Sunday, January 8, 2012

Michigan-Wisconsin: That Was Wisconsin That Was Yesterday

Michigan 59, Wisconsin 41

After a frustrating but valiant performance in Assembly Hall, Bo Ryan's troupe of basketball-aesthetics-destroying minions rolled into Ann Arbor to grind out a much-needed conference win. Despite an abundance of pre-season hype, the Badgers had managed to lose four games, including two consecutive home losses (including an unforgivable one against the generally hapless Hawkeyes). Nevertheless, the Badgers are still a team that presents the same set of obstacles to its opponents as it has in years past: tough defense, a grinding slow pace, and efficient 3-point shooting. As Dylan detailed in his discussion with Bucky's Fifth Quarter, the last cornerstone of Wisconsin basketball--3-point shooting--has taken a significant nosedive, namely in the form of one Jordan Taylor, who comes in averaging about 5 points a game less than he did last season. However, he did drop 28 on the Spartans in the second aforementioned home loss as the Wolverines performed whatever voodoo Bayou magic that drove them to victory in the Superdome. 

Michigan, as we know, has had its troubles on the defensive end that, to me, will determine this team's fate far more than Tim Hardaway's penchant for shooting and missing from beyond the arc. The Wolverines have had trouble defending the three against even the tiniest of minnows on the schedule, and thus defending against the three against a slumping Taylor, a 52.6% shooting Josh Gasser, and Ben Brust, would have necessarily been one of the keys to the game, in addition to a settling down of Trey Burke's game after some dodgy moments in B-Town, a return to prior form for Smotrycz after a pair of relatively quiet games, and, lastly, yes, Hardaway being a little more efficient and prudent in his shot selection.

To put it simply, this was a conference win that Michigan needed to have. The first half went about as expected, pace-wise; however, I don't think anybody could've expected the defense to be as airtight as it was. Aside from the Badgers only scoring 19 in the first half, they were very little threat to do much of anything. Burke did a masterful job containing Taylor all day, making you wonder at times which one was actually the freshman. Michigan went into the half up 24-19, with Michigan's own poor shooting and Wisconsin's offensive rebounding keeping the game somewhat close.

The second half was more of the same, and it was awesome. Michigan played more of that tight boa constrictor defense; there were few open looks and penetration was nearly impossible. Other than the Taylor vs. Burke matchup, the game hinged on the Wolverines' treatment of Berggren (#40). Kudos to Beilein et al for doing the scouting and recognizing that he is not exactly Shaq or Webber [REDACTED] when it comes to successful passing big men. Michigan played solid defense all-around, but when they did take their chances they doubled Berggren on the block, usually with Hardaway as the doubler. The result? Either: a) a Berggren turnover, often leading to a quick transition play or b) a missed open three if Berggren managed to dish it out. In short, GAME BLOUSES.

Michigan held Wisconsin to 41, by far the latter's season low, and they only got there via a good day on the offensive glass. Wisconsin might not be the team they have been in recent years, but Michigan held serve at home and looked impressive defensively in doing so. It was a smashing victory of the Bo variety (not the above Bo...the real Bo). It's easy to be excited about what Michigan has in Burke, Hardaway, and even Novak's burgeoning AND1 basketball career, but what will carry Michigan through the B1G schedule with a youthful, undersized lineup is defense.

Player Notes, Also Known As "Trey Burke And Those Who Are Not Trey Burke":
  • Burke--As mentioned, outright blanketed Taylor in his best Darrelle Revis impression. It was just about as impressive as anything Burke has done to date, especially after Taylor just recently dropped 28 on the Spartans. Only 14 points (on 6/15 shooting) and 2 assists, but did show some strength on the attack that I haven't necessarily seen from him yet, specifically one basket where he entirely absorbed contact on the block from the obviously much bigger Berggren in order to knock in a bunny. 
  • Hardaway--Tim returned to "Search and Destroy" mode today. Like Burke, the shot is still a bit off, but that will come with time. I'm not sure if the fact that he took only three threes is significant or not--i.e. by design/coaching instruction or just the flow of the game--but he did make two of three, FWIW. Was aggressive and creative around the basket even after a tough first half. I like it. KEEP DOING THAT. 
  • Novak--The Mayor of Gritville had another impressive day putting the ball on the floor and being all-around gritty. Two sequences in particular come to mind. 1) One in which he swatted the ball from Berggren after he brought it low, leading to a fast break, a Morgan score, and a Wisconsin timeout after Michigan went up 32-19. Big play here, as Michigan had defended nearly the entirety of the shot clock only to relinquish an offensive board after a missed three. If Novak doesn't make that play then maybe the Badgers mount a run? 2) The seminal moment of gritty grit grit...yes, the play where both Douglass and Novak dove on the floor one after the other, with Zack corraling it and executing a nice little flip to a streaking Burke who went to lay it in uncontested. The three-ball was off today (0/4), but otherwise a cool 12 points on 5/6 from 2 isn't so bad. Keep working on that handle, Zack, and we have The Professor 2.0 on our hands
  • Morgan--Only 19 minutes in this one. A quiet day for Morgan but he generally did his job on the boards, reeling in 11 on the day, 5 of those of the offensive variety. 
  • Smotrycz--Has cooled off significantly and as expected. There was no way he would continue the torrid pace he was on near the end of the non-conference schedule. Only 3 points and 1/5 from 3 (including some pretty good looks) in 25 minutes would be more worrisome against a team not named Wisconsin; hopefully he can find his way back into the offense after a tough start to the conference slate. Got easily backed down by Berggren for 2 once when Hardaway didn't double; somebody get this man some Cottage Inn STAT. 
  • Douglass--The only bench guy worth mentioning, as he's essentially playing starter's minutes. You know it's just not your day (i.e. Taylor) when Stu Douglass straight up pilfers the ball from your hands like it's a sack lunch. Had five steals--FIVE!--on the day. A three or two and some defensive activity from Stu would be a tremendous contribution from him from game to game. 

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