Nothing But ‘Net – Week #12 – 01/14/2019 – Best. Start. Ever.

The (#2) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played two games last week, and they won them both. On Thursday (01/10/2019), they beat Illinois 79-69 in Champaign, then on Sunday (01/13/2019), they beat Northwestern 80-60 in sold-out Crisler Arena. The two wins raise Michigan’s record to 17-0 (6-0 in the Big Ten).

Time for more Questions & Answers:

Q: What’s this about “best start ever”?

A: This season’s Michigan team just set a new school record for the best start ever. The previous record was 16-0, shared by the 1985-86 and 2012-13 teams. Michigan is now one of only two undefeated teams left in the country, along with (#4) Virginia. Going back to last season, which ended with a 14-game winning streak before the loss in the National Championship game vs. Villanova, Michigan has now won 31 of their last 32 games, which is quite a record.

Q: So, were these good, solid wins?

A: Yes, they were. Illinois and Northwestern aren’t contenders for the Big Ten title, in fact Illinois is likely to end up 14th this season, but a 10-point road win and a 20-point home win are both good, solid wins.

In the Illinois game, Michigan led from start to finish, but never quite put the game on ice. They had their chances, but they always missed the crucial shot that would have put the game out of reach. On the other hand, every time Illinois started creeping up, Michigan answered with enough offense to keep them at arm’s length. Michigan kept the lead in the 6-8 point range for most of the game, occasionally stretching it to 10-12 points, and occasionally letting it dwindle to the 3-5 point range.

Michigan also led wire-to-wire in the Northwestern game, but they got the lead up in the 18-20 point range just before halftime, and kept it in the 16-18 point range for most of the 2nd half. Northwestern put on a furious comeback attempt in the 2nd half, but that only got them within 12 points, and Michigan pushed it back up to 20 points pretty quickly. The key stretch in the game came in the last 1:55 of the 1st half. Northwestern had just hit a 3-pointer to pull within 12 points (40-28), when Michigan just exploded. Jon Teske hit a pair of 3-pointers, just 19 seconds apart, Charles Matthews had a steal that led to a breakaway dunk, then Zavier Simpson had another steal that led to a short jumper with 7 seconds left. Those 10 points just crushed any hope Northwestern had of getting back in the game. It was very exciting, and very impressive. It really got the sold-out crowd going.

Q: Any complaints about the officiating this week?

A: Nope. They were mediocre, but in a balanced way.

Q: What do the team stats tell us?

A: The stats weren’t bad this week:

In the Illinois game, Michigan shot pretty well overall (28-for-62 = 45.2%), they shot 3-pointers pretty poorly (5-for-19 = 26.3%), and they shot free throws very well (18-for-22 = 81.8%). They won the rebounding battle (38-30), and they tied in the turnover battle (14-14). The extra 8 possessions due to rebounding made the difference in this game.

In the Northwestern game, Michigan shot very well overall (31-for-59 = 52.5%), they shot 3-pointers well (11-for-27 = 40.7%), and they shot free throws very well (7-for-9 = 77.8%). They won the rebounding battle (33-28) and the turnover battle (9-13). All those extra possessions + good shooting = a 20-point win.

Q: Who looked good for Michigan?

A: Several players had a good week:

  • Zavier Simpson was the high scorer for Michigan in both games, with 16 points vs. Illinois and a career-high 24 points vs. Northwestern. He was brilliant in the Northwestern game, shooting 9-for-17 overall, and 5-for-10 from 3-point range. Those five 3-pointers are a career high for him.
  • Jon Teske was the other big star this week, with double figures in both games (13 and 17 points), and 11 rebounds in each game, for two consecutive double-doubles. He shot very well: 5-for-8 (1-for-3 from 3-point range) vs. Illinois, and 7-for-11 (3-for-5 from deep) vs. Northwestern. He hit all three of his 3-pointers vs. Northwestern in two and a half minutes just before halftime, igniting the offense and the crowd.
  • Charles Matthews also hit double figures in both games (14 and 13 points), and fired up the crowd in the Northwestern game with a couple thunderous dunks. The only downside: poor 3-point shooting (0-for-1 and 0-for-2).
  • Ignas Brazdeikis was the fourth starter who hit double figures in both games (15 and 11 points). He also had trouble with his 3-point shooting (1-for-2 and 0-for-2).
  • Jordan Poole was the only starter who didn’t hit double figures in both games (10 and 7 points). He didn’t shoot 3-pointers well either (1-for-6 and 1-for-3).
  • Isaiah Livers was back, after missing two games with back spasms, and he looked fine out there. He didn’t hit double figures in either game (9 and 8 points), but he provided the spark that he usually brings. He had a mixed week shooting 3-pointers (0-for-3 and 2-for-2).

Q: Who looked not-so-good for Michigan?

A: A couple players had an “off” week:

  • Eli Brooks had another ineffective week, with 2 and 0 points.
  • Austin Davis played a minute or two in each game, but didn’t take a shot.

Q: Who else played?

A: Coach Beilein went with his very short bench (8 players) in the Illinois game, which was close, but put several of the scout team players into the Northwestern game in the last two minutes: David DeJulius, Brandon Johns, Jr., Adrien Nuñez, Rico Ozuna-Harrison, and Luke Wilson. None of them scored.

This was the first time that Ozuna-Harrison has played this season, and I didn’t even realize that he was on the roster. He was a player on the team last season, and at the beginning of this season I reported that he had switched to being a manager, but I guess he’s back on the playing roster. Sorry I didn’t have a short bio of him in the Season Preview, and he certainly would have gotten a solid “Incomplete” in the Midterm Grades. I’ll keep track of him from now on.

Q: Who didn’t play?

A: A couple of the scout team players didn’t play this week: C.J. Baird and Colin Castleton.

Q: What did we learn this week?

A: We learned that Michigan can maintain their solid level of play against the non-contenders in the Big Ten. That’s important. Michigan is tied for 1st place in the Big Ten with the Little Brothers, and they can’t afford to lose a game to any of the non-contenders. They need to win all the games that they’re supposed to win, and play their best games against the other contenders. Those games are coming up soon.

Q: What’s next for Michigan?

A: Michigan only plays one game this week, one on the road. On Saturday (01/19/2019, 12:00 noon EST, ESPN2), they play at Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is currently 11-5 (3-2 in Big Ten), with impressive wins over Xavier, Stanford, Oklahoma, N.C. State, and Iowa, and less-than-impressive losses to Marquette, Western Kentucky, and Minnesota. They have some height (two 7’0″ guys, a 6’11” guy, and a 6’10” guy), and one of the best players in the Big Ten: Ethan Happ. They were ranked for most of the non-conference schedule, until they lost to Western Kentucky and Minnesota in consecutive games. It used to be nearly impossible to beat Wisconsin in the Kohl Center, but the last few seasons have been different. Michigan will have to play very well to beat them, but they are beatable.

That’s it for this week. Check back next week to see how Michigan did.

Go Blue!

Nothing But ‘Net – Week #11 – 01/07/2019 – Good Basketball, Bad Officiating

The (#2) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played two games last week, and they won them both. On Thursday (01/03/2019), they beat Penn State 68-55, then on Sunday (01/06/2019), they beat (#21) Indiana 74-63. Both games were in sold-out Crisler Arena. The two wins raise Michigan’s record to 15-0 (4-0 in the Big Ten).

Time for more Questions & Answers:

Q: I get the “good basketball” part, but what’s up with the “bad officiating” bit?

A: I’ve been watching Big Ten basketball since the 1974-75 season (44 years), and I’m still not used to how bad the officiating can be. This week was particularly bad. In both games, the refs took over in the 2nd half, determined to keep the game close. I counted 12 bad calls in the PSU game, and 10 in the IU game. The really frustrating part was that 8 of the bad calls in the IU game were in a row, all against Michigan, just when UM was about to put the game out of reach. They showed the replays on the scoreboard, and they were all terrible calls. With fair officiating, Michigan wins this game by 25 points.

Q: You’re really going to complain about the officiating when Michigan won both games by double figures?

A: You bet! The refs are supposed to officiate the game without looking at the score, but they really tried hard to keep both games close. UM couldn’t buy a decent call for over 7 minutes in the 2nd half of the IU game. It was ridiculous. The Big Ten has always had mediocre officiating, but these two crews really took it to the extreme. They were just horrible.

Q: Enough of that; let’s hear about the “good basketball”.

A: Michigan played very well in both games, despite the poor officiating (that’s the last time I’ll mention it). Michigan was supposed to beat PSU, probably by more than 13 points, and they played a good solid, unimpressive game against them. Michigan was also favored in the IU game, by 8 points, so they actually beat the point spread. IU was ranked, and they have two very good players, so UM had to play well to beat them.

In the PSU game, Michigan only trailed twice (5-4 and 7-6) before they got the lead for good, and kept it in the 6-8 point range for the rest of the 1st half, and in the 10-12 point range for most of the 2nd half. PSU did get within 8 points a few times in the 2nd half (51-43, 53-45, and 55-47) before UM pushed the lead up into double digits for most of the rest of the game.

In the IU game, Michigan led for the entire game, although it was only a 2 point lead early (11-9), before UM went on a quick 12-0 run to make the lead a little more comfortable. UM got the lead as high as 19 points (32-13, with 8:29 left in the 1st half), but generally kept the lead in the 12-14 point range. IU crept a little closer in the 2nd half, but UM kept them at arm’s length.

Q: What do the team stats tell us?

A: Actually, the stats were much less impressive than I expected.

In the PSU game, Michigan shot pretty well overall (25-for-55 = 45.5%), they shot 3-pointers decently (5-for-14 = 35.7%), and they shot free throws decently (13-for-19 = 68.4%). They lost the rebounding battle (37-29), but they won the turnover battle (10-18). Michigan won this game because PSU couldn’t hit 3-pointers (1-for-14 = 7.1%). Was that good defense by Michigan, or ineptness by PSU? A little of both.

In the IU game, Michigan shot well overall (29-for-58 = 50.0%), they shot 3-pointers pretty poorly (4-for-16 = 25.0%), and they shot free throws pretty well (12-for-16 = 75.0%). Once again, UM lost the rebounding battle (34-31), but they won the turnover battle (3-7). Look at those turnover numbers: 10 turnovers total between the two teams! Those 4 extra possessions were key to Michigan’s win. Not-so-fun fact: UM started the game 4-for-6 from 3-point range, and missed their last 10 attempts.

Q: Who looked good for Michigan?

A: A few players had a good week:

  • Jordan Poole was the high scorer for Michigan in both games, with 17 vs. PSU and 18 vs. IU. He had a little trouble with his 3-point shot (1-for-4 and 2-for-6), but he managed to score in other ways to help Michigan to victory.
  • Charles Matthews hit double figures in both games (14 and 18 points), and even grabbed a few rebounds (5 and 6). He shot 3-pointers very well this week (1-for-1 and 2-for-3), and played great defense, especially in the IU game.
  • Ignas Brazdeikis hit double figures in both games (16 and 10 points), and grabbed 11 rebounds vs. PSU for his first career double-double.
  • Zavier Simpson almost hit double figures in both games (8 and 12 points), and he did a great job running the offense and playing tough defense.
  • Jon Teske didn’t hit double figures in either game (9 and 6 points), but he was very important defensively in both games. He couldn’t stop either of the opposing centers completely, but he did his best to slow them down. He had 2 blocked shots in each game.
  • Brandon Johns, Jr. had one forgettable game (no shots taken in 2 minutes vs. PSU) and one breakout game this week (8 points and 8 rebounds in 13 minutes vs. IU, both career highs). He looked very comfortable and poised out there vs. IU, and helped hold the fort when both Teske and Davis had foul problems.

Q: Who looked not-so-good for Michigan?

A: A couple players had an “off” week:

  • Eli Brooks had one of his least effective weeks, with 2 and 0 points.
  • Austin Davis scored 2 points in each game, but committed too many fouls to stay out there for long (2 and 4).

Q: Who else played?

A: Only one of the scout team players got into a game:

  • David DeJulius played 1 minute in the IU game, but didn’t attempt a shot.

Q: Who didn’t play?

A: The big story this week was the absence of Isaiah Livers. He missed both games with back spasms. He warmed up in both games, but didn’t play. His availability going forward is “day to day”/”game time decision”. UM needs him back and healthy, as soon as possible. He’s become a very valuable 6th man, subbing in at either the 4 or 5 and giving Michigan a spark.

Other than DeJulius, the rest of the scout team players didn’t play this week: C.J. Baird, Colin Castleton, Adrien Nuñez, and Luke Wilson.

Q: What did we learn this week?

A: We learned that Michigan can elevate their level of play when the Big Ten schedule rolls around. In the five December games after the Purdue game (at Northwestern, home vs. South Carolina, Western Michigan, Air Force, and Binghamton), Michigan didn’t look particularly sharp, although they were sharp enough to win them all. If Michigan had played the way they did vs. WMU this week against PSU or IU, they probably would have lost, but they elevated their game to match the competition.

We also learned that Brandon Johns is starting to “get it”, and that he can be a viable sub at the center position.

Q: What’s next for Michigan?

A: Michigan plays two games this week, one on the road and one at home. On Thursday (01/10/2019, 8:00 p.m. EST, FS1), Michigan plays at Illinois, then on Sunday (01/13/2019, 7:30 p.m., BTN), they play Northwestern in Crisler Arena.

Illinois is currently 4-11 (0-4 in Big Ten), with no impressive wins, and losses to Iowa State, Nebraska, Florida Atlantic, and Northwestern. They have some height: two 7’0″ guys, but no true “stars”. It’s tough to win any game on the road in the Big Ten, but this is a game that Michigan should win convincingly, if they focus and play their “A” game.

Northwestern is currently 10-5 (1-3 in Big Ten), with one decent win (Georgia Tech) and losses to Fresno State, Indiana, and Oklahoma. They have a little bit of height (three 6’10” players), and a few decent players. Michigan has already played Northwestern once this season (in Evanston on 12/04/2018), when they won a close game 62-60. This game should be a lot like the UM/PSU game last week. If UM plays a decent game, they should be able to beat Northwestern by double digits.

That’s it for this week. Come on down to Crisler for the Northwestern game.

Go Blue!