Sunday, February 26, 2012

Michigan-Purdue: In the Brick House

Michigan 61 (21-8, 11-5), Purdue 75 (19-10, 9-7)

Terone Johnson attacks as Michigan all the while further 
strengthens its strangehold on the brick-laying sector of the basketball economy (AP/Carlos Osorio)

After the Northwestern game, a contest in which Michigan threw up an inconceivable number of 3s, on the road, while having been down 7 at the half, there was talk of Big Ten titles, tournament seeding, and, in "talking to a pitcher in the 8th inning of a shutout" fashion, mention of even loftier goals. It was hastily forged discussion that fed into itself to the point that the goal seemed a realistic possibility by virtue of the fact that people talked about it as a possibility, kind of like when you convince yourself that you ran a 4.6 in high school that one time when a tired coach that wanted to go home hand-timed you after practice. You have no way of really proving it but it happened and you mention it over and over again as the years go idly by. It becomes a pseudo-fact of the undisprovable, foolish variety.

This game was a reminder that Michigan, when they want to be, can look eminently mid-majory (and not the "good" kind of mid-major). At the same time, if you can't already tell from the facetious Pop Evil reference in the title of this post, "I ain't even mad though," as they say. From a basketball perspective, this game didn't exactly reveal anything that we didn't already know about this team. Don't let Trey turn the corner on the pick and roll and you've essentially shut down half the offense. After that, take your chances with Michigan's erratic bunch of gritsters and THJ--Honorary Member of the Jay Cutler Bad Body Language Hall of Fame--do their thing from outside, and by "their thing" I mean throw up enough bricks to build the base for what should be a statue of Zack Novak outside of Crisler (the statue must obviously include the iconic blood streak down the face; posterity must know the meaning of true grit). Michigan shot 38 at Northwestern and still managed to win; this time, Michigan shot 32, and, well, it didn't go so well (28%). This is not a tenable strategy, but, you knew that already.

Let me give credit where it is due. Purdue played a great game and they easily deserved to win this game. They needed the big win that was absent from their resume and got it, in dominating fashion. Hummel and Lewis Jackson--the latter whom has become one of the my favorite non-Michigan players in recent memory--played like the seniors they are, ingloriously fighting to not miss the tournament. However, sophomore Terone Johnson was of course the story of the game. He scored 22 on 9-12 from the field; ALL of his makes were from 2. It was difficult to watch him attack the basket with impunity as fellow sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. clanked three after three, despite having some tantalizing success of his own off of "slice cuts" and other avenues of attacking the basket. You're sitting there watching, thinking: do more of that. Then, he does not comply with your request. End scene.

I feel a post on this coming later, but: is Terone Johnson really that much better of a player? He was a four star so it's not like he's some anonymous scrub by any means, but man. Last time around, it was THJ putting up a crooked number while Johnson only put up a mere 4 points. I've been staunchly in the "let's just ride this out even if it takes all season" camp re: THJ (not that any of us have a choice; whether your impetus is loyalty or an understanding of the depth chart's lack of, uh, depth, he's our guy, period), but it's getting harder and harder, particularly given that March is right around the corner. I'm not even saying that he should stop shooting entirely, because that's obviously ridiculous and demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the game works and is played. With that said, come tourney time, THJ's alacrity to shoot it from outside could directly lead to the end of Michigan's season. It's that simple. It really comes down to him just taking a few less a game. Instead of taking that three that you can get at literally any time in the offense, drive if you can and dish outside or to JMo when the D collapses. Or, just don't take the shot and reset the offense up top. Right now, THJ is that guy at the IM Building who you hate playing with because he jacks up a trey every time he gets the ball.

Last year's torrid shooting is not of import anymore; enough time has passed that we can and should analyze THJ in light of what he currently is and not what he was capable of doing last year. In short: recalibrate your expectations and/or pre-conceived notions if you haven't already. If you're looking for a silver lining, the fact that Michigan has had the season that it's had with THJ performing the way that he has, he is sort of an ace in the hole going forward. If the proverbial light goes on, Michigan is going places.

The most disappointing facet of all of this is that it was senior night, Michigan's undefeated home record received its first blemish, and a share of the regular season title is almost certainly out of the question. It would've been nice, but let's be honest: we'd all take a deep tourney run over a regular season title any day of the week. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course, but it's better to purge these sorts of performances from the collective stock of possible outings now rather than later.

Even more disappointing than all of the aforementioned is that this game would've served as a sort of calming force, a reassurance that, yeah, maybe we really are that good. To be honest, I think we are still that good. This team is certainly capable of a Sweet 16 team (and maybe better if the bracket goes a certain way) Unfortunately, come tourney time, that doesn't matter; all it takes is one poor effort. As we've seen, when Michigan loses they lose hard. I say that Michigan is capable of a tourney run that we haven't seen in a very long time, and yet, this performance elevate the creeping suspicion that we could just as easily get bounced in the first round. I highly doubt that will actually happen, but when you look at the way Michigan has lost this season, is it really out of the question?

Among many things, I came into this game looking for reassurance...what I got was unadulterated nightmare fuel. It's the type of thing that, the night before Michigan's first-round game, will wake you up in a cold sweat: the threes, the threes, the threes, they clank off every time. The horror, the horror.

Player Bullets, Also Known As "That Was Turrible, Kenny": 

  • Burke--A tough outing to be sure. I'll say this again, but Lewis Jackson is a frustrating little guy to have to play against. Trey turned it over 4 times, at least a couple which lead directly to points for the Boilers. If any future opponents need the blueprint for defending Trey Burke, this would be a good game to watch. When Burke is prevented from turning the corner on the P&R as he was over and over again last night, this offense finds itself in a quagmire of useless dribbling and late-into-the-shot-clock 3 chucking. 
  • THJ--You know, if you take out the 0-6 from 3, Tim went 5-7 from inside the arc en route to 10 points and six boards. However, you can't eliminate that, and paired with four turnovers, watching THJ crumble mentally within the first five minutes of each game is becoming painful to watch. I wish I had snapped a picture of THJ's facial expression after his airball from the top of the key; it was an apropos combination of horror, disbelief, and nihilistic rage. I would love for Beilein to cut up a Terone Johnson highlight tape from this game, show it to THJ, and be all "Hey, do that." It's gotten to the point that each brick is becoming an obvious spirit-killer. I understand the frustration that comes with not being able to do a thing that, in your heart and mind, is a thing that you can (and have) done with great success before. At the same time, part of the maturation process is realizing when it just isn't working, and how not realizing or acknowledging this fact can affect the team. These next two games will be huge for THJ. 
  • Douglass--Amidst the sea of under-performance, Stu filled up the stat sheet quite nicely, as we've almost come to expect. He went 3-7 from the field for 7 points, while also grabbing 4 boards, 5 assists, a steal, and one Serge Ibaka impression on Lewis Jackson in the lane (i.e., a block). Stu Douglasss is the Swiss Army knife of basketball players. It is unfortunate that his last game in Crisler had to be that
  • Novak--I feel doubly bad for Zack; he really deserved to end his career in Crisler under better terms. Minus an early two, all of his attempts were from 3, where he went 4-10. A quiet game, really, which is pretty heartbreaking. 
  • Morgan--Without the pick and roll really getting going in any way, JMo wasn't able to make a significant difference. He did go 4-7 from the field but Shaq'd a pair of FTs and also missed at least one bunny (from what I can remember of this haze of senior night sadness). As a Bulls fan, watching him miss bunnies and get his shot blocked with regularity in the paint is eerily redolent of Carlos Boozer; that is not a good thing. 
  • Smotrycz--Had a very nice back down of a smaller Purdue defender (Ryne Smith?) that led to an easy two at the basket. Also hit a three, but other than that he just didn't do much to give Michigan a spark from the bench. Even if he had, Michigan wasn't going to win this game. 
  • Vogrich--Hit a deep three, missed two others. When THJ goes out, Diet Novak gets called in from the bullpen, which is like going from a fireballer to the frisbee-tossing Shingo Takatsu. Once the novelty wears off, he sort of just becomes a guy, out there. 

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