Michigan 76, Iowa State 66
I went into this game thinking "How weird/sad is it that it's noon on a Saturday while football is being played elsewhere and I'm watching Michigan basketball?" Suspending my disbelief that the regular season is over for the duration of this post, I will say that Michigan needed this one or else, to quote Russell Peters, "somebody was gonna get a hurt real bad," where "somebody" here refers to Michigan's tournament chances. Fortunately, Michigan pulled it out as an at home 7-point favorite should. I donned a 2007-08 Michigan basketball shirt that I got via a t-shirt tossing as a freshman at a game against CMU (which we lost), laughing the whole time at how far we've come as a program since that miserable 10-22 season
Jordan Morgan started Michigan off with four straight points, after which the Cyclones went on a quick 8-0 run to take a 10-4 lead. Luckily for Michigan, Trey Burke was on from the outside; a couples three and a layup later and Michigan was back on top. It was a strange half; it didn't seem like Michigan was doing anything extraordinarily well, but I looked up and Michigan was up nine at the half. After not very long, Michigan blew it open in the second, and held a seemingly permanent 16-20 point lead until the final three or so minutes, where teams of Michigan's level usually allow the opponent back into the game just enough that you wouldn't dare change the channel in favor of the Southern Miss-Houston game. Iowa State's late run doesn't really concern me so much as the individual plays from Michigan's side that made it happen: turnovers (including one play where Royce White just sort of snatched the ball from Smotrycz as if it was a gift given to an unappreciative friend), a lack of rebounding, etc. In short, the symptoms of a young team with a big lead doing what a young team with a big lead does.
Otherwise, the narrative really hasn't changed much. Michigan needed this one and got it; a loss would've been fairly disastrous, and Michigan put the outcome beyond doubt for approximately 95% of the game. That's good, particularly on the heels of a somewhat disappointing loss on the road in Charlottesville. Given the disparity between the pre-Maui and Maui and on Michigan, it's clear that this is a team that's still finding itself. When you look at the individual parts, this is even more obvious. Burke has been astonishingly poised and consistent for a freshman, despite being bottled up for the first time against UVA. The post-Morris version of Jordan Morgan is like the post-Braylon version of Henne...just trying to figure it all out, man. Hardaway is still trying to find a balance between outside shooting and getting to the basket/mid-range shots. Evan Smotrycz is talented but still seems like a teenager who grew half a foot overnight and it still getting used to his body. He is 20 so I guess that's technically almost true, but the added weight is taking some getting used to. He is improving; where as the idea of him putting the ball on the floor last year was a cringe-worthy concept, this year it's more of a 50-50 proposition. Horford is Horford, the consummate work-in-progress player. Douglass and Vogrich are trying to find their shots.
The only negative takeaway from this game is that Royce White absolutely dominated us on the inside, adding one more data point to the unfortunate reality that we are not very big or athletic and will continue to get owned by big men with a pulse. I didn't know anything about him so I naturally gave him no respect (like I did UVA's Mike Scott, assuming he was just an athlete scoring garbage points); I was so wrong. The guy is sophomore but looks like he could be a power forward on a mediocre NBA team's roster, which says more about the athleticism of our bigs than it does him, probably. White looks like a quality player with some nice quicks for a big, but if we're going to get completely destroyed by dudes that play for Iowa State then we will have some issues against actual teams.
This was likely Michigan's last real test--I hope?--until the conference slate begins; some of the aforementioned can be improved upon in an environment of limited competition. Some cannot be. Either way, a win's a win, and all the youth and room for improvement makes this an exciting team to watch. The process is almost as rewarding as the destination itself. EMBRACE THE PROCESS.
- Burke--Awesome. Seriously. I miss Morris's ability to get into the lane at will using his size but Burke's outside shooting and distribution is getting to be just as fun to watch. He will surely hit a rough patch or two at some point this season, but he seems to have the perfect demeanor to weather those storms. While Morris thrived on a sort of expletive-based verve, Burke is a cool customer. Both work, but the latter is particularly surprising for a freshman. The minutes he has been logging thus far is somewhat worrisome, however. I guess I'd have to go back and see what kinds of minutes Morris was getting last year (I'd imagine they were similar if not higher), but you'd imagine that Morris's body would be more capable of handling a long season, including a TOUGH Big Ten schedule. I actually didn't realize this until looking at the box score just now but apparently he went 3/11 from three, which: a) is not good and b) only in a Beilein offense can you shoot 11 threes and be okay.
- Hardaway--An encouraging performance after he was relatively invisible at UVA. It's well-known that his 3-point shot needs some work, and he tends to go to it a few times a game when you'd like to see another shot. In a basic sense, it was refreshing to see him actually get some shots up (then again, not being in foul trouble helps, doesn't it?). Putting up 19 after getting 5 in the last game is nice, although the similarly bad 2/7 from three isn't all that encouraging (a minor concern on this day, though).
- Novak--The grittiest man this side of the Mississippi had somewhat of a quiet day on the offensive end, going 1/4 from the field (he did go 6/6 from the line). However, as usual his gritty ways propelled him to excellence in other portions of his stat line, namely rebounds, of which he grabbed 11. With Hardaway, Burke, and even Morgan filling it up today, Michigan didn't really need him on the offensive end, but his rebounding and general gritastic exploits continue to be amazing.
- Morgan--There were a couple times where you would've liked to see him have the strength to finish around the basket, but that only happened twice from what I remember. Otherwise, a great outing for Morgan (probably one of the best of his career). He was aggressive, and even showed some range in hitting an elbow jumper. That could be an invaluable tool if he can hit that with any sort of regularity, although I doubt he has the green light to shoot that more than once or twice a game.
- Smotrycz--He fouled out for the second game in a row, which...stop that. Otherwise, a solid day, going 3-7 from the field and pulling in 7 boards. Not everybody can score in double digits every game, and with the aforementioned trio performing the way that they did, it wasn't necessary. I'd like to see him build up some confidence in his offensive game in these contests before the B1G schedule begins.
- Douglass/Vogrich--I'm just going to pair these two until there's a reason not to...Douglass did have a nice charge that wasn't a charge, so there's that. Regardless of how he's shooting, we'll need him to play some good minutes backing up Trey or he [Trey] is going to have nothing left in the tank by the end of the season.
- Horford--Fumbled a perfect feed from Burke that would've resulted in a sure dunk...still pretty much a non-entity on offense.
- Akunne--Hit a three; if he can contribute any points at all then I'd say that his minutes=win.
- McLimans--Scored five points in six minutes...might as well call him Fielding Yost because he's practically scoring a point a minute. Blake "Point-a-Minute" McLimans...yes.