigan. Sure, they won a game, but they played very poorly in that one, and were lucky to pull out the win. They played even worse in the loss to OSU. It was not very encouraging, and it probably cost UM their presumed #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they are a #4 seed in the Midwest Regional (Nashville). More on that in a minute. First, let’s take a look at the two games in the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan entered the Big Ten Tournament on a real “up”, having grabbed a share (with Michigan State and Ohio State) of the Big Ten regular season title. They won their last 2 games, both on the road, and they were the #2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. They got a “bye” on Thursday, and got to watch the #10 seed (Minnesota) go to overtime to upset the #7 seed (Northwestern). They were confident and rested, and Minnesota was tired from a tough game on Thursday. So, what did Michigan do? They played a miserable first 35 minutes, and found themselves down 9 points (54-45) with 4:37 left in the game. It looked like they were sunk, but they kept battling, and they managed to force overtime. They played well in the overtime period, and won fairly easily, but the first 35 minutes of the game were embarrassing.
On Saturday, Michigan had another slow start, and this time they dug themselves a hole way too deep to climb out of. When Michigan beat Ohio State in Crisler last month, they did it by carefully managing the game. They controlled the tempo, and they kept Jared Sullinger well-guarded. Not on Saturday. They let OSU control the tempo, and Sullinger ran wild. Once he got going, no one could stop him. It was a bloodbath. It was by far the worst loss of the season.
The stats tell the story of both games. In the Minnesota game, Michigan shot pretty well overall (24-for-49 = 49.0%), shot very well from 3-point range (8-for-17 = 47.1%), and shot well enough from the free-throw line (17-for-25 = 68.0%). They lost the rebounding battle, as usual, 37-25, and they won the turnover battle, as usual, 16-9. The stats for the Ohio State game are miserable. Michigan shot poorly overall (17-for-55 = 30.9%), they shot terribly from 3-point range (4-for-25 = 16.0%), and they did OK at the free-throw line (17-for-22 = 77.3%). Amazingly, they tied OSU in rebounds, 37-37, but they lost the turnover battle, 18-11. The 3-point shooting and the turnovers more than explain the loss.
Individually, only Tim Hardaway Jr. hit double figures in both games, with 20 points vs. Minnesota and 13 points vs. Ohio State. Two other starters hit double figures in one game: Trey Burke had a career-high 30 points vs. Minnesota, but he had a career-low 5 points vs. OSU. Zack Novak had 6 points in the Minnesota game and 10 points in the OSU game. The other two starters (Stu Douglass – 5 and 8, and Jordan Morgan – 7 and 3) weren’t much of a factor offensively.
The bench wasn’t much of a factor in the Minnesota game (Matt Vogrich – 2 points, Evan Smotrycz – 3 points), but Smotrycz did hit the clutch 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. Vogrich had 4 points in the OSU game, Smotrycz had 2, and Colton Christian had 1, but since the OSU game was a blowout loss at the end, Coach Beilein emptied the bench, and everyone played, and a couple of the practice-team players looked pretty good. Josh Bartelstein hit his only shot, a 3-pointer, and Corey Person went 3-for-3, and one of his baskets was an “and-1”, which he made, so he scored a career-high 7 points in 3 minutes. He out-scored 4 of the “mainstream” players: Trey Burke, Jordan Morgan, Matt Vogrich, and Evan Smotrycz.
The Nothing But ‘Net Expectation-O-Meter (NBNEOM) continues to point to “Exceeds Expectations”. The Big Ten Tournament was forgettable, but Michigan is still doing much better than anyone expected.
On to the NCAA Tournament! Michigan is the #4 seed in the Midwest Regional, and they play on Friday (03/16/2012) in Nashville vs. the #13 seed, Ohio University. The time and TV coverage hasn’t been announced yet. As a #4 seed, Michigan actually has a reasonable path to the Sweet 16 this year. In the past 2 trips to the Big Dance, Michigan has had a winnable first game (Clemson in 2009 and Tennessee in 2011), but a tough 2nd round game (Oklahoma and Duke, respectively). This year, if Michigan can beat Ohio (and they should), they will face the winner of the 5/12 game on Sunday. The #5 seed is Temple, and they would be a challenging opponent, but not as challenging as Oklahoma in 2009 and Duke last year. The #12 seed is the winner of a “First Four” play-in game between California (Berkeley) and South Florida.
Check back next week to see what happened, and why.