Sunday, December 16, 2012

Michigan-West Virginia: What More Can I Say

Explicit lyrics (obviously) 

Michigan traveled to play in its second New York borough during this 2012-13 season, this time taking on the West Virginia Mountaineers in the new Barclays Center on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

The Mountaineers beat what seems to be an okay Virginia Tech team last Saturday only to drop a contest against Duquesne on the road, shooting 33.3% from the field and relinquishing a 15-point second half lead in the process.

In any case, WVU was a tournament team last season. Kevin Jones is no longer around, but the Mountaineers still have the ability to challenge you if you're not on. 

For Michigan, this game mirrored the motion of a pendulum that somehow manages to knock you in the head on each end point of its travels. This team is young but plays like it is older. This team is young and plays like it is young. 

Luckily, the sheer gravity of this team's overall talent almost always pulls the pendulum back from the latter. Michigan ambushed the Mountaineers early, jumping out to a huge lead; naturally, Michigan came out firing from beyond the arc, with THJ missing his first attempt and nailing a second to begin the scoring. At the 15:24 mark, Michigan was up 17-4.

Like many other times, Michigan shot the lights out early, starting 4/5 from three. Michigan followed this up by going 0/8 from beyond the arc between the 13:51 and 3:03 marks. Perhaps not coincidentally WVU was able to cut Michigan's lead from 15 down to 5 in that time. The Wolverines led just 34-29 with 3:24 left in the half. 

This has not been uncommon this season. There are times when Michigan falls in love with the trey and their prior levels of success with that strategy. In a sense, Michigan sort of sets itself up to fail in a way after going on these ridiculous shooting runs. Indeed, guys like Hardaway Jr., Burke and Morgan are veterans, but this is still a team that is largely dependent on the whims of freshmen like Stauskas, who finally had a truly rough night. The Canuck went 3-for-9 from the field (2-for-7 from 3), good for an entirely mortal eFG% of 44.4%.

There's not much point in dissecting the struggles of a guy like Stauskas too much. He had good looks, he just happened to miss tonight. It happens. At least one of those missed threes was more than halfway down before rimming out. Such is the life of a shooter.

With that said, although he drew a technical for this antic, it was nice to see him getting a little FIRED UP WOO after hitting that three in front of the WVU bench. Obviously he needs to not that do that anymore, but it was one of those moments where you're going YEAH on the inside while tsk tsking on the outside. 

Otherwise, forgetting about the threes: six turnovers for the Pride of Mississauga is not good. Matt Vogrich did not play at all once again, so it's not as if Stauskas is in any danger, but if you're going to have an off night from the night you simply cannot compound it by being careless with the ball, which needs to be valued like the richest poutine. 

Michigan's 11-point halftime lead quickly became a 17-point lead in about five minutes of second half play. The Wolverines kept a double-digit lead for the next seven or eight, generally continuing to dominate play as Hardaway Jr. and Burke racked up monstrous stat lines. 

Following the tv timeout just past the 8-minute mark (at this same point, Michigan was only up by four against Arkansas last week), eight points from WVU's Terry Henderson powered the 'Eers to an 11-4 run that cut the deficit to eight. 

Yes, Michigan was only up eight, which in this brave new world is supposedly cause for concern.

Like the Pitt, Kansas State, N.C. State and Arkansas games, even when Michigan wasn't shooting the ball well and the opponent began to challenge, as a viewer it never felt as if the outcome was in doubt. 

Michigan being up by four points with eight minutes to go this season is analogous to a Yankee team in the 8th inning with Mariano Rivera ready to enter the game in the ninth. In the past, it felt like what Cubs fan probably feel like when Carlos Marmol is on the mound; a sweaty, tense and often frustrating affair. Sometimes the shots would not fall, and Michigan would slowly cede ground until the game was lost in some brutally discordant fashion. 

Michigan no longer has to "hope" for shots to go in, because they just do. Even when they don't, the Wolverines are no longer bound by the strictures of heroball. 

Maybe Stauskas' off night is skewing my perception of this performance, but it once again seemed as if Michigan wasn't playing all that well. Yet, you look at the box score and Michigan has shot 56% from the field as a team while holding its opponent to just 38.5%. More importantly, they won by 15.

Thus far, this team has demonstrated a strange yet intriguing combination of showtime and inexperienced talent doing what inexperienced talent does. Michigan is 11-0 and I don't believe that anyone will claim that the Wolverines have played their best ball yet.

Think about that: the best is yet to come. I mean, what more can I say?

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