Saturday, December 14, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Arizona

Michigan took on No. 1 Arizona in chilly Ann Arbor this afternoon, looking to snag a huge resume-booster of a win. As usual, my post-game recap can be found at Maize n Brew.

Despite leading for most of the game, the Wolverines couldn't quite hold off the big, athletic Wildcats late in the game. Nik Stauskas had a chance to regain the lead for Michigan with under 20 seconds to play, but his jumper landed off the mark and the Wolverines ultimately fell, 72-70.

With the loss, Michigan fell to 6-4 on the season with two games remaining before the Jan. 2 Big Ten opener at Minnesota.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Michigan to face Kansas State in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Michigan now sets its sights on Tempe: the Wolverines will meet the Kansas State Wildcats in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28, per all manner of beat reporters.

After seeing teams like Texas A&M, LSU and Georgia being thrown around as possible bowl opponents, Michigan ultimately drew the 7-5 Kansas State Wildcats.

Hopefully everyone's ready for a few weeks of jokes about how this game is going to go into quadruple OT because of BWW-related shenanigans.

In any case, I'll have more informative stuff up about this game between now and Dec. 28, either here or at Maize n Brew. For now, I will say that I'm actually a little more excited about this matchup than I thought I'd be.

A victory against KSU is a more realistic outcome than one against any of the potential opponents mentioned above would have been. Now, this Michigan team cannot be considered a lock to beat anyone --not this season-- but Michigan should have a good chance at finishing the season with an eighth win.

Additionally, if you're a fan of novelty, the Wolverines and Wildcats have never met on the gridiron.

The Wildcats limped out of the gate to a 2-4 start in 2013, beginning with an upset at the hands of North Dakota State (a strong program, to be sure, but still an upset). However, the Wildcats rebounded against the much weaker back end of the schedule, winning five of their last six games, including a victory at a then ranked Texas Tech (they were No. 25, but still).

Perhaps the offensive display Michigan put forth against the Buckeyes has me a little more excited than I ought to be about a Michigan bowl game on Dec. 28. Nonetheless, football is football, and Dec. 28 will be Michigan fans' last chance to watch the Wolverines in action until the spring game.

As always, it feels as if the season only just started. Unfortunately, it's almost over. True, it is a meaningless game. At the same time, it's a chance to watch Michigan play. That might not seem so appealing right now, but it will be once we hit the doldrums of summer baseball.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: Wisconsin regains I-94 supremacy, holds off visiting Marquette

File photo

No. 8 Wisconsin 70, Marquette 64

For perhaps the first time all season, the new look, high-flying Badgers looked like the Wisconsin of old, scoring a 48-38 victory in Charlottesville on Wednesday. In the first half of this afternoon's game against the visiting 5-3 Marquette Golden Eagles, it appeared as if Bo Ryan's squad was in for another hammer fight of a basketball game. 

Hampered by foul trouble --Frank Kaminsky (2), Traveon Jackson (2) and Nigel Hayes (2)-- the Badgers, already thin in the front court, were forced to deploy backups Evan Anderson and Zach Bohannon. 

Even so, Marquette wasn't able to take advantage of UW's foul issues. Wisconsin got to the half up 28-25, paced by 13 points from sophomore Sam Dekker, including a monstrous dunk near the end of the half to energize the Kohl Center crowd. Despite sitting at 9-0 with a shiny top 10 ranking, this game meant a little something extra for the Badgers, who had lost two in a row to their in-state rivals (including a loss in the Kohl Center two years ago, ending a 23-game UW home winning streak). 

Unfortunately for Marquette, a violation of team rules sidelined 6-foot-3 junior guard Todd Mayo, MU's third leading scorer (10.0 ppg). Without him, the Golden Eagles found the offensive end tough sledding. F Davante Gardner managed nine points in the first half, but MU struggled to get much production elsewhere. 

As of six minutes into the second half, the Golden Eagles were shooting just 37.1 percent from the field (13-for-35); not quite as bad as MU's afternoon against Ohio State, but not good any way you slice it. 

In the face of questions regarding Wisconsin's defense --which has been good but not elite as it has typically been under Ryan-- the Badgers have put the clamps down this week against UVA and MU. Bo Ryan's squad has surprised some folks (myself included) with respect to its ability to push the pace this season, but this week has represented quite the return to the old style of Wisconsin basketball everyone has come to know. In case watching a Badgers squad execute in transition has been especially disorienting for you, it appears as if they may be returning to a more familiar style of play as we approach Big Ten play. 

The Badgers began to pull away in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, jumping to a 44-36 lead by the 12-minute mark. 

MU's Jamil Wilson buried a jumper to cut the lead to eight, putting himself in the double-digits in points (10), joining Gardner in that category. However, save for eight points from C Chris Otule, MU continued to get little else from the supporting cast. The five guards logging playing time for the Golden Eagles tallied just five points among them through 30 minutes. Against a team with a stacked back court like Wisconsin, it's difficult to be in a position to win with that sort of production (or lack thereof). 

The Badgers responded to Wilson's jumper with an alley oop dunk to Dekker, then a forced turnover on the defensive end. Wilson responded with two more points, and, as if on cue, Dekker nailed a triple from the corner on the heels of a loose ball situation. 

Like I said about the Michigan-Duke game on Tuesday, even when the score appears close by the box score, good teams provide a response when necessary, even if they aren't playing especially well overall. Playing at a place like the Kohl Center, that sort of auto-response from a home favorite can be demoralizing. 

It seemed as if MU would never string together a series of buckets and stops to make it a game; yet, somehow, the Badgers couldn't quite put them away. A 3-point play from MU's Otule cut the lead to six with 2:53 to play, giving the Golden Eagles real hope for the first time since the first half. 

The Golden Eagles got the stop they needed on the ensuing possession, then Wilson buried a triple from the right side, cutting the deficit to three. The positive feelings from that sequence, however, were short-lived. 

Once again, UW answered, this time with a Kaminsky triple from the top of the key. Wilson's 3-point attempt at the other end landed off the mark, ushering in the desperation fouling portion of the game. 

The Golden Eagles hung in the game far longer than it appeared like they should have. Regardless, the Badgers made more plays down the stretch than did Marquette, and that is, ultimately, what won the day for the still undefeated Badgers. 

With the the 70-64 victory, the Badgers moved to 10-0 on the season, an incredible start featuring several quality wins. In addition, the Badgers snapped a 2-game losing streak against their in-state rival. 

Wisconsin returns to the Kohl Center on Wednesday for what might be a tricky game against the 8-2 Milwaukee Panthers of the Horizon League. 

Meanwhile, Marquette falls to a disappointing 5-4 on the season, with four games remaining on its nonconference schedule. Buzz Williams' squad has some work to do if it is going to climb out of the bottom half of the standings in the new Big East. 

But, as all college basketball fans say following a loss at this point in the season: It's only December.

Michigan 107, Houston Baptist 53: Houston, You Have A Problem

No. 22 Michigan 107, Houston Baptist 53

Coming off of a 3-3 record in Michigan's last six games, a visit from Houston Baptist was perhaps just what the doctor ordered. 

However, after a particularly brutal loss at Duke, in which the Wolverines couldn't throw it in the ocean for most of the game, a sluggish start this afternoon against the 3-5 HBU Huskies was far from a surprise. 

The Huskies battled Michigan to a 9-9 tie early, but it was a productive opening few minutes for Mitch McGary, who scored five points --including a nifty free throw line jumper-- and an assist to Nik Stauskas. 

A Derrick Walton triple just over four minutes in gave the Wolverines a 12-9 lead, a lead which they held for the remainder of the game. 

Free from the stifling perimeter defense of Duke, the Wolverines rattled off a 3-for-5 mark from beyond the arc to start the game. The bad news? The Huskies started 3-for-3 themselves, not to mention a 7-for-7 from the field overall. The Huskies couldn't miss; but, one assumed that they wouldn't continue to hit those shots. 

A quick 8-2 run, including a pair of triples from Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, extended the lead to 29-19. 

HBU's 2-3 zone did little to impede Michigan's quest for points; if they game were on ice, HBU's defense might have been called a sieve. The Wolverines dribbled through HBU's zone, shot over it and rendered it irrelevant by simply beating it down the floor in transition. 

The Huskies finished 7-for-14 from the field on the heels of their 7-for-7 start; ordinarily, 50 percent would be pretty good. Against Michigan, however, it meant going into the half down by 26, 60-34. 

Defense was optional in the first half, for both teams. Even so, unless you're John Beilein, it's difficult to be too upset about a half in which the Wolverines scored 60 points. 

Stauskas and Robinson led the way for Michigan with 17 and 14 points, respectively. Stauskas went 5-for-7 from 3-point land, with one his two misses, amusingly, being perhaps the best look of the seven attempts. 

The second half continued on like the first, save for one scary play that resulted in Mitch McGary on the floor in pain. McGary went up to block Cody Joyce's shot. Both Joyce and McGary crashed to the floor, and McGary's left leg buckled under him. 

After a harrowing 10 seconds or so, McGary got up and seemed to be fine. He tried to wave Beilein off, but McGary was forced to the bench, but not before he took the time to exhort the Maize Rage to make some noise, as if Michigan State or Ohio State were in Ann Arbor and not HBU. 

The second half was showtime for the Wolverines, with McGary leading the fast break time and time again. Without revisiting the tape, it's likely that McGary led more fast breaks in this game than did Walton. If Michigan were to start every position with a defensive rebound and a little momentum and some spacing, Mitch McGary, 6-foot-10 point guard, would be only a somewhat laughable notion. 

McGary finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, six assists, four steals and a block, a prolific afternoon for a guy who, more than any other Wolverine, simply needs minutes at this point. 

As always, level of competition caveats aside, this game once again showed how the Wolverines look much better when they can run. In a way, this is faint praise, as it an indictment of the Wolverines' half court offense. During Big Ten play, everyone knows that Michigan will need to convert on a much greater percentage of its half court sets if they are going to be anything better than 9-9 or 10-8 in conference play. 

Beilein got the walk-ons in the game with a few minutes remaining, and the Wolverines cruised to a 107-53 victory, moving to 6-3 on the season. Michigan next hits the Crisler Center floor next Saturday against what will likely be a No. 1 in the country Arizona squad. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: Bo Ryan lands 300th win, Badgers win slugfest in Charlottesville

No. 8 Wisconsin 48, Virginia 38

Playing four of six games on the road last night, the Big Ten finished the first night of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge with a 2-4 record. Tonight, four B1G squads enjoy a home court advantage, but not the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers, who headed to Charlottesville for a tough matchup against Tony Bennett's UVA squad. 

As Michigan fans know from the Wolverine basketball team's trip to John Paul Jones Arena two years ago, that is a tough place to play, especially against a team as defensively sound as the Cavaliers. Many people, including myself, have made this observation, but the Cavaliers would be a perfect fit in the Big Ten. 

Despite losing a trio of important frontcourt players, the Badgers have jumped out to an 8-0 record, the best start UW's had during the Bo Ryan era. 

Although the Badgers have shown an ability to push the pace this season in a way that can only be deemed uncharacteristic of your average Ryan team, tonight's game against UVA would assuredly be a stereotypical Big Ten slugfest, neither fast nor aesthetically pleasing. 

Predictably, the first half was just that, as the two squad found themselves tied at 16-all with six minutes to play in the first half.

Somehow, the Cavaliers were down just 19-15 with 3:38 to play in the half despite not having scored a field goal in almost 10 minutes. It was that sort of half for both teams. On several occasions, the Badgers' swing offense failed to generate anything, resulting in a last second of the shot clock airballed three. 

Even so, Frank Kaminsky came to play, as has usually been the case for him thus far this season. In the opening frame, Kaminsky scored seven points and hauled in nine rebounds. UW went into the half up 25-20, a lead that felt positively insurmountable.  

Then again, UVA had to feel good about being down by only five given that they didn't make a basket for 10 minutes. With that said, another half like that for the Cavs would mean one more win in the Big Ten's Challenge total. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

NIT Season Tip-Off Final Observations: Arizona 72, Duke 66

Fouad Egbaria

For those with unrealistic expectations, Michigan's 5-2 start to the season could be considered a disappointment. However, when tethered to reality and understanding the difficulties of breaking in a new point guard --not to mention replacing a player of Trey Burke's caliber, not to mention Tim Hardaway Jr., who is having a solid start to his NBA career in New York-- then perhaps such a start is not so surprising. 

With that said, if Michigan is planning on entering the Big Dance with a decent seed, they will need to grab a big non-conference win or two before entering what should once again be a brutal Big Ten slate. Fortunately for the Wolverines, Duke and Arizona (and even Stanford, to a lesser extent), present the Wolverines with that opportunity. 

I was lucky enough to attend Friday NIT Tip-Off final between Duke and Arizona at Madison Square Garden, so I figured this would be a good space to kill two birds with one stone with some of my observations on both teams. 


First, a general outline of the game itself is probably in order. After sitting through the triple overtime Alabama-Drexel game, the first half of Duke-Arizona provided an enormous step up in the speed and level of play. The Blue Devils and Wildcats battled it out in what was an incredibly entertaining first half of basketball, one in which the largest lead was only five (11-6, Duke). 

Duke went into the half up, 36-33, with eight points from Jabari Parker in the half's final five minutes (he finished the first half with 10). Brandon Ashley led the Wildcats at the half with 11 points of his own. 

A Quinn Cook three six minutes into the second half gave Duke a 43-37 lead, its largest of the game. Sitting in MSG, however, you got the sense that if Duke got a stop and scored again, things might start to get out of hand. 

Luckily for Sean Miller U of A squad, a dunk and an Aaron Gordon three a minute later cut the lead to one, and it was back to being the tight game it had been all along. 

The Wildcats kept rolling, rattling of a 12-2 run that eventually gave them a 4-point lead with 8:16 remaining. The pressure was then squarely on Duke's shoulders, but especially Parker's, who had only scored two points in the second half to that point (from the free throw line). 

Rodney Hood, by far Duke's best player on Friday, pitched in an and-1 to cut the lead to one, but the Wildcats kept pushing, this time with an 8-0 run to gain a 57-48 lead, ultimately the knockout punch, with about six and a half minutes to play. 

Hood answered the call again, this time burying a shot from beyond the arc, but Duke couldn't defend the paint, allowing consecutive Arizona dunks.