Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Michigan-Arkansas-Pine Bluff: Taking Care Of Business

Michigan 63, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 50 
This is a post about a game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff*; if you choose not to read it (and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't) here is a random video of APB's band "battling" Jackson State's that is probably just as worthy of your time. 

After experiencing the horrors of radio-based sports consumption on Saturday, ESPNU kindly allowed me to watch this crucial early December matchup. Michigan took on Arkansas-Pine Bluff, its second opponent in a row sporting a mascot of the Golden, ferocious mammalian variety. As the Wolverines finished up the pre-game warmups and the stands were distinctly only somewhat full, it was hard not to get the feeling that this was all just practice for the intensity of basketball in March. The excitement was palpable, and Michigan players were chucking up bricks during pre-game warmups like Denard overthrows first quarter screens out of sheer nerves and a relentlessly overpowering excitability. 

Okay, that's enough of that. After the Golden Lions jumped out to a 6-5 lead, Michigan went on a 19-0 run and the game was essentially over. The Lions are a bad team from the worst conference in America and it showed. The only Lion to really show some skill was guard Lazabian Jackson**, who lit Michigan up from outside, going 6/11 from three, including a few impressive makes from a few feet behind the line. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat and say "nice shot." APB scored 27 non-Jackson produced points, so overall its hard to complain too much; 27 points plus 23 from a guy shooting the lights out from NBA range makes for a solid night on that end.

Despite the lack of talent, the Lions competed admirably and Michigan continued to turn the ball over with regularity, resulting in a somewhat underwhelming 13-point win. The decisiveness of the victory isn't necessarily that important, but you would've liked to see a little better play and a little less carelessness with the ball, which is starting to become a bit of an issue. Nineteen turnovers in this one and 17 against Oakland...not so good. Burke is a freshman and the primary ball handler so I can live with his mistakes, but guys like The Smoshtrycz need to cut back on the turnovers. There won't be much margin for error this season in the conference schedule, and it's not hard to imagine a bad loss via ALL THE TURNOVERS at the hands of an Iowa or a Penn State, potentially doing some dastardly things to Michigan's tournament resume. Just repeat "this is a young team" ad infinitum and you should be okay.

At the same time, APB's own hilariously sloppy play contributed to the overall pace (or lack thereof) of the game to a certain extent. I thought that Michigan might put up 70 or even 80 last night but a choppy, sluggish end to the first half (other than the buzzer beater, of course) and a generally meh second half resulted in a paltry 63. UNACCEPTABLE (but not really).

The turnovers and the lack of an inside game are disconcerting, but we've known about the latter for quite a while now so it isn't exactly much of a surprise when we can't really go through the post for offense, even against a team like APB. We are who we are and that's that. Once again, come on down Mitch McGary.

**I don't know what his recruiting profile looked like but he should've been a 5-star based on name alone. Lazabian Jackson, coming to a college basketball venue near you to make ALL THE THREES.

Player Bullets: 

  • Burke--After an outstanding first half (ending on a 3-point buzzer beater), his production tailed off in the second, although not for lack of usage. He missed some solid looks and couldn't connect on that patented tear drop in the lane, so it's not like he wasn't getting good chances. In any case, another solid game from a guy who continues to exceed his years every time he steps on the court. I haven't been able to watch all that much college ball other than Michigan outside of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and a smattering of games here and there, but I'd imagine that Burke's speed and ability to find the open man--whether on the perimeter or Morgan in the paint--has to put him in the discussion, at some level, for best point guards in the country. Again, it is a little bit concerning that Beilein wasn't able to put him out there for less than 37 minutes against a team like APB, but thus far he's proven that he can handle it. 
  • Hardaway--Another relatively quiet performance, although he only played 19 minutes so whatever. Tim went 3/6 from the field (2/4 from three), and it seemed early on that Michigan was actively trying to get him involved by running him off of screens and such. He took a bit of a tumble in the first half while contesting a three but he did return and seemed to be okay. In any case, this type of thing is more reason to find ways to limit some guys' minutes, namely him and Trey, in the next two games. 
  • Smotrycz--The Smoshtrycz chipped in a team high 16, as well as eight boards, in his second almost-double-double in a row. However, the old Smotrycz reared his head a little bit, committing five of Michigan's 19 turnovers. Did turn it over once on the block while trying to make a move of some sort; again, that part of his game is still a work in progress. 
  • Novak--Zack just Novak'd around, as usual. While his offensive production has seemed to have taken a slight dive of late, he's made up for it in the last two games by dropping dimes more than anybody on the team save Burke; an 8:1 and 6:1 assist to turnover ratios against Oakland and APB respectively is not half bad. Perhaps the most underrated improvement in this team is Novak's ability to do things with the ball in his hands. He seems to have some added confidence in taking a purposeful dribble or two into the lane to set up his mid-range game, which has evolved from being basically non-existent to the pleasant surprise it has been thus far. He had one very impressive take where he split a pair of defenders and used jump stop to propel himself into the lane and draw the defense enough to find an open McLimans at the opposite block. As usual, he did take at least one charge. 
  • Morgan--A very quiet night for Morgan, only attempting two field goals (his one bucket was a nice little hook shot off of a rebound). 
  • Vogrich--A very solid game for Vogrich. He hit a few threes despite entering the game having gone 1/13 from outside going into the game. He was also active elsewhere, chipping in three offensive rebounds and a couple steals; anything outside of production from 3-point land is gravy. 
  • McLimans--Logged 11 minutes after getting 6 and 1 in the last two games. Set a crushing pick right before the half to free Burke for that buzzer beater; after seeing that, maybe we should hand him over to Barwis Wellman and see if we can't turn him into a solid replacement for Mark Huyge on the right side of the offensive line. /bad cross-sports jokes
  • Douglass--Missed a few very good looks from three. I guess as long as either him or Vogrich are on from outside in any given game then we'll be alright. Last game it was Stu chipping in the double-digit bench points, this game it was Vogrich. 

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