Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Exhibition No. 1: No. 9 Michigan 117, Concordia 44

NB: Just like last season and the season before, most of my basketball writings will go up at Maize n Brew. With that said, I'll still be putting some stuff up here, starting, well, tonight. 
With Mitch McGary on the bench in street clothes and the Wolverines taking on Concordia, an NAIA squad, in an exhibition contest, the stakes were about as depressed as Eeyore on a bad day.

Then again, it is a sign of the times that someone such as myself, who has always held college football aloft as the apex of amateur athletics, is legitimately excited about such a matchup. The game itself might not have meant anything, but it does mark the beginning of the next installment of the John Beilein era. On the heels of finished runner-up in 2012-13, the Wolverines have several questions to answer before the real question--Can they do it again?--can be addressed in earnest.

The Final Four run has etched itself in the minds of Michigan fans everywhere; once the afterglow of that campaign started to fade, the logical array of questions bubbled to the surface. No Trey Burke? Tim Hardaway Jr.? What about Derrick Walton? Can Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert take the next step? Can Spike Albrecht run the show full-time? 

And so on. Although the final outcome of these sorts of games is generally immaterial, it is worth watching just to see how various lineup combinations play together, whether the ball is ultimately being scored or not.

Michigan began with a starting five of Albrecht, Robinson III, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford and Nik Stauskas. At the 16:27 mark, Walton, Max Bielfeldt and LeVert subbed in (Stauskas and Robinson remained in).

It wasn't a particularly great start for Albrecht; he missed an open layup in transition and also turned it over on another possession in which Michigan mostly stood around. He did take a charge down on the block before being subbed out.

Elsewhere, Stauskas started things off with a familiar sight: him driving hard to the rim and going to the line after not quite being able to throw it down. Upon hitting his patented corner three, Stauskas had scored seven of Michigan's first nine points.

Abotu four minutes into Walton's shift, Concordia brought a little full-court pressure. Walton took the ball up the right side, saw two defenders beginning to collapse on him, and left his feet to lob a doomed pass well past No. 21 Zak Irvin. In case you needed reminding, Walton is a true freshman, and he will likely make those sorts of mistakes early on in the season.

Stauskas got into the double-digits in scoring after nailing his second trey of the game, executing a seamless shot fake and one dribble left into an effortless stroke from the the left wing. Level of competition caveats aside, there probably shouldn't be any concerns about the added muscle affecting Stauskas's shot.

Despite not playing a perfectly clean game, the Wolverines jumped out to a 30-9 lead just about 12 minutes into the game, partially aided by nine Concordia turnovers. Stauskas once again put the ball on the floor, taking it from the corner and ripping through challenging defenders into an uncontested layup.

For the sake of history, let it be known that Walton tallied his first points with about 7:12 to go in the half. The freshman buried a three from the left wing, then added two more buckets in the span of about 30 seconds. Shortly thereafter, Walton lasered a no-look pass to a wide open Jordan Morgan under the rim for an easy two and dropped another easy dime to LeVert in transition. After committing a careless turnover earlier, Walton had clearly picked up some confidence during this later stretch in the first half.

Michigan went into the half up 60-19, with an eFG% of 89%. Five Wolverines tallied seven or more points in the first half. Stauskas and LeVert led the way with 12 points apiece. Not that this means anything at all, but Michigan scored at a clip of 1.71 points per possession in the first half (Concordia was at 0.56 PPP).

Also of note, late in the half Beilein rolled out a lineup of LeVert-Stauskas-Morgan-Irvin-GRIII, with LeVert running the point. There have been rumblings about the potential for LeVert to run the show some this season, so perhaps that is the lineup we'll see when he does.

There's not much use in giving any play-by-play for the second half, so a few more miscellaneous bullets will have to do:

  • A pair of beautiful feeds from Horford and Albrecht led to thunderous Robinson dunks early in the second half. Whenever people talk offense, it's about who can put the ball in the basket. However, the notable thing about this team is the number of guys who can pass other guys into good lucks and easy buckets. The Wolverines will need to keep that distribution up throughout the season to make up for the departure of Trey Burke's pure one-on-one playmaking. 
  • If this were hockey, Walton showed a nice little backcheck about nine minutes into the second half, just about picking the Concordia player's pocket from behind. If Walton can give Michigan even half of what Burke gave the Wolverines in the steals department, Michigan's perimeter defense will be in decent shape. 
  • After turning it over in the face of the Concordia press n the first half, Walton handled it much better from that point forward. 
  • If Michigan does face VCU in Puerto Rico, you can definitely expect to see a lot of two-point guard lineups, just like last year. With Concordia bringing a bit of full-court pressure in this one, Albrecht and Walton did see the floor at the same time. 
  • Horford led the Wolverines with 12 rebounds. 
  • Freshman forward Mark Donnal entered with about 5:25 left in the game. A minute into his shift, Donnal showed some nice range, burying a long two from the right side. Andrew Dakich, Sean Lonergan and Cole McConnell also entered the game late. 
  • Six Wolverines finished with 10+ points. 
Michigan wiped the floor with Concordia, as expected, which I suppose is a good thing in and of itself. However, more encouraging was the overall jump in Michigan's step, whether in transition or on the bounce. This is Beilien's most athletic squad yet, and this season should be one of high-flying dunks from beginning to end. 

Not much from this game is transferable in any sense, but Michigan: a) did what it needed to do and b) at least looks the part of a top 10 squad, athletically. 

Michigan's second (and final) exhibition game comes next Monday against Wayne State (7 ET, BTN). 

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