Monday, January 30, 2012

Michigan-Ohio: The Song Remains The Same

Michigan 49, Ohio 64

Michigan's defensive gameplan (HT: Parks and Meth)

Well, that pretty much went exactly as expected. It would be nice if the program was at a point where we could beat teams without having essentially every single thing in a game go our way, but we are not there yet. Next year's infusion of talent might be the beginning of the entertainment of those sorts of expectations, but for now we're still the same team, fundamentally, that we were last year. We are a team with very little athleticism, play-making ability (outside of Burke and occasionally THJ), size, and depth, not to mention that our supposed shooters are often about as accurate as Joe Bauserman. Of course, it's not all bad. We have won a few games so far doing other things well, but putting the Buckeyes and Wolverines on the same floor at this point is a reminder of how far we have to go. 

I said it would be a "key on the big guy and hope the perimeter guys miss" type of game, and it was. Actually, the gameplan pretty much worked...well, the first shot defense did. No game plan can account for an opponent simply being able to go up and over defenders en route to offensive board after board. Lenzelle Smith in particular had a big game, grabbing 12 rebounds--8 of them of the offensive variety--taking advantage of the extra attention given to Sullinger. Michigan obviously needed to rotate better to account for this, but there's a reason why having to double somebody a majority of the time is not exactly ideal. However, Michigan held the Buckeyes well under their season average. Sullinger had a relatively unimpressive outing (13 points, 5 rebounds) by his standards, and Michigan wasn't ultimately beaten from the outside, as the Buckeyes were ice cold from 3 (3/15). Michigan got out-rebounded 37-22; this, paired with 4 FTA to Ohio's 18, makes it very difficult to win a game. Michigan did well to hold the big 3 of Sullinger, Thomas and Buford to 13, 12, and 12 points respectively, but Lenzelle Smith scoring 17 was essentially the death knell for Michigan's chances. 

All things considered, Michigan's defensive gameplan generally worked out alright minus the things that careful planning and risk-reward analyses can't account for, such as a glaring general athleticism gap. You would think that holding Ohio to 64 would have given the Wolverines a chance, but Michigan put up 49, a season low (58 @UVA being the previous low). Michigan will just have to ride this thing out before the cavalry known as the recruiting class of 2012 rides in, but the personnel we've got is just not conducive to beating beating elite teams, let alone elite teams on the road. It's ridiculous how much this team leans on Trey to handle the ball; I truly feel bad for him. The shots aren't falling as much as he'd like (although he was actually not bad this game when he wasn't busy getting hounded by Craft), but it's pretty clear that playing ALL THE MINUTES isn't exactly helping in that respect. 

There's not too much more to say. Michigan faced a much better team on the road, got dominated on the boards and from the free throw line, and kept it reasonably close for a decent portion of the game. This is more than a lot of visitors to VCA this season can say; both Duke and Indiana lost by a greater margin than Michigan. People don't win there that often for a reason. Also, as anemic and flailingly ineffective as Michigan's offense was/often is, you have to tip your hat to the Buckeye defensive pressure. Craft belongs to the prestigious "white guy that everybody hates club", along with Chris Kramer, JJ Redick, and club president Zack Novak, but people dislike him for a reason. He's pretty good, as Trey's five turnovers would indicate. 

On the bright side, the next time we see the Buckeyes it'll be at the friendly confines of the Crisler Center. Despite people like Jeff Goodman complaining about fans complaining about officiating in college basketball, complaints are legitimate, as they have been since time immemorial. Just because "this is the way things are" doesn't mean people don't have legitimate gripes. With that said, Michigan will (hopefully) have the zebras on their side the next time around. Assuming that Michigan doesn't shoot like they have their eyes closed and don't get killed on the glass, that is a winnable game. With that said, as much as it hurts to lose to the Buckeyes, this game didn't really changed the trajectory of Michigan's hopes and expectations for this season. However, Wednesday's game against the Hoosiers looms large. 

Player Bullets, Also Known As "Uh, Did Anybody Play Well?": 
  • Burke--Remember when Michigan ran Chris Perry 51 times against MSU in 2003? Trey Burke's usage is the basketball equivalent of that, only instead of it happening one time it's happening every single game. He actually had a pretty solid day from the field (13 points, 5/11 overall, 3/6 from 3) despite basically playing the entire game yet again. He had five turnovers but, again, Craft is pretty good. In any case, facing guys like Jackson and Craft is good practice for Burke as he continues to develop as a player. Remember, he's just a freshman
  • Hardaway--A good stat line at least, leading Michigan with 15 points (on 5/12 shooting overall, 2/7 from 3). His play is just so markedly less confident, and when he makes mistakes it always seems like he's stuck between two points of action. To attack or not to attack...that is the question. He kind of reminds me of the NBA players in Space Jam who have had their powers taken from them: "We're fine. It's some psychosomatic deal, or something to do with the moon and the alignment of the planets." 
  • Novak--Buckeye fans want you to know that he sucks. By the way, did you know that they think he sucks? You may not have heard. In all seriousness, not a good day at all. Scoreless on 0/4 shooting (only 1 attempted 3) is not a way to go through life a Big Ten game, son. 
  • Douglass--I gave Stu some deserved praise after the last game so, of course, Evil Stu decided to resurface in Columbus. I think should start keeping a stat for instances in which Stu dribbles to the No Man's Land near the baseline just outside of the paint only to step on the line or turn the ball over in some other innovative way. I'm pretty sure this has happened 842 times this year. This is just Basketball 101, but, dribbling down there is exactly where a good man-to-man defense wants to funnel you. If you add to that by leaving your feet to pass then you're pretty much assuring that the possession will end in disaster. In order to continue to be a solid to solid+ player, he needs to stop with the adventurism near the baseline. Otherwise, he went a poor 3/9 from the field, although he did show a nice little move for a layup at one point. I would assume that both he and Zack will be up for the game on Wednesday against Indiana. 
  • Morgan--Morgan was certainly not going to win his matchup with Sullinger, but we needed him to convert more of those opportunities around the basket. I like Morgan so I'm not going to sit here and call a Division-I athlete "soft," but he does need to be a little bit stronger around the basket (the instance where he got the ball taken from him in the post comes to mind). With Zeller coming to town on Wednesday, it doesn't get much easier for him. 
  • McLimans--Made a 3. Got some more minutes due to JMo's foul troubles...still just a guy. 
  • Vogrich--No shot attempts in 6 minutes; did pull in a pair of boards. 
  • Smotrycz--Similar to THJ with respect to the Space Jam analogy. Obviously, Big Ten play is a huge step up from playing the likes of Alabama A&M and those other teams that Evan had success against, but man...the confidence isn't there. I thought hitting that one three in the first half would have bolstered his confidence but he went on to miss his remaining 5 attempts, 3 of which were from beyond the arc. Other than looking generally unconfident, it doesn't seem like he's really even having fun, which would definitely feed into the former; a symptom, if you will. 
  • Christian--Michigan is basically playing 4 on 5 with him on the floor. He did show some nice hustle but completely freaked out when Burke shot him a pass near the basket. 

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