Nothing But ‘Net – Week #25 – 04/15/2013 – So Close, Again

The (#10) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played in the National Championship game in the NCAA Tournament on Monday (04/08/2013), and they came close to winning it all, but fell just a few points short. They lost to the #1 seed in the Midwest Region (and #1 seed overall in the tournament), Louisville, 82-76, in the Georgia Dome. The loss leaves Michigan with a final record of 31-8.

I have mixed feelings about the game, and the season. On the one hand, I’m very proud of the team and how hard they played to get to the Championship Game, but on the other hand, I’m disappointed that they couldn’t seal the deal. If you look back over the last 14 years of articles, you’ll see that I very seldom blame a loss on poor officiating, and I’m trying hard to avoid that in this case, but it’s difficult. Let’s just say that the refs “let them play”, and that Louisville was quicker to take advantage of the situation. Let’s also say that one controversial call (see below) could have changed the final outcome, and it went against Michigan. I’m not saying that that one call would have resulted in a UM win, but I am saying that the (incorrect) call did make it next to impossible for Michigan to win. Sigh.

It was a game of runs in the 1st half. Michigan led from the opening tip, and built up a nice little 7-point lead (20-13) with 12:05 left in the half. Louisville cut it to 3 (20-17) in the next minute, then Michigan went on their best run of the night: 13-4 over the next 7 minutes, to make it a 12-point lead (33-21) with 3:56 minutes left in the half. That’s when the roof fell in: Louisville went on a 16-3 run to take their only lead of the half, 37-36, with 22 seconds left. Michigan managed to score 2 points in the last 22 seconds, and clung to a 1-point lead (38-37) at halftime.

The 2nd half was tense and close, but once Louisville got the lead back, they never let it go. Michigan managed to stretch their halftime lead up to 4 points (46-42) in the first 3 minutes of the 2nd half, but Louisville went on a 10-1 run, and that was the game. Sure, as close as 2 points (63-61) with 7:57 left, and within 4 points (78-74) with 1:20 left, but they couldn’t get the stops they needed on defense, and they couldn’t hit the big shots they needed on offense. Still, it all came down to one bad call by the officials that made it too hard for Michigan to come back:

The Call. It happened with 5:09 left in the game, and Louisville up by 3 points (67-64). Peyton Siva for Louisville broke away for a dunk, but Trey Burke chased him down, went up with him, and blocked him cleanly. Michigan got the loose ball, and they were headed down court for their own dunk and a chance to cut the lead down to one point, when the officials called a foul on Burke on the blocked shot. Replays from every angle showed that the blocked shot was clean, and the officials blew it, but there’s no review of that kind of play, and Siva hit 2 free throws to put Louisville up by 5 points, instead of 1. That was enough to keep Michigan just far enough behind that they couldn’t catch up. It’s a real shame that one bad call had such a big effect on a great basketball game, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Was the Louisville the better team on Monday night? Probably, but not by much. Did they deserve to win the game? Yeah, but so did Michigan. Was it fair that Louisville won? Not really, but that’s basketball. The refs are human, they make mistakes, and I sure didn’t feel like they were favoring Louisville, they just blew a big call that went Louisville’s way.

The stats show just how close the game was. Michigan shot very well overall (25-for-48 = 52.1%), which was better than Louisville’s percentage (28-for-61 = 45.9%). However, those 3 extra baskets (6 points) on 13 extra shots were the difference in the game. Both teams made exactly the same number of 3-pointers (8-for-18 = 44.4% for Michigan, 8-for-16 = 50.0% for Louisville) and exactly the same number of free-throws (18-for-25 = 72.0% for Michigan, 18-for-23 = 78.3% for Louisville). The big difference came on the boards, where Louisville won the rebounding battle (32-27) and in the turnover battle, where Louisville won 9-12. There are 8 extra possessions for Louisville right there.

Individually, the leading scorer was Burke, with 24 points, and he played a great game, but he did have more turnovers (4) than assists (3) for the first time in a while. He also only played 26 minutes, with foul trouble in the 1st half. When he came out, Spike Albrecht went in, and he had the game of his career. He hit all four of 3-pointer attempts in the 1st half, and ended up with 17 points at halftime. Unfortunately, he was held scoreless in the 2nd half, but it was still an amazing performance.

Two more Michigan players hit double figures, both starters. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III both had 12 points. Unfortunately, it took Tim 13 shots (5-for-13 overall, and 0-for-4 shooting 3-pointers) to score those 12 points.

After going scoreless in the semifinal game vs. Syracuse, Nik Stauskas finally hit a 3-pointer, in the 1st half, but those were his only points. He had a forgettable Final Four weekend.

The big story was Mitch McGary. Mitch had been playing at a very high level through the whole tournament, and his scoring was the “X factor” that could push Michigan past Louisville. It didn’t happen. Mitch played a solid-but-unspectacular game, scoring 6 points on 3-for-6 shooting, but he wasn’t a factor. Bummer.

Remember how the bench helped beat Syracuse on Saturday to put Michigan in the Championship Game? Other than Spike’s 17 points, they weren’t much of a factor either in this game. Jordan Morgan was the only other bench player to score, with 2 points. Jon Horford and Caris LeVert both played, but didn’t score. A little more bench scoring would have really helped in this one.

So, the season is over, and it was a great season and a successful season, but it could have been so much better. Check back here next week for a complete season wrap-up, final grades, and a look ahead to next season.

Go Blue!

Nothing But ‘Net – Week #24 – 04/07/2013 – One Win From Glory!

It’s Sunday morning, I’m in a hotel room in suburban Atlanta (Decatur), my throat is still raw, my hands are still stinging, and my ears are still ringing.  I only slept about 5 hours, and my head is a little fuzzy.  None of that matters, since Michigan won the game.

The (#10) University of Michigan men’s basketball team is in the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament. and they won their semifinal game last night (04/06/2013) against (#16) Syracuse, 61-56, in the Georgia Dome.  Both teams are #4 seeds: UM in the South Region, and Syracuse in the East region.  The win raises Michigan’s record to 31-7.

The Syracuse game was frustrating.  I know that sounds odd for an important victory in the Final Four, but it’s true.  The Syracuse 2-3 zone was everything it was billed to be.  Syracuse has a lot of tall, quick, athletic players who know how to play that zone, and it just sucks the life out of their opponents.  Every halfcourt possession on offense for Michigan was the same thing, over and over: swing the ball back and forth across the top of the zone, hoping one of the defenders would be a half-step slow responding, giving the slimest of gaps to try to exploit.  Occassionally, try passing it to a big man at the free throw line, to see if the zone collapsed just a little too much, for a different slim gap to try to exploit.  Run the shot clock down to under 5 seconds, and take a desperation shot.  Maybe get the offensive rebound, maybe for a quick put-back, probably for a reset, and do it all over again.  And again.  And again.  Over and over.  It was very frustrating.

So, how do you beat a dedicated zone team, even a very good zone team?  Outside shooting.  Most teams (NOT Syracuse) will finally abandon their zone for man-to-man if you can hit enough outside shots to pull them out of the zone.  How did Michigan beat Syracuse’s zone?  I have no idea.  I saw it, and I’m looking at the stats, but I still don’t know how they did it.  They did hit eight 3-pointers (on 24 attempts = 33.3%), but they didn’t shoot very well overall (21-for-52 = 39.6%).  They shot free throws terribly (11-for-20 = 55.0%), and missed several clutch free throws at the end of the game, including the front ends of a couple one-and-ones.  It almost cost them the game.  They did win the rebounding battle (37-33), and they tied in the turnover battle (10-10).

Somehow, Michigan managed to build up a decent lead near the end of the 1st half, and lead by 11 (36-25) at halftime.  Syracuse chipped away at the lead for the entire 2nd half, and got as close as 3 points (48-45) with 7:53 to go, then within 1 point (57-56) with 41 seconds left.  Syracuse had the ball, down 3 points (59-56) with 15 seconds left, and took a 2-point shot (why?) with 9 seconds left.  They missed, and Michigan got the rebound and a breakaway dunk for the final margin of victory.

If I had told you before the game that Syracuse would hold Trey Burke to 7 points on 1-for-8 shooting, you would have asked “how badly did Syracuse crush Michigan?”  Trey did a nice job on defense (3 steals and a blocked shot), he had a few assists (4), and he was one of the few Michigan players to shoot free throws well (4-for-6), but he could not get his shot to fall.  I think he was as frustrated by the Syracuse zone as I was.

If I had told you before the game that Syracuse would hold Nik Stauskas scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting, you would have asked “did Michigan get within 30 points of Syracuse?”  Nik got his looks at the basket, and he tried four 3-pointers, but they all clanked.  He was the key to this game.  If he had gotten hot, like he did in the Florida game (6-for-6 from 3-point range), the game would have been much less frustrating.

So, that’s 2 of Michigan’s 5 starters.  How did the other 3 do?  Much better.  Tim Hardaway Jr. was the leading scorer for Michigan, with 13 points (on 16 shots!), including 3 of Michigan’s 8 triples (on 10 attempts!)  Glenn Robinson III  and Mitch McGary both had 10 points, and Mitch had 12 rebounds, for another double-double.  Mitch was a force in there, and he continued his hot tournament play.

For the first time this season, the Michigan bench came through and won the game.  With both Burke and Stauskas having terrible shooting nights, Michigan needed someone to come in an hit a couple 3-pointers to keep them in the game.  Actually, they needed 2 someones, and they got them:  Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert.  Spike went 2-for-2 from long range, and Caris went 2-for-3.  Spike only got those 6 points, but Caris hit a 2-point basket as well, and ended up with 8 points.  All 14 of those points were important points that we made a critical times in the game.  But wait, there’s more:  Michigan also got some bench points from their 2 reserve big men.  Jon Horford had 4 points and Jordan Morgan had 3, including that breakaway slam dunk to wrap up the game that I mentioned above.  So, that’s 21 points in a 61-point game.  Way to go, bench players!

This Week

One last game: the National Championship, on Monday (04/08/2013) at 9:23 p.m. on CBS, against Louisville.  Can Michigan beat them?  Yes.  They have the talent and the right mix of players to win.  Will they?  We’ll just have to play the game and see.

Check back on Tuesday to see what happened, and why.

Go Blue!

P.S. Sorry about the lack of links in this story.  New (to me) laptop, no Microsoft Word, using WordPad, ugh.

Nothing But ‘Net – Extra – Live From Atlanta! (04/06/2013)

Yup, my son (Eric) and I drove down from Milan to Atlanta yesterday, and we’re going to the Final Four games this afternoon. I’ll be writing my weekly column tomorrow, on a new-to-me laptop that doesn’t have Microsoft Word on it (hello, Wordpad!), so if these articles look a little different, that’s why.

The buzz down here is that Syracuse is going to end Michigan’s run to the title. We’ll see. UM has certainly played, and beaten, better teams this year. The big question is: can they keep playing with the intensity and focus that they’ve shown so far in the NCAA Tournament. Fingers crossed.

Go Blue!

Nothing But ‘Net – Week #23 – 04/01/2013 – Final Four Bound!

The (#10) University of Michigan men’s basketball team is going to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament! It’s been 20 years (1992-1993) since UM made it to the Final Four, but they finally did it. Michigan, the #4 seed in the South Region, played two games in the tournament last week, both in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington (TX), and they won both of them. On Friday (03/29/2013), they beat the #1 seed, Kansas, 87-85 in overtime, then on Sunday (03/31/2013), they beat the #3 seed, Florida, 79-59. The two wins raise Michigan’s record to 30-7.

The Kansas game has to be the most impressive comeback in Michigan basketball history. Sure, they might have come from further behind late in some other game, but this was more impressive than any other comeback because of the situation and the opponent. The situation: an NCAA Tournament game, in the Sweet Sixteen, playing for a spot in the Elite Eight, on national TV. The opponent: #1 seed Kansas, a team that was also ranked #1 in the nation earlier in the season. The comeback: down 14 points (68-54) with 6:50 left in the game. Or, how about down 10 points (72-62) with 2:52 left? Not scary enough? Try: down 5 points (76-71) with 21 seconds left. It took an ice-water-in-his-veins step-back 3-pointer from Trey Burke with 4 seconds left to tie the game, and more heroics in overtime to win it. But, the 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime is “The Shot” that everyone will still be watching and talking about 20 years from now. In any case, it was a very impressive, and unexpected, comeback. Michigan had been behind almost the entire game, usually by 8-10-12 points. They looked beaten when the deficit grew to 14 points with less than 7 minutes left, but that’s when they caught fire. They were like a completely different team. It was amazing (a-maize-ing?)

After the tight, scary game vs. Kansas, we were expecting more of the same vs. Florida. Wrong. UM came out on fire, and got ahead 13-0 after just 3 minutes! The lead got as high as 24 points (41-17) in the 1st half, before sinking to “only” 17 points (47-30) at halftime. Florida staged a mini-rally (6-0) to get the lead back down to 11 points (47-36) in the first 2:30 of the 2nd half, but Michigan pushed the lead back up to 18 points (56-38) in the next 3 minutes, and never let it get below 14 points again. UM won going away, and it was an easy victory. All 15 players got to play, and even the senior scrubs scored on Florida. It was lots of fun.

Time for the stats, and they’re very interesting. In the Kansas game, Michigan shot pretty well overall (35-for-71 = 49.3%), and not too bad from 3-point range (8-for-23 = 34.8%). They shot pretty poorly from the free-throw line (9-for-17 = 52.9%), but they won the rebounding battle (38-35) and the turnover battle (10-13). Interestingly, Kansas shot better in all 3 phases of the game (overall: 36-for-66 = 54.5%, 3-pointers: 6-for-16 = 37.5%, free throws: 7-for-10 = 70.0%), but the extra possessions from rebounds and turnovers were enough to give UM the narrow victory. Michigan shot much better in the Florida game. Overall, they shot pretty well (30-for-65 = 46.2%), but they really shot well from 3-point range (10-for-19 = 52.6%). They shot free throws better (9-for-13 = 69.2%), but they narrowly lost the rebounding battle (35-36) and narrowly won the turnover battle (11-13). The big difference in this game was defense: they held Florida to 41.1% (23-for-56) overall shooting, and 20.0% (2-for-10) 3-point shooting.

Looking at the individual stats, 3 of the 5 starters hit double figures in both games:

  • Trey Burke – 23 points vs. Kansas and 15 points vs. Florida. All of Trey’s points vs. Kansas came in the 2nd half and overtime; he was shut out in the 1st half. He also had 10 assists vs. Kansas, for a double-double.
  • Mitch McGary – 25 and 11 points. Mitch continued his hot play in the NCAA Tournament. His 25 points vs. Kansas were another career-high, and he tied his career-high with 14 more rebounds vs. Kansas, for another double-double. Trey may have been the star in Michigan’s big comeback in the Kansas game, but Mitch kept Michigan close enough for most of the game so that Trey could still pull the game out at the end.
  • Nik Stauskas – 11 and 22 points. Nik managed to scratch out 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting in the Kansas game, but he went 1-for-4 shooting 3-pointers. Magically, he found his 3-point stroke in the Florida game, going 6-for-6. That was the Nik Stauskas performance we have been waiting for all season, and he picked the right time to do it. His 3-pointers destroyed Florida’s morale in the 1st half, and that made the victory easy.

All 5 starters hit double figures in the Kansas game, but only 3 of them did it in the Florida game. Here’s how the other 2 starters did:

  • Tim Hardaway Jr. – 10 points and 9 points. Tim had a rough week shooting, going 4-for-11 vs. Kansas and 3-for-13 vs. Florida. He was 1-for-3 and 1-for-5 from 3-point range. It was ugly.
  • Glenn Robinson III – 13 and 6 points.

The bench players didn’t play much vs. Kansas, but everyone played at the end of the Florida blowout. Here’s how they did:

  • Eso Akunne – DNP and 0 points.
  • Spike Albrecht – 3 and 7 points. Spike did a nice job giving Trey a rest, and he did pretty well when he and Trey were in the game together. He was a real spark in the Florida game, with 2 steals for layups and a nice 3-pointer.
  • Josh Bartelstein – DNP and 0 points.
  • Max Bielfeldt – DNP and 0 points.
  • Jon Horford – 0 and 6 points. Jon scored his 6 points vs. Florida in only 8 minutes.
  • Caris LeVert – 0 and 0 points.
  • Blake McLimans – DNP and 0 points.
  • Jordan Morgan – 2 and 0 points. Jordan played more minutes this week: 5 vs. Kansas and 6 vs. Florida. He looked more confident out there, and he was an asset on defense.
  • Corey Person – DNP and 0 points.
  • Matt Vogrich – DNP and 3 points. Matt hit a gorgeous 3-pointer in “garbage time” in the Florida game. It was sweet.

Yay! More bench scoring: 21 points in 2 games. It was great to get contributions from Albrecht and Horford. Michigan still needs more from LeVert and Morgan.

This Week

This is it: the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. It’s a great honor for Michigan to have made it this far, and they have exceeded most people’s expectations, but there’s no reason they can’t win one or two more games. This week, there is only one game, since the National Semifinal games are played on Saturday (04/06/2013) and the National Championship game is next Monday (04/08/2013). Michigan plays the #4 seed from the East Region, Syracuse, on Saturday at 8:49 p.m. EDT on CBS, in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta (GA). If they win that game, they will play the winner of the (#1 Midwest) Louisville vs. (#9 West) Wichita State game.

Once again, Michigan matches up pretty well against any of the other 3 teams in Atlanta. Certainly, Louisville is the favorite to win it all, but Michigan has the talent to beat them. If they keep playing at the high level they’ve shown through the first 4 games, they’ll do fine. As I said several times in the last couple weeks, Michigan has the talent to win the whole tournament, and the youth and inexperience to lose to any team. We’ll just have to watch the games to see how they do.

Check back next week to see what happened, and why.

Go Blue!

Nothing But ‘Net – Week #22 – 03/25/2013 – Sweet!

The (#10) University of Michigan men’s basketball team is going to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament! It’s been 19 years (1993-1994) since UM made it past the first week in the Big Dance, but the long wait it finally over. Michigan, the #4 seed in the South Region, played two games in the tournament last week, both in the Palace of Auburn Hills (MI), and they won both of them. On Thursday (03/21/2013), they beat the #13 seed, South Dakota State (SDSU), 71-56, then on Saturday (03/23/2013), they beat the #5 seed, Virginia Commonwealth (VCU), 78-53. The two wins raise Michigan’s record to 28-7.

After last season’s embarrassing loss to Ohio University in the first game (2nd round) of the NCAA Tournament, Michigan wasn’t about to take any team lightly this season. On paper, SDSU looked like a prime candidate to upset UM in the first game. The game was close most of the way, with Michigan finally pulling away late in the 2nd half. Still, in a single-elimination tournament, any win is a good win. Survive and advance.

The VCU game was much more interesting. VCU runs a kamikaze, all-out full-court press for the entire game, something they call “Havoc”. Remember the Arkansas game back in December, with their “40 Minutes Of Hell”? This was supposed to be much worse. VCU leads the nation in turnovers forced per possession, and Michigan leads the nation in fewest turnovers committed per possession. Something had to give. Guess which one? That’s right: Michigan had a few more turnovers than usual, but well below the average that VCU usually caused. Watching “Havoc” was interesting and kind of impressive, but Michigan handled it with poise and composure, and won the game decisively. They never let the press get to them, and they stayed focused and worked hard to bring the ball across mid-court under control every possession. It was very impressive. The downside to running a full-court press is that it’s hard to get back on defense once the other team breaks the press, and that’s exactly what happened in this game. Michigan broke the press most of the time, and got fairly easy baskets on many of those possessions. Even when they didn’t get a basket right off the press break, they had an easier time than usual in their half-court offense, since VCU had short, fast players in the lineup for “Havoc” purposes. These short, fast players were well-suited for pressing and stealing, but not for defending the post. So, that’s where Michigan attacked, and it worked. More about that below, in the individual player stats.

First, let’s look at the team stats. In the SDSU game, Michigan shot pretty well overall (28-for-55 = 50.9%), and they shot well from 3-point range (9-for-20 = 45.0%). They didn’t shoot many free throws, but they hit a decent number of them (6-for-9 = 66.7%). They tied in the rebounding battle (29-29), and they won the turnover battle (9-12). The stats for the VCU game aren’t quite as impressive, but they’re not bad. Michigan’s overall shooting was good (31-for-60 = 51.7%), but their 3-point shooting was mediocre (6-for-20 = 30.0%). They didn’t shoot many free throws, but they made them count (10-for-11 = 90.9%). The big difference was rebounding, where UM won 41-24. Those 17 extra possessions really helped. UM lost the turnover battle, but just barely: 12-11.

The interesting stories for both games are found in the individual stats. Individually, 3 players hit double figures in both games last week:

  • Tim Hardaway Jr. – 21 points vs. SDSU and 14 points vs. VCU. Tim also helped a lot bring the ball upcourt vs. “Havoc”, with only 1 turnover.
  • Mitch McGary – 13 and 21 points. Here’s the first, and most interesting story of both games. Mitch started both games in place of Jordan Morgan, who was playing “out of sorts” in the last couple weeks. Not only did he start, but he played serious minutes in both games (25 and 34), and dominated the post in both games. He had 9 rebounds vs. SDSU, just missing a “double double”, and career-high 14 rebounds vs. VCU. His 21 points in the VCU game were also a new career-high. Mitch was unstoppable in the VCU game, especially against the shorter “Havoc” players.
  • Glenn Robinson III – 21 and 14 points. Here’s another interesting story. After having a few “quiet” games at the end of the regular season, especially in the Big Ten Tournament (5 and 8 points), Glenn had a monster game vs. SDSU, and followed it up with another solid game vs. VCU.

One player hit double figures in only one game last week:

  • Trey Burke – 6 and 18 points. Here’s another interesting story. Trey had hit double figures in every game this season, until the SDSU game. He got his shots vs. SDSU, but he just couldn’t hit them: he was 2-for-12 (0-for-5 from 3-point range). But wait, there’s more: Trey had 7 assists in the VCU game, which gave him 236 for the season, which breaks the previous school record (Darius Morris – 235 – 2010-2011).

The remaining starter didn’t hit double figures in either game:

  • Nik Stauskas – 8 and 8 points. Nik had a miserable time shooting 3-pointers: 1-for-4 vs. SDSU and 0-for-4 vs. VCU.

The bench players had a terrible week at scoring:

  • Eso Akunne – DNP and 0 points.
  • Spike Albrecht – 0 and 3 points.
  • Josh Bartelstein – DNP and 0 points.
  • Jon Horford – 2 and 0 points.
  • Caris LeVert – 0 and 0 points.
  • Blake McLimans – DNP and 0 points.
  • Jordan Morgan – 0 and DNP points. Here’s the final interesting story. After starting almost every game this season, Mitch McGary started instead of Jordan in both games this week. That’s interesting, but what’s even more interesting is that Jordan only played one minute vs. SDSU, and didn’t play at all in the VCU game. Keep in mind that the 5 senior benchwarmers (Akunne, Bartelstein, McLimans, Person, and Vogrich) all got into the VCU game in the final minute, but Jordan didn’t. Very interesting…
  • Corey Person – DNP and 0 points.
  • Matt Vogrich – DNP and 0 points.

That’s 5 points of bench scoring, which is miserable. Michigan needs much more bench scoring to keep winning the tournament, especially from Albrecht, Horford, LeVert, and Morgan.

This Week

The NCAA Tournament (bracket) rolls on this week, and Michigan is still alive. They are in the Sweet Sixteen, and they play their next game(s) in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX. On Friday (03/29/2013, 7:37 p.m. EDT, TBS) they play (#1 seed) Kansas. If they win that game, they play again on Sunday (03/31/2013) against the winner of the (#3) Florida vs. (#15) Florida Gulf Coast game. The Sunday game would be for a spot in the Final Four.

Michigan actually matches up pretty well against any of the other 3 teams in Arlington. The games will certainly be tough and tense, but if Michigan plays at the level they showed us last week in Auburn Hills, they’ll do fine. As I said several times in the last couple weeks, Michigan has the talent to win the whole tournament, and the youth and inexperience to lose to any team. We’ll just have to watch the games to see how they do.

 

Check back next week to see what happened, and why.

 

Go Blue!