Saturday, November 24, 2012

Michigan-Kansas State: Overnight Metamorphosis

Michigan 71 (5-0), Kansas State 57 (5-1)

With most people thinking about tomorrow's tilt in Columbus, the basketball team was busy flexing its newfound muscle and depth against a second straight opponent with a pulse. Michigan jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first five minutes of play, a lead that it never relinquished. As I sat in Madison Square Garden, a palpable sense of evolution filled the arena, of challenger becoming the challenged. 

As expected, Kansas State just didn't have the same depth, athleticism and overall basketball ability as Michigan. There's not much use in going through the game itself; Michigan was better, and it was obvious from the very beginning.

What is worthy of discussion is how different of a team Michigan has looked thus far from past Beilein teams. Watching Michigan trudge through a relatively mediocre performance en route to a win on Wednesday and then watching them dismantle what is probably at least an okay team tonight makes it fairly obvious that this is just a different entity we're dealing with here. 

This isn't any of Beilein's previous Michigan tourney teams, for which Michigan's hopes on a given night were always tenuously balanced on the shooting strokes of Stu Douglass, Zack Novak, Tim Hardaway Jr. etc. Michigan would run out onto the floor and attempt to balance expensive china on top of a stick sitting on the tips of their noses, every night for 40 minutes. Not a one of them could slip, not one of them could drop a single plate, or Michigan was sunk. Sometimes they managed to succeed, like the game in East Lansing on Jan. 27, 2011.. The game ended and we all marveled at the fake that not a single shard was to be found anywhere on the ground. 

Even when they won, even when Michigan entered the rankings --like last year going into Fayetteville at #19-- it always seemed structurally flawed, which is fine as long as the structure doesn't collapse, termites and all. Results will always rule the day, after all. 

It might be a little early to start making grand, sweeping statements about the state of Michigan basketball, but watching Michigan against Pitt and Kansas State this week was a legitimately new and exciting experience for me as a U-M basketball fan. I saw things that I had never seen before in a Wolverine basketball team, fundamental things that are common components in championship teams and/or contenders.

I saw a Michigan team that was not only unquestionably talented, but unquestionably deep, athletic, well-coached, experienced in spots, and so on. Think about how many of those factors were missing within the program since the Fab Five. Odds are, Michigan was missing at least one or two of those things in a given year. 

Now, Michigan is the king of the hill. 

  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: An unbelievable performance for THJ, the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. He went 10-15 from the field, expertly finding his way to good spots on the floor for him to pull the trigger when electing to take an outside shot. When he drove to the basket, he did so with a calculating and almost effortless precision. 23 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block. As far as his injury goes, I was at the game, and he walked off on his own power after a minute or so of lying on the floor. He went into the locker room thereafter, reappearing after a short while to sit on the bench. You never know how these supposed head injuries will go, but it goes without saying that caution bordering on paranoia should be the order of the day here regarding a return to the floor. 
  • Trey Burke: As difficult as it is to find negatives after a start like this, Burke has started slow during these two games at MSG. Maybe it's the MSG rims or something, but I'm not really all that worried. You want to know something that's kind of hilarious? Trey Burke, Michigan's best player, didn't take a single shot in the first half, and Michigan was still up 5 going into the break. It wasn't even really a "close" five, Michigan was clearly better. Burke had a nice second half, going 5-10 for 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a block. 
  • Glenn Robinson III: Not a great day from the field (3-11, 9 points) but he was active elsewhere (12 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block). Watching him out-athlete the Big Ten is going to be fun. 
  • Nik Stauskas: Cold-blooded swag. Shot 3-6 from the field for 10 points (2-3 from beyond the arc). He is the kind of shooter for whom every 3-point shot looks good as soon as it leaves his hands. It appears that Beilein has finally found his huckleberry re: an elite shooter. 
  • Jordan Morgan: Jordan "Bad Foul" Morgan reared his head. Morgan only had a chance to play six minutes, acquiring exactly 0.0 points and 2 boards. On the bright side, Michigan is no longer dead when Morgan decides to engage in some pointless tick-tackery 35 feet away from the basket. Depth is nice. 
  • Matt Vogrich: Still a nominal starter because his defense is better than Stauskas'. Really wish he'd shoot like he did earlier in his career, although that's more of a general wish and not necessarily tied to his performance in this one. He went 1-3 from the field, with all three of his shots, oddly, being of the 2-point variety. 
  • Spike Albrecht. Speaking of depth, it appears that Spike is a viable backup point guard. He even offered up a nifty trey on his singular attempt from the field. He played 12 solid minutes in which he didn't turn it over or do anything egregious. This is exactly what we needed last season, but alas, Michigan kind of needed Burke to pull a Martin/RVB circa 2012 Sugar Bowl, basically all season. Also, I hope I'm not the only one that thinks of Spike, the dog from Rugrats, whenever Spike's name is mentioned. No? Okay then. (This is what I get for growing up in the '90s.)
  • Mitch "Crunk" McGary. Seriously, Mitch gets pretty jacked up. It's fun, but I kind of get the feeling that he's the type of guy that gets pumped up about literally anything. "Didn't nick myself shaving this morning? WOOOOOO YEAHHHHH." However, I am certainly not complaining, and I stick by my Jordan Morgan 2.0 comparison. He had six points on 2-4 shooting, 3 boards, 1 assist and 1 block. 
  • Jon Horford: Can't remember where I saw this, but someone noted that Horford might have the best post move of any front courter...I have to agree. Horford was 3-5 from the field (6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists). Some shaky moments at times on the defensive end, but I'm sure he's still recovering to a certain extent, and maybe the fitness level is not quite there. He likely won't ever be like his brother Al on the offensive end, but he has the ability to be a much better defensive player with the ability to pitch in a post move or two a game, in addition to whatever garbage points he can vacuum up. 
  • Max Biefeldt: Is kind of just a rotational body at this point, but he might be a useful player in Big Ten play. Somehow had the ball just ripped out of his hands on the perimeter, which isn't good. Otherwise, he didn't attempt a shot in seven minutes (but did tally one block). 

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