Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Puerto Rico Tip-Off Reaction

The Michigan Wolverines traveled to San Juan to compete in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, where they advanced to the tournament final before being knocked off by Charlotte on Sunday, 63-61.

I compiled some scattered thoughts and observations into a reaction post over at Maize n Brew. In short, it's November: there is no reason to panic at this point, even with a loss against a non-name brand team like Charlotte. After all, look at North Carolina. Last week they lost to Belmont at home, only to go on to beat No. 3 Louisville on Sunday.

In any case, Michigan still has a few more opportunities to notch quality non-conference wins (Duke, Arizona, Stanford) before the Big Ten opener on Jan. 2 at Minnesota.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: Sloppy play late derails Gophers comeback bid against No. 8 Syracuse

Minnesota 67, No. 8 Syracuse 75

Under first year head coach Richard Pitino, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have jumped out to a 5-0 start; however, against No. 8 Syracuse, the Gophers faced by far their toughest test yet in the quarterfinal round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational. 

Syracuse, meanwhile, headed into tonight's game with a perfect mark of its own (4-0), having most recently played a week ago against St. Francis (NY), only a 6-point victory in the Carrier Dome. 

Facing the Orangemen's 2-3 zone, Andre and Austin Hollins would need to make shots from the outside; coming into tonight's game, they had shot 35 percent and 36 percent from downtown, respectively. 

Things didn't look good for the Gophers early, as Syracuse jumped out to a 7-0 lead in just over a minute of play. However, the Gophers rallied, eventually taking a 15-14 lead at the 13:03 mark. Additionally, Andre Hollins buried his first two triples of the game, a good sign for a team looking to attack Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone. 

Despite SU's top 10 ranking, the Gophers appeared equal to the challenge, as both teams combined to play an exciting first half that ended with the Orangemen taking a 39-36 lead into the locker room. The Gophers shot 6-for-11 from three in the first half (54.5 percent) and held SU to just 38.2 percent from the field. 

However, 12 turnovers in the first half alone --three from each Hollins-- didn't allow the Gophers to pull ahead. 

On the other hand, SU sophomore G Trevor Cooney attempted eight of his team's nine first half 3-point attempts, converting four of them. Minnesota would have to do a better job on Cooney in the second half in order to come away with a big non-conference upset win. 

Even more importantly, the Gophers would have to do a better job on the glass. In the first half, the Orangemen rebounded 10 of their 21 misses, good for an impressive offensive rebounding percentage of 47.6 percent. 

Unfortunately for Pitino, C Elliott Eliason went into the half with two fouls; he would need to avoid a quick 4th in the second half if the Gophers were going to prevent SU from continuing their domination of the boards on the offensive end. 

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Iowa

As always, my recap of Saturday's game went up at Maize n Brew this morning.

In short, whatever happens against Ohio State and in the bowl game, Michigan is looking at its biggest offseason in several years. Whether that includes coaching turnover or not, 2014 will prove to be a crucial season for a program that has trended downward since the 11-2 season two years ago.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: Au Revoir, Gopher

Photo credit: Michael Hicks

No. 25 Minnesota 7, No. 19 Wisconsin 20

When James White reeled off a 49-yard run on Wisconsin's first play of the game, Gophers fans had to be thinking one thing: Here we go again.

The No. 25 Minnesota Gophers met its cross-divisional rival, No. 19 Wisconsin, looking to keep Paul Bunyan's Axe for the first time since 2003. A week after James White ran for a 93-yard score on Wisconsin's first play against Indiana, it seemed like the Badgers were poised to run all over yet another Big Ten foe.

The Gophers proved their mettle after that initial burst from White, however, holding the Badgers to a field goal and then forcing them to go punt on their next two drives. Meanwhile, the Minnesota offense struggled to get going; luckily for them, the defense provided the first touchdown score of the afternoon for either team.

Faced with a 3rd & 6 from UW's 36, QB Joel Stave tossed an interception to Aaron Hill, who took it to the house for six. For a heavy underdog, that play was exactly what the Gophers needed to make it to halftime with life.

With that said, the Gophers failed to stay on the positive side of the turnover ledger in the first half. The Gophers lost a fumble on the first play of the second quarter, then another on a promising drive into UW territory. Following the latter turnover, the Badgers drove down to the Minnesota 1-yard line, where White punched it in to regain the lead.

Nelson later committed an intentional ground penalty, ultimately leading to a Wisconsin drive starting at the Minnesota 49. Once again, the Minnesota defense flexed its muscles, holding the Badger offense to a field goal after it had gotten all the way down to the Gopher 2-yard line.

Heading into the half down 13-7, the Gophers had to be mostly pleased with the first 30 minutes of football in TCF Bank Stadium. Whether the Gophers could ride those good feelings to an upset victory depended on the offense's ability to grind out long drives, just like they've done throughout their 4-game winning streak.

Michigan 21, Iowa 24: It Tolls For Thee

Michigan 21, Iowa 24

Photo credit: Alan Light

Fresh off an overtime win in Evanston that was two parts ugly and one part dogged resilience, the Michigan Wolverines hit the road again, this time for the record-setting cold of Iowa City, looking for their first consecutive road wins in the Brady Hoke era. 

The Hawkeyes last took the field on Nov. 9, when they dispatched the Purdue Boilermakers with ease at Ross-Ade Stadium, 38-14, their best performance since pasting the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium back in September. 

The Wolverines came into Saturday a 6-point underdog against the 6-4 (3-3) Hawkeyes. In previous years, Michigan fans might have looked at a line like that with significant skepticism, but this is not like any other season. For the Wolverines to move to 8-3 heading into The Game, anything less than their best game would likely result in a loss. Michigan's much-discussed road woes did not bode well for them at Kinnick Stadium, a place they had not won since their overtime victory there in 2005. 

On Iowa's first offensive play of the game, QB Jake Rudock rolled to his right, where he was met by Jake Ryan. Ryan walloped the sophomore quarterback as he released, leading to a fluttering ball that Brennen Beyer snagged and took to the end zone untouched, giving Michigan an early 7-0 lead. 

The Hawkeyes missed a field goal on their second drive, but started their third with good field position at the Michigan 45 following Michigan's second three and out in as many drives. Iowa drove down to the end zone in seven plays, capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass to a diving CJ Fiedorowicz.

The game continued on like a record scratching every time Michigan got the ball. The offense went three-and-out again, and Matt Wile's short punt again allowed the Hawkeyes to start in Michigan territory. This time, the defense held when Iowa elected to go for it on 4th & 5.

Later, after Kevonte Martin-Manley backtracked on a punt return, getting himself hogtied at the Iowa 3, Blake Countess reeled in the Michigan defense's second interception of the first half.

The Wolverines found themselves with a 2nd & goal from the Iowa 2-yard line. Gardner play action faked and rolled back to his right. He carried the ball about as far as he could, seemingly with the intent to run it in or take the loss, before finding a wide open A.J. Williams in the end zone with an unorthodox flip pass. The touchdown was Williams' first career reception, and it came at a great time for a Michigan offense that struggled mightily in the first half.

The offense finally woke up on its final drive of the first half. Starting from the Iowa 47, a couple timely completions through the air and some nifty running by Gardner moved Michigan down to the Iowa 4. On third & goal from the 9 --after a 5-yard penalty on Kyle Kalis-- Gardner launched a strike to an open Jeremy Gallon a yard deep in the end zone, giving Michigan a 21-7 lead.

The Wolverines lapsed in kickoff coverage, however, allowing a 60-yard return that eventually yielded a field goal opportunity. Iowa's field goal struggles continued, however, as the holder couldn't put the ball down cleanly, not even allowing Mike Meyer a shot to kick it. Michigan went into the half up 21-7 despite having been outgained 170-113.

The turnover margin (+3 for Michigan) was the difference in the first half; for Michigan to hold on, they would have to avoid the swinging pendulum of regression in the second act.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Florida State

While Michigan fans debate the aesthetics of an 8-win football season version a 7-win one, the basketball team is in San Juan competing in what might be the strangest early season tournament in some time, with VCU, Georgetown and Kansas State all being upset in the first round.

As such, the Wolverines drew Florida State for their semifinal matchup. Michigan struggled for most of the game; the Seminoles built their lead to 16 at one point in the second half.

However, the tide turned in Michigan's favor. The Wolverines rallied back from that deficit to take the game to overtime, where they won, 82-80. As usual, I recapped the game over at Maize n Brew.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

No. 7 Michigan 70, Iowa State 77: Hilton Magic

No. 7 Michigan 70, Iowa State 77

The pace in the first half was exactly as advertised: lightning fast, a speed which seemed to become augmented by the sheer loudness of the Hilton Coliseum.

Iowa State got on the board first, but Michigan's hot shooting in the first minutes propelled it to a 22-13 lead almost halfway through the first half. The Wolverines couldn't miss, but that deadeye shooting came to an abrupt end, as the Wolverines went on to go scoreless for about four and half minutes of play.

Iowa State dominated Michigan on the boards in the first half, especially Melvin Ejim, who scored 12 points and reeled in five boards in the opening 20 minutes.

Mitch McGary's return to the floor was almost as successful as Ejim's. McGary took a couple of minutes to find himself, but, once he did, he did all of the things that made him a big name at the end of last season. The sophomore led Michigan with 8 points on 4-of-6 shooting in the first half, including a slick finish in transition.

Down 35-34 at the half, Michigan would need to do some combination of the following: 1) Check Ejim 2) Start hitting the 3-point shot again 3) Continue hitting up the pick and roll for easy buckets.

The Hilton Coliseum sounded like it was emitting the fiendish roar of a fleet of fighter jets, and one can only imagine what it sounded like to freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr., who committed a pair of turnovers in the first half.

Keyed by its defense, the Wolverines went on a 9-0 run early in the second half, including a thunderous Glenn Robinson III dunk in transition. Of course, it would only take one big play from the Cyclones to wake up the crowd, but the run was an encouraging sign for a Wolverine squad that struggled to end the first half.

Nik Stauskas slammed home a monstrous dunk at the 8:53 mark, a moment brought to you by Not Just A Shooter Inc. However, Ejim anwered from downtown at the other end.

Michigan continued to stay a bucket or two ahead, but also continued to have no answer for Ejim, who had 22 with just under eight minutes left in the game.

A 10-0 Cyclone run gave them a 5-point lead with just over five minutes to play. Michigan was scuffling on the offensive end, and the pace was leading to some questionable decisions with the ball.

Michigan drew within one late after a Stauskas three and an assist to Robinson for an easy layup. However, Caris LeVert, matched up against Georges Niang, got beat on the low block for a pair of crushing buckets.

Without Trey Burke to save the day, Michigan had to start firing from beyond the arc; unfortunately, the shots did not fall when it counted.

In truth, this was a difficult game for Michigan to win if you had ignored the Wolverines' shiny No. 7 ranking. Iowa State can play, especially at home.

What is actually somewhat concerning is that Michigan was beaten on the boards far too often despite having a size advantage; that will be emphasized in practice in the coming week, I'm sure.

Mitch McGary was also mostly shut down in the second half, but that's probably to be expected from a guy getting his first minutes of the season. Barring any injury-related setbacks, McGary should be rounding into form by the time Michigan begins its Big Ten schedule on Jan. 2 at The Barn.

A loss is a loss. With that said, Michigan's young players gained a valuable bit of experience playing against solid competition in a difficult environment. That might not be what Michigan fans want to hear right now, but, as always, it's March that counts, not November.

The first loss is always tough. However, the good thing for this young Michigan squad is that a college basketball season is a marathon, not a sprint.

Big Ten Basketball Weekend Roundup

While Michigan fans were busy sweating out a triple overtime victory against Northwestern, several Big Ten basketball squads were in action yesterday, all four scoring victories of varying significance. Of course, the Wolverines face off against Iowa State later today in Ames.

Here's what happened around the Big Ten yesterday:

No. 20 Wisconsin 69, Green Bay 66

The Badgers jumped on US-151 yesterday and headed for Ashwaubenon, Wis., where they faced the Green Bay Phoenix of the Horizon League.

Bo Ryan's squad went down 15-9 early, but the Badgers pulled into the half with a 34-29 lead after averaging 1.14 points per possession. Sam Dekker led UW in the first half with eight points on 4-of-6 from the field. Josh Gasser bounced back from a scoreless Florida outing to put up seven points in the first half.

The Phoenix not only hung around in the second half, they owned a 4-point lead with just over 10 minutes left to play. Green Bay guard Keifer Sykes killed the Badgers all game, finishing the night with 32 points.

However, a 10-0 run by the Badgers put them up 60-54 with six minutes left to play, a lead they would not relinquish. Frank Kaminsky, not known for his play down low, came up big late in the game with several big baskets from the post. Kaminsky logged a double-double on the night (16 points, 11 rebounds).

Possibly Kaminsky's biggest play of the game came with four seconds remaining and the Badgers up 68-66. After Traevon Jackson split a pair of free throws, UW-GB had the chance to tie or take the lead. Sykes drove hard to the rim, but Kaminsky helped, swatted the shot and corraled the rebound. Kaminsky went on to also split a pair of free throws at the other end, giving Sykes once last chance at a desperation three.

The shot at the buzzer landed just off the mark, allowing the Badgers to escape with a victory that was probably much closer than they expected it to be. UW-Green Bay will be a team to watch in the Horizon League going forward (and come March Madness, should they make the field).

No. 10 Ohio State 52, No. 17 Marquette 35 

The football team was busy notching its 22nd victory in a row, a 60-35 victory at Illinois. Meanwhile, the basketball team notched a victory with a nearly identical score, which should be a pretty solid indicator of the type of basketball team Thad Matta has this year. They'll have to find more scoring as the year goes on, but that defense is nasty. 

Marquette shot an abysmal 18.9% from the field. Shannon Scott and Aaro Craft led the Buckeyes with 13 and 10 points, respectively; F Sam Thompson pitched in 13 from the bench. LaQuinton Ross, however, who had himself a nice tournament run this past March, went 0-of-6 from the field and scored zero points. 

It wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing game of all time, but a win against a ranked Marquette team, in Milwaukee, will likely end up a quality victory come tournament time. 

Penn State 83, Penn 71

The Nittany Lions lost the second half by 11 points; luckily for them, they went into halftime up by 23. In case you didn't already know, Tim Frazier is back: he scored 29 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Frazier also added seven assists, but did cough up six turnovers. 

Penn State is now 2-1 on the season. 

Minnesota 74, Richmond 59

Richard Pitino's Minnesota squad also hit the road on Saturday, traveling to Richmond's Robins Center. The Gophers jumped out to an early 12-0 lead but went into the half up just 40-37. 

From there, the game was fairly even for the first 13 minutes or so of the second half. The Spiders went up 59-55 with 7:25 to play, but the Gophers surged ahead with a 19-0 run to close the game. Andre Hollins paced the Gophers with 26 points; Austin Hollins, Malik Smith and Joey King also cracked double-digits. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Michigan 27, Northwestern 19: Near Death Experiences

Evanston, Ill. (file photo)

Michigan headed to Evanston looking to avoid its first 3-game losing streak during the Brady Hoke era. Meanwhile, Northwestern looked to snap its calamitous 5-game losing streak, both for pride's sake and the opportunity to get one win closer to bowl eligibility (with two more remaining on the schedule).

Things started off well for the Wolverines on offense, powering down the field with Derrick Green, De'Veon Smith and some quick passing for a 12-play, 63-yard field goal drive. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, that's about where the first half offensive success ended.

Northwestern answered with a long field goal drive of its own to tie it, and added another one at the end of the first half to go up 6-3.

Michigan was not exactly impressive on the ground, but they were in the black this time, rushing for 40 yards in the first half; baby steps, as they say.

Once again, the Wolverine defense performed admirably as the offense floundered, giving up six first half points and just 2.8 yards per carry.

Michigan was fortunate to enter the half down just 6-3, as Devin Gardner tossed several passes that were nearly intercepted, with at least one of them looking like good bets to be returned for six.

As has typically been the case, the Wolverines were completely helpless on third and long situations. For whatever reason, Michigan seemed to go away from Green and Smith in the second quarter despite having success with them early in the game.

The Michigan defense bent to start the second half but did not break, eventually forcing a punt after a well-defended third down option play. Now, it was Al Borges's turn to dial up the offensive equivalent of a timely blitz, with about 27 minutes between Michigan and a 6-4 record.

Elsewhere in the B1G: Badgers steamroll Hoosiers in the rain 51-3, White runs to career day

File photo (obviously)

Recent history indicated that the Badgers would roll through the Hoosiers with ease today at Camp Randall Stadium: in their last three meetings, Wisconsin has defeated Indiana by a combined score of 204-41.

But, facing an Indiana offense that has scored points against everyone --including 28 against Michigan State-- this game, on paper, presented a tricky test for a Badgers squad coming off a tough victory against a good BYU team last week. With Ohio State unlikely to lose a game (let alone two), the Badgers likely weren't headed for the Big Ten title game for a third time in as many years.

However, a BCS at-large bid remained a possibility. One way for the Badgers to continue their rise up the BCS rankings was, quite simply, to score a lot of points. As dynamic as the Indiana offense is, the IU defense could be most generously described as "malleable."

The first minute proved to be an eventful one. Indiana received the ball to start the game and drove down to the Wisconsin 45, where Nate Sudfeld had a wildly inaccurate deep ball --its trajectory seemingly altered by the wind and rain-- picked by Sojourn Shelton. On Wisconsin's first play, James White romped up the middle of the field untouched for a 93-yard touchdown score (the 44th of his career).

On the next drive, Sudfeld and tailback Stephen Houston botched a handoff, which Wisconsin's Brendan Kelly recovered at the Indiana 14. A few plays later, Melvin Gordon waltzed into the end zone with ease to  put the Badgers up 14-0 three minutes into the game.

The rain kept falling on the Hoosiers, literally and figuratively.

On the next IU drive, Sudfeld mishandled a shotgun snap, which resulted in a 3rd & 23, effectively killing the drive then and there. It's understandable for an up-tempo team like Indiana to maybe have some issues playing in the rain; nonetheless, it seemed as if the Hoosiers had never played in inclement weather before today.

After starting from their own 43 yard line, the Badgers drove down to the IU 13, met with a 3rd & 2. Somewhat surprisingly, the Hoosiers stuffed the White run for no gain, leading to just a Jack Russell field goal for UW.

Despite that small victory, the Hoosiers were down 17-0 with 6:25 left in the first quarter while having shown little ability to hold onto the ball in the cold November rain.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Iowa State Preview

Although Michigan fans have a football game to get through first tomorrow, the Wolverine basketball team will head to Iowa State on Sunday for what should be a credible early season test. I previewed that game over at Maize n Brew: go take a look.

The Cyclones are without F Melvin Ejim, but they still have plenty of offensive firepower. Michigan will have its hands full attempting to check Naz Long and Georges Niang, not to mention transfers DeAndre Kane and Dustin Hogue.

Sunday's game at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames tips off at 5:00 ET on ESPN2.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: Badgers avenge 2012 loss, down No. 11 Florida 59-53

Fouad Egbaria (file photo)

With two matchups between top 5 teams going on elsewhere in America, this meeting between the Gators and Badgers didn't get as much attention as it should have. 

Despite being short-handed on account of a trio of suspensions, the Gators jumped out to an 7-2 lead thanks to Casey Prather and Kasey Hill. A couple of minutes later, a pair of Michael Frazier triples upped the UF lead to 13-4 early, as the Wisconsin offense was rudderless in the early stages. 

Wisconsin's excellent 3-point shooting from the St. John's game didn't carry over to his one; the Badgers started 0-of-5 from downtown.

Yet another triple from Frazier forced a Bo Ryan timeout. Down 16-4, the Badgers were in danger of getting run out of the gym. Sam Dekker stemmed the tide, hitting triples on consecutive possessions, the second in the secondary break facilitated by Traevon Jackson. Having cut the deficit to just six, the crowd, which had been eerily silent to that point, made sure it was heard. 

Although it's difficult to argue that the Badgers won't be a decidedly backcourt-oriented team this season, freshman forward Nigel Hayes put forth an encouraging opening 10 minutes or so, scoring six points on 3-of-4 shooting. 

UF got everything it wanted on the offensive end, as the Badgers couldn't figure out how to defend the ball screen. Wisconsin tightened up defensively as the half went along, allowing them to fight their way back into it as the game neared halftime. 

They fought so hard that they actually found themselves up, 29-26, following a 13-2 run at the end of the half. 

Elsewhere in the B1G: Wisconsin looks for revenge, Michigan State squares off against No. 1 Kentucky

If you haven't noticed, I've been writing a decent bit about non-Michigan things here of late. As we head into basketball season, I'm going to try to expand my writing here to nudge this place toward general interest material, particularly with respect to college basketball. There's a lot of great stuff happening out there in the world of sports, and there's no point limiting myself to writing only about Michigan. 
While Michigan squares off against another overmatched opponent tonight at the Crisler Center, a pair of big games featuring Big Ten squads are on the docket tonight as the Tip-Off Marathon draws to a close. Wisconsin draws Florida at the Kohl Center, while Tom Izzo's Spartans get No. 1 Kentucky at the United Center in Chicago.

So, let's start with the Badgers:

No. 20 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Florida--Kohl Center, Madison, Wis. (9:00 ET, ESPN2)

Fouad Egbaria

The Badgers scored a solid victory against an athletic St. John's squad in Sioux Falls on Friday; they'll look to build on that tonight as Bill Donovan's squad comes to the Kohl Center. 

Of course, there's not much here yet. The Gators have played one game, an uninspiring (by the box score) 77-69 victory against North Florida on Friday. Senior forward Casey Prather led the way with 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting; Prather also pulled down eight boards. 

Freshman point guard Kasey Hill scored 15 points of his own (5-of-9 shooting), plus four assists, two steals, a block and two turnovers. 

North Florida's frontcourt seemed to have some success against their Gator counterparts. Forward Travis Wallace scored 15 and 6'11'' center Romelo Banks pitched in 10 of his own. The Gators did force 17 UNF turnovers, but the Ospreys did also pull down 13 offensive boards, good for an ORB% of 34%. 

Most years, this would be big for a frontcourt-oriented Badgers squad; however, as I've noted here before, Bo Ryan's squad will be powered by its backcourt this season, until younger options, like freshmen forwards Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes, get some seasoning. Frank Kaminsky is Wisconsin's only experienced big guy, but he is more of a shooter than a true low post warrior. 

The Badgers took their worst loss of the season last season against Florida down in Gainesville, a 76-54 loss almost a year ago on Nov. 14. There's no question that the Badgers will be looking to avenge that loss in front of a raucous Kohl Center crowd. 


On the bright side for UW, despite Florida's currently shiny ranking, this Gator squad is probably not as good as it was last year. Erik Murphy, Kenny Boyton and Mike Rosario are gone, and the Gators are also dealing with a trio of suspensions

At that link is a solid Q&A between SB Nation's Bucky's 5th Quarter and Alligator Army; as noted there, Prather and Hill will represent the bulk of UF's offensive firepower, especially Prather. 

Senior forward Patric Young (who is actually listed at center despite only being 6'9'') will be key for the Gators' chances tonight, particularly given the unsettled nature of the Badgers frontcourt. Florida will need much more than the two point, two rebound effort Young pitched in against UNF. 

Forward Will Yeguete and guard DeVon Walker round out the starting five for UF; they went a combined 1-of-6 from the field against UNF. Yeguete had himself a nice game against Michigan in the Elite 8 last season, going 5-of-5 from the field for 13 points. 

As for the Badgers, Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson and Sam Dekker should once again comprise the starting five. Gasser's post-injury debut against St. John's was wildly successful, scoring 19 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc and 8-of-8 from the charity stripe. 

With Ryan Evans no longer on the roster, production from the low post might be hard to find for the Badgers this season. However, with Brust and Gasser shooting well, and Dekker filling it up as he is wont to do, the perimeter game should more than make up for it most nights. 

Points of Emphasis
  • In that vein, how do the Badgers respond if their shots aren't falling and they can't find opportunities in transition? This game should provide a good test in that regard. 
  • Who checks Patric Young? The odds are good that Young won't be held to just two points again tonight. Can Kaminsky and the young forwards, Hayes and Brown, slow him down?
  • According to Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army, UF's perimeter defense has been "almost embarrassingly bad" thus far. The Badgers should get some good looks. For all of the advanced stats that now exist to dissect the game of college basketball, it always comes down to simply making shots. 

Ken Pomeroy predicted a 65-63 UW victory with 57 percent confidence. He's a smart guy, and I tend to agree with him. If the Gators were at full strength, maybe this would be different, but with the Badgers playing at the fortress that is the Kohl Center, I think they shoot well enough to keep a depleted UF squad in check. I agree that both teams will land in the 60s, but I think the Badgers win by a few more points than Kenpom thinks. 

Score: Wisconsin 68, Florida 61. 

And with that, I'll move on to the main event of the night: No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan State. 

Preview: South Carolina State

No. 9 Michigan once again takes the Crisler Center hardwood tonight, this time against 1-1 South Carolina State. This is Michigan's final tuneup game before hitting the road on Sunday to take on Fred Hoiberg's Iowa State squad in Ames; even without senior forward Melvin Ejim, ISU should be a tough test. 

Nonetheless, there's not much use in going too in depth for a game like this, especially so early in the season. So, I'll talk a little SCSU personnel then move on to some miscellaneous Michigan-centric thoughts.

South Carolina State has played two games, at Marshall and St. Andrews, the latter which I'm pretty sure could be a school I played against in high school.

The Bulldogs --of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference-- lost at Marshall, 85-69, a game in which they were fairly competitive for a while. Then again, that probably isn't saying much, as Marshall finished just 13-19 last season.

In their second game, the Bulldogs hosted St. Andrews and won in overtime, 59-55. As always at this point in the season, neither of these things means anything. Then again, you typically don't need contextual evidence to know that South Carolina State is probably not very good vis-a-vis even the worst major conference teams.


Based on box scores alone, senior forward Matthew Hezekiah seems to be SCSU's best player. He scored 19 and 17 in his first two games while shooting 69.6% from the field.

Speaking of the Marshall game, due to some foul trouble the Bulldogs ended up playing 15 (!) different guys. That is incredible. Unfortunately for SCSU, Hezekiah was the only one to get in the double-digits in points.

Against St. Andrews, senior guard Adama Adams scored on 6-of-9 shooting (3-of-5 from beyond the arc). Barring some of the other guys on the roster getting a hold of Michael Jordan's "Secret Stuff," these two will likely be the only scoring threats.

Points of Emphasis

  • This is another bad team: can Michigan avoid a first half case of the Mondays? Not that it even matters if they don't, but consistency is nice. 
  • With Mitch McGary still out, can Glenn Robinson III continue to find ways to make himself a focal point of the offense i.e. to "hunt" for his shots? As has been discussed over and over again this offseason regarding his game, this is no longer the year of the putback/dunk for GRIII; he will now be expected to create. 
  • Can Michigan get out in transition early? UMass-Lowell did a good job of shutting down Michigan's fast break game by simply getting back on defense with alacrity. 
  • Derrick Walton watch: How does he look on the pick and roll? How about from three-point land? Can he learn from his relatively few mistakes thus far, i.e. last game's traveling call in transition?
  • Is Caris LeVert actually shaping up to be a guy Michigan relies on for big points and some amount of ball-handling? Or is he simply filling the McGary-sized production vacuum?
  • Plain and simple: shooting. Michigan was downright atrocious from the field in the first half against Lowell. I guess part of the benefit of these cupcake matchups is the opportunity for guys to get some good looks and see the ball go in. The Wolverines would like to get the types of looks they go in the second half against Lowell as opposed to the parade of jumpers they settled on in the first half. 
Most of these questions won't be answered for a while; unlike football, however, there isn't quite as much urgency for these answers to be so immediate. Each game is a small step forward in the data-gathering process. As for this game, it is one last chance for the team, especially the freshmen, to breathe before the non-conference schedule starts to pick up in quality. 

No use in even deigning to make a definite score prediction here. Michigan will win, by a lot. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Nebraska

As usual, my recap of Saturday's proceedings went up at Maize n Brew this morning. Once again, the story of the day was Michigan's inability to keep Devin Gardner upright, he took seven sacks on Saturday after taking nine in East Lansing.

With trips to Evanston and Iowa City coming up, if Michigan's previous ineptitude on the road continues, the Wolverines could very well be looking at a 6-6 regular season and a bowl game in Detroit.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: Penn State 10, Minnesota 24

Heading into the season, if you had told me that Minnesota would have a better chance at winning the division --with the Wolverines sitting at 6-2-- I probably would have asked you to repeat yourself just to make sure I heard you correctly.

At 7-2 (3-2), with a trip to Michigan State remaining, the Gophers still had a shot at the Legends division title, albeit a small one. However, the Gophers needed to take care of business against the visiting Penn State Nittany Lions today at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Gophers got off to a good start after Bill Belton couldn't handle the handoff from Christian Hackenberg on the first play of the game. Minnesota recovered the fumble at the PSU 29, but went three and out; after a 45-yard field goal, the Gophers were out to an early 3-0 lead.

On the next series, Philip Nelson led the Gophers out of danger after PSU had pinned them at their own four. After a pair of timely third down completions and a 16-yard scamper, Nelson marched the Gophers into PSU territory.

With a 4th & 2 at the PSU 28, Minnesota went for it. Nelson held the PSU linebackers with a fake and threw a dart to Maxx Williams up the middle for 24 yards and a first down. David Cobb eventually punched it in from one yard out, giving the Gophers a 10-0 lead. The drive was one more example of Minnesota's 2013 offense at its best: 96 yards in 15 plays and 8:10 of clock burned.

The Nittany Lions needed an answer, and they provided one, with a 6-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in just over two minutes, mostly powered by a steady diet of Zach Zwinak.

Once again, Minnesota embarked on an odyssey of a drive, this time going 70 yards in 13 plays, capped by a Nelson 6-yard touchdown run. To this point, the Gophers went 4-for-7 on third down, which doesn't seem especially notable until you remember that they were also 2-for-2 on fourth down.

Following a Penn State field goal, the Gophers had one more long drive in them, this time an 11-play, 74-yarder to head into the half up 24-10. Watching this Minnesota team, it's hard to believe this is the same squad that got thumped by Iowa at home and lost 42-13 at Michigan.

However, Minnesota's first mistake of the day came about halfway through the third quarter, when Cobb coughed it up and PSU recovered at the Minnesota 37. The defense did its job, though, forcing PSU to punt in what could have been a huge point of resurgence for the Nittany Lions.

Neither team scored in the third, and Penn State was thus forced to go pass-heavy to start the fourth. Faced with a 4th & 9 at the Minnesota 38, it was now or never. Unfortunately for Bill O'Brien, Hackenberg's pass fell incomplete, well wide of his intended target.

While Nelson's improvement was the story of the first half, the story of the second was Minnesota's defense. After getting gashed on the ground in the first half, Minnesota's defense made stops when it needed to in the fourth quarter. After stopping PSU on the aforementioned 4th & 9, the Gophers once again stopped them on 4th down, this time on their own 16.

Once again, PSU drove down into Minnesota territory, this time getting to the UM 1. Although not a "forced" turnover, Hackenberg's fumble and the ensuing Minnesota recovery just about sealed the deal.

With the 24-10 victory, the Gophers moved to 8-2 on the season, with the Badgers coming to town in two weeks; as the folks in Minneapolis know, the Gophers haven't had Paul Bunyan's Axe since 2003. Minnesota will have to solve its run defense issues if it is going to give the Badgers a game, but one thing is for sure: the Gophers will have their best shot at bring the Axe back to the Twin Cities in some time.

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: UMass-Lowell

The Wolverines began their regular season at home last night against UMass-Lowell, managing a 69-42 win after being tied at the half. I wrote about it last night at Maize n Brew.

Despite being unable to hit a shot from the perimeter in the first half, Michigan hunkered down with an 18-0 run early in the second to put the game out of reach. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin continue to impress, although via a small sample size, it does not seem as if Walton is a pure scorer on his own just yet. Of course, with options like Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and eventually Mitch McGary (not to mention an improved Caris LeVert), Michigan will be okay relying on him as a transition havoc-wreaker and occasional three-point shooter.

Next up for Michigan is South Carolina State on Tuesday at the Crisler Center.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: No. 21 Wisconsin 86, St. John's 75

As the Wolverines took on UMass-Lowell in what was destined to be a blowout from the moment it was scheduled, the Wisconsin Badgers took the floor against St. John's at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls for what would be, on paper, the first interesting matchup for a Big Ten squad.

The Badgers jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, which included Ben Brust's first trey of the year. Shortly thereafter, Josh Gasser hit his first trey in two years, boding well for the Badgers' perimeter shooting for the night. The Badgers started 4-for-8 from beyond the arc; when UW shoots it like that, they can be very difficult to beat.

The biggest development for Bo Ryan's squad has been its ability to push the pace more frequently than has usually been the case. UW found some success early on tonight, grabbing St. John's long rebounds and pushing it for a high-percentage shot of some sort, whether around the rim or a three after an extra pass or two.

Wisconsin raced to a 24-10 lead 10 minutes in, paced by six points apiece from Sam Dekker and Ben Brust and seven from Traevon Jackson.

Frustration began to set in for the Red Storm when Orlando Sanchez got called for an offensive foul 15 feet away from the basket, his third foul of the game. On the other end, Gasser buried his second three to give the Badgers a 31-13 lead that seemed insurmountable given the lack of pep in the Red Storm's step.

In the first half, the Badgers managed a mark of 1.13 points per possession, with the Red Storm going for 0.77 PPP. The Red Storm turned it over 10 times in the first half--paired with a 39.1% from the field, that is not exactly a recipe for success against the Badgers, let alone any team.

As it to say "I'm back," Gasser hit another three early in the second half to put the Badgers up 40-25. Despite the loss in frontcourt production, Gasser's return from injury is a key addition for this swifter version of Badgers basketball.

However, the Red Storm began to show life. A putback slam from Chris Obekpa put the Red Storm down 10 3:30 into the second half.

The Red Storm dunkfest continued, with Sanchez hitting JaKarr Sampson in transition for an authoritative slam. On the ensuing offensive possession, a Sampson putback cut the Wisconsin lead to 49-42.

After a sloppy first half for the Red Storm, they battled back admirably, cutting the deficit to five with nine minutes to go. It will be interesting to see how this St. John's team performs the rest of the way; Steve Lavin's squad definitely has talent, particularly Sanchez and Sampson.

Foul trouble became an issue for the Badgers, with freshman forward Nigel Hayes and Traevon Jackson both carrying four with over nine minutes to play.

Luckily for Wisconsin, following another thunderous Red Storm dunk, Sam Dekker and Ben Brust buried triples on consecutive possessions, completely taking the wind out of the Red Storm's sails.

Shortly thereafter, Duje Dukan, a 6'9'' RS junior from Deerfield, Ill., nailed two straight threes to increase the the UW lead even further. On that note, Dukan is an intriguing option for the Badgers and perhaps the heir apparent to UW's long line of three-point shooting forward types.

From there, the Badgers cruised to a 86-75 victory, an impressive start to the season for a UW squad that will present Big Ten foes with a much different look than it has in recent years. Despite the Red Storm's dazzling play above the rim, they weren't able to get a whole lot in half court situations.

Perhaps the most notable takeaway from this one is Wisconsin's scoring output; in 2012-13, the Badgers scored 80+ just four times.

On the other hand, the Badgers bombared St. John's with three after three, finishing 11-for-23 (47.5%) from beyond the arc tonight. Half court defense plus the three-point shot will continue to be the UW formula for victory.

Wisconsin returns to the Kohl Center on Tuesday, where they will look to avenge last year's loss against Florida (9:00 ET, ESPN2).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 11/7/13

This past Saturday was a rough one for the Wolverines to say the least, but the season can still be somewhat salvaged, record-wise; that begins on Saturday, when Michigan looks to remain undefeated at home in the Brady Hoke era. On to the links:

  • Irrespective of the situation at quarterback for the Huskers, Michigan's defense will face a stiff test attempting to check the Big Ten's leading rusher, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. 
  • Corn Nation previews Michigan, foresees the Husker offense being a good match for the Michigan defense but isn't sure about their chances in a "defensive battle."
  • Urban Meyer refuted reports that Luke Fickell had interviewed for the FAU job. 
  • Bucky's 5th Quarter gets to know BYU. The Badgers face an interesting, oddly placed November non-conference tilt against the 6-2 Cougars, who rank 14th in rushing and 28th in points against. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Michigan State and Wayne State

Halftime of Bears-Packers is my chance to post my usual reminder that my Monday recap went up at Maize n Brew this morning.

Also, I posted a quick recap just after Michigan's exhibition victory against Wayne State tonight. Michigan wasn't incredibly impressive tonight, but the outcome was never really in doubt; the closest it got in the second half was a 13-point Michigan lead. Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III filled it up and the freshmen impressed once again.