The (#24) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played 2 games last week, and they won them both. On Monday (11/17/2014), Michigan crushed Bucknell 77-53, then on Thursday (11/20/2014), UM snuck by Detroit 71-62. The 2 wins raise Michigan’s season record to 3-0. Both games were in Crisler Arena, and both games were “regional” games in the Legends Classic. Even though these games are associated with the Legends Classic, they don’t have any effect on the Championship Round in the Barclay Center this week. Michigan and the other 3 “host” teams (Oregon, Villanova, and Virginia Commonwealth) are all guaranteed spots in the Championship Round, regardless of what happens in the 2 “regional” games that they each host.
The 2 games were very different from each other. The Bucknell game was easy and stress-free, and the Detroit game was tense and stressful. In the Bucknell game, Michigan raced out to an early 10-0 lead, and never looked back. They were up 48-19 at halftime, and just toyed with Bucknell in the 2nd half. The UD game was much tougher. The game was tied (7-7) at the 1st media timeout, Michigan led (11-10) at the 2nd media timeout, it was tied again (13-13) at the 3rd media timeout, UD was ahead (24-21) at the 4th media timeout, and they led by 1 (28-27) at halftime. In the 2nd half, UD increased their lead to 4 (34-30), before UM went on a 13-0 run, to finally get some breathing room (43-34). UD kept battling, and managed to get the game tied up again (52-52), with 5:39 left to play. Michigan promptly went on a nice 11-0 run, to put the game out of reach (63-52, with 2:55 left). The lead got as high as 15 (68-53), before UD scored some garbage baskets in the closing seconds to make it a 9-point game.
So, what happened in the UD game? Well, UD was playing with a big chip on their shoulders, and they wanted to prove that they could play with their “big cousin” in Ann Arbor. Most of the players on both teams knew each other from high school, AAU, and summer ball, and the UD players played like they had something to prove. They played way over their heads for much of the game, shooting well over their season and recent historical levels, but those things tend to average out, and they did in this case. UD just couldn’t keep up that level of intensity for 40 minutes. Also, Michigan shot pretty poorly in the 1st half, but that also averaged itself out.
Let’s look at the stats. The stats from the Bucknell game are actually pretty unimpressive, for a blowout win. UM shot fairly well overall (29-for-63 = 46.0%), and they shot a little better from 3-point range (8-for-18 = 44.4%). They didn’t shoot free throws very well (11-for-18 = 61.1%), but they did win the rebounding battle (37-29) and the turnover battle (6-17).
The stats for the Detroit game are surprisingly similar. UM shot decently overall (23-for-53 = 43.4%), they didn’t shoot very well from 3-point range (9-for-24 = 37.5%), but they did shoot pretty well from the free-throw line (16-for-20 = 80.0%). They won the rebounding battle (37-25), and tied in the turnover battle (11-11). It was the 3-point shooting that kept this game so close. At one point late in the 1st half, UM was 1-for-10 (10.0%), before Zak Irvin hit 2 in a row to make it 3-for-12 (25.0%) at halftime. They shot 3-pointers much better in the 2nd half (6-for-12 = 50.0%), which is why they pulled away and won.
Individually, it was the “Big 3″ again: Zak Irvin hit double figures in both games (23 and 18), Caris LeVert hit double figures in one of the games (6 and 21), and Derrick Walton Jr. hit double figures in both games (15 and 16). LeVert may have been the high scorer in the UD game, but Walton was the reason UM won: he played with fire in his eyes, and you could just see that he was not going to lose to all these guys he’s been playing against since middle school.
The big story in the Bucknell game wasn’t Irvin, who played a nice game and was the high scorer, but Max Bielfeldt. He came in early, hit a couple 3-pointers, and kept hustling and scoring. He ended up with 18 points, which is great, especially considering the fact that he only scored 38 points in his first 2 years at Michigan. He followed it up with a solid game vs. Detroit, but only scored 4 points.
The other veteran in the lineup is Spike Albrecht. Spike has been a steady influence on the floor again this season, but his shooting/scoring has been dismal. He only had 2 points vs. Bucknell, but he finally hit a 3-pointer in the UD game, after missing his first 5 attempts this season. He hit another one, for 6 points in the UD game.
Then there are the freshmen, redshirt and otherwise. Kameron Chatman and Mark Donnal both started both games, and they both struggled out there. Chatman had 2 and 4 points, and Donnal had 4 and 2. The other 2 freshmen “big men”, Ricky Doyle and DJ Wilson both played in both games, but they also had a rough week. Doyle did score 7 points in the Bucknell game, but he had 0 points vs. UD. Wilson had 0 points in both games.
Finally, there are the 2 freshmen guards: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins. They both played in the Bucknell game, but not in the UD game. Neither of them scored. Sophomore Sean Lonergan also played in the Bucknell game, but not in the UD game, and also scored 0 points. Not much help from the bench, or the freshmen. UM can get away with that in the early preseason games, but not when the games start getting tougher.
This week, Michigan plays 2 games, both in the Barclay Center in Brooklyn (NY), and both as championship round games in the Legends Classic. On Monday (11/24/2014, 9:00, No TV) they play Oregon, then on Tuesday (11/25/2014, TBA, TBA), they play either (#12) Villanova or (#15) Virginia Commonwealth. Michigan will be favored to beat Oregon, but they will be underdogs vs. Villanova or VCU.
Check back next week to see what happened, and why.