Showing posts with label Nik Stauskas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nik Stauskas. Show all posts

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.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

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.

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.

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.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Michigan State

I've been a little negligent of late when it comes to linking my Maize n Brew stuff here, which is probably for the better given the recent stretch. Even Mr. Kurtz is all "man, that stunk," and he was the guy who said "the horror, the horror." So, you know things have gotten pretty real.

Oh well. Anyway, here's my post from yesterday, in which I talk about the Michigan State game and what it means (if anything) going forward:
No, all is not lost. These sorts of things happen, especially when you've been confronted with the schedule that Michigan has in the last 10 days. The good news is that the most difficult portion of the schedule is behind Michigan now. The recently completed 4-game stretch, without looking into this further, has to have been the toughest such stretch in the country thus far. To recap, Michigan: 1) lost a tough one at Indiana despite getting ambushed at the start 2) gritted out an OT victory against Ohio State at Crisler, aided largely by Tim Hardaway Jr.'s sharpshooting 3) lost in OT at the Kohl Center after a ridiculous Ben Brust shot to tie it and 4) got blown out at the Breslin Center to cap this mini-campaign through the Sahara-esque portion of the greater journey.
The only fun thing about writing that post was the title, which I'm still patting myself on the back for. Good job, me. On the bright side, Michigan should have an opportunity for a nice, cathartic blowout victory on Sunday, back in the friendly confines of the Crisler Center. If everything goes according to plan, it will be like a like nostalgic trip to the early portion of the conference schedule, when everything was great and Michigan was invincible and clearly never going to lose a game ever.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sentimental Education

If I can make it there/You know, I'm gonna make it just about anywhere

Youth is an inherent facet of the college game. It is rare to find a team with a starting lineup stocked with upperclassmen; when such teams are to be found, they are typically either a mid-major or not very good. 

It doesn't seem all that long ago that Michigan was busy dominating all comers in Manhattan and declaring themselves kings of Brooklyn for a night. In between passive-aggressive glances and cigarette drags, area hipsters spoke in hushed tones of Spike Albrecht and his underappreciated work "Four Minutes, Goodbye Appalachia." Those were simpler, rawer times, before all this corporatized, uptight Big Ten stuff. 

In a sense, that is what a nonconference schedule is: a formless sea of conflicting interpretations built on an untenable framework of nothing, by and against nobody you've ever heard of, not unlike an indie album. The Big Ten, on the other hand, is an ordered symphony, at times crashing, at times serene, but thematically consistent and often linear in form if not in plot. If not linear, then its general direction is typically clear: forward, like natural selection adapted to the hardwood. 

That's not to say that the former can't be nice; the non-conference schedule surely was just that. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Michigan's cavalry of steely-eyed freshmen led Michigan to an unbeaten mark and, more importantly, the promise of something beyond what many of us --myself included-- had ever had the fortune of witnessing on the hardwood. 

Michigan has taken trips to Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio State and Indiana thus far (Northwestern too, I guess--#B1GCats!), all problematic places to play, and has come away with decidedly mixed results in a season that has otherwise been historic in every way. I don't mean to dismiss everything else to date, but wins against some of those teams aren't worth writing home about vis-a-vis any sort of Big Picture, which may not even exist in the world of college basketball in terms of results. In the span of 40 minutes in March, the Big Picture can become just another mundane piece in the colossal jigsaw puzzle that is your average college basketball season. 

Although I have realized over the past year or two that the losses don't really hit me like they used to, there was still a lingering bitterness Sunday. Perhaps it was the lofty No. 1 ranking, perhaps it was the opportunity to grab Michigan's biggest regular season win in some time, perhaps it was the chance to do so against a superb Indiana team, in that hall of mirrors in Bloomington no less, where every corner reveals a distorted and bizarre view of the very self you thought you knew before entering. 

It should be noted that the season promises to be a great one, and that the end is not near. Michigan will win many more games, and I think it is safe to assume that at least a few of those games will take place in some probably sparsely attended venues in March. 

Other than Michigan's occasional tendency to devolve into an NBA-style heroball game (which, to be honest, I'm not necessarily against despite its inefficiency), perhaps it was the mortality of two of Michigan's youth-belying freshmen, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas. Oddly, Mitch "CRUNK" McGary, he of the frenetic game and spontaneous shrug-inducing bursts of "Did I do that?" strength, has been the most consistent of the three insofar as his particular game is concerned. 

Again, this shouldn't be construed as me sounding the alarm, pushing the panic button, or whatever such phrase you may prefer. Rather, it's part of an overall narrative that is obvious but was somewhat buried by Michigan's pristine start. 

Like the divine right kings of old, it's hard to conceptualize your fallibility when you're strolling down Atlantic Avenue with a crown on your head and asphalt covered in rose petals in your wake. 

It's even harder to imagine when placed in the context of Michigan basketball as a whole. The moment has finally come, the resurgence, the return, and how could it be but linear and unstinting? Unfortunately, that is not and will not be the order of things, for college basketball, like football, subsists on chaos, pointed statistical variances and home crowds seemingly unleashed from the bowels of Hell. 

Robinson III, he of the No. 1 ORtg in the Big Ten, looked like just another athlete on Saturday. Of course, it's not exactly hard to understand why. Indiana is very good, Assembly Hall is a place so fearsome that you can momentarily forget your own name amid the din and, most importantly, GRIII is just a freshman. The high-flying 360 dunks would seem to defy the laws of space and time, but one cannot outjump youth. 

Similarly, Nik Stauskas (NJAS), he of the Big Ten's No. 6 ORtg, is even more prone to bouts of freshmanitis, given his perimeter-oriented game. After all, the rims do get smaller on the road, and I won't wait for scientific inquiry to prove this fact. On Saturday, our favorite Mississaugan went just 3/10 from the field and 1/5 from beyond the arc. That will happen. 

Even Trey Burke, the heart and soul through which this team draws its every breath, is a mere true sophomore. For all his brilliance, we would do well to remember that he is still very much learning what he can and cannot do, what he should and shouldn't do. 

With trips to Michigan State and Wisconsin still on the docket --in addition to home dates against Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana-- there is still room within the amorphous bubble that is college basketball to explore. College basketball is like writing; you don't always get it right, and it is often glaringly so when that is the case. 

On the bright side, it can be a self-correcting mechanism in this way. Unlike seasons gone by, it isn't as if Michigan failed at OSU and IU and didn't have the means to answer back, or, pre-Beilein, didn't know how to. In both games, Michigan rallied back and even had the chance to win despite stretches of frazzled play. Now, Michigan has the pieces to beat anyone, but the challengers are numerous and the divine right that seemed a mandate within the boundaries of the five boroughs has become far from unassailable, if it ever was that to begin with. 

Ohio State. Wisconsin. Michigan State. On a practical level, this upcoming stretch will help to determine Michigan's tournament seeding (Big Ten and Big Dance) and the level of assistance it might need to bring home another regular season conference title, preferably unshared. 

Thematically, there is much more at stake, for Michigan's freshmen and non-freshmen. The next three games will begin to reveal just how far-reaching this sentimental education can be, for the players and fans alike. 

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?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Michigan-Pittsburgh: We Kind Of On


Michigan 67 (4-0), Pittsburgh 62 (4-1)

Combine Michigan's first legitimate opponent of the season with the venue that is Madison Square Garden and you've got a game that produces a vicious cocktail of excitement and apprehension.

Pitt started the game with a long possession that resulted in a long 2 for Lamar Patterson reeling in an offensive board. Michigan's offense wasn't clicking early, with a missed three from THJ and a wild 2 from Burke. However, Burke converted on a nice pullup in transition after shaking James Robinson out of his shoes about halfway between the 3-point line and halfcourt.

 As Dakich's complaining demonstrated, the play earlier was a bit choppy due to some ticky tack foul calls. Through four minutes of play, Michigan was down 4-2, shooting 1-5 from the field; the rims, as always, are unforgiving at MSG.

After another offensive board, this time from Talib Zanna, Patterson knocked one in from 3-point land, putting the Panthers up 7-2. Needless to say, it wasn't an ideal start for Michigan, who looked fairly lifeless on the offensive end and less than tenacious on the defensive glass.

A corner trey from Stauskas gave Michigan some life. Glenn Robinson blocked a shot at the rim and Jordan Morgan took a charge on the following defensive possession. Pitt was able to get a couple easy buckets as the half went on, but things generally weren't easy when they were forced to execute their halfcourt offense.

After a Michigan steal, Mitch McGary took it about three quarters the length of the floor for a smooth finger roll, a brief flash of the potential we have with McGary as perhaps a Jordan Morgan 2.0 type player.

 It wasn't a smooth game on either end, as expected. Both teams started to heat up a bit from the outside as the half drew to a close. THJ pulled up for a nice jumper from just past the free throw line in the secondary break. After a rough start, Michigan was shooting 50% from the field with three minutes left in the half, although only 1-7 from 3.

Michigan went into the half down 29-33 after a mostly forgettable and extremely choppy 20 minutes of play. Most disconcerting was the fact that Trey Burke was 3-8 from the field and Michigan only had 3 total assists as a team.When Michigan scored, it wasn't via the natural flow of the offense; it either came off the bounce or in transition. Michigan has NBA talent to be sure, but this isn't the NBA we're playing in just yet. Going forward, Michigan will need to attempt to remain within the system more than it did in the first half of this game.

---
Halftime Numbers
Michigan: 0.94 PPP
Pitt: 0.88 PPP

---
Michigan went down 38-31 early in the half only to rally on the back of a pair of Stauskas jumpers and another from Burke. Michigan even switched things up a bit on defense, moving to the 1-3-1 for a brief stretch, which, if you'll read Michigan previews from national writers, is most definitely Michigan's base defensive set. Snark aside, the zone did seem to work (and Michigan actually went back to it at the 10 minute mark).

After shooting zero free throws in the first half, Pitt got the benefit of a couple block calls in quick succession on THJ. Speaking of Tim, his 3-point shooting came down in a big way. After coming into the game shooting an absurd 73% from 3, he shot 1-7 from downtown in this one. He did finish 6-13 from the field overall, however, good for 16 points, largely due to him attacking the basket. Like I said all of last season, SEARCH AND DESTROY, TIM.

All of Michigan's 38 second half points came from Burke, THJ, Robinson III and Stauskas. Just FYI, two of those guys are true freshmen, playing their fourth non-exhibition college game, in Madison Square Garden no less. I think we might have something there.

THJ hit a jumper to put Michigan up 55-50 with 3:30 to go. The Panthers didn't score again until there was only 1:15 left to go in the game.

There were a couple shaky moments at the end --including a Pitt foul on a steal attempt that didn't look like a foul at all, with Michigan only up 3-- but Michigan hit their free throws and came away with a solid, if somewhat ugly, win in MSG.

I'll have more comprehensive recaps than this one up in the future, with player bullets and whatnot (this one is admittedly rushed for various reasons). I will be at MSG for Friday's championship game against Kansas State, so it will be fun to watch a Bruce Weber team try to "run offense" in person.

On a serious note, Michigan pulled out a solid, grit-astic win against a very B1G-esque team, which bodes well for the conference schedule. Michigan's freshmen looked good and not at all overwhelmed (for the most part), and despite Trey Burke's struggles from the field, Michigan was able to gut it out to remain undefeated.

Also, like the Michigan fans at MSG, I would like to remind everybody that we are playing some team on Saturday, and hey let's beat them.

/#BEATOHIO chant at a basketball game against Pitt

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Michigan-Pittsburgh Preview: Movin' On Up

No class today+the Wolverines and Bulls taking the floor tonight=previewin' time. Let's start with Michigan. 

Go Michigan Go Michigan Go

Time: 9:30 ET
Place: Madison Square Garden--New York, NY
Line: Michigan -3.5 

Exposition

Michigan heads to the World's Most Famous Arena tonight to take on an undefeated but unranked Pitt Panthers squad. The Panthers started last season 11-2, but those two losses came at the hands of Long Beach State and Wagner; it's perhaps no surprise that the Panthers collapsed from that point forward (i.e. the Big East schedule), finishing the regular season 17-16 (5-13) and missing the NCAA tournament entirely for the first time since 2001.

 Pitt has defeated Mount St. Mary's, Fordham, Lehigh (the 15-seed that defeated Duke) and Oakland. The Panthers handled the first three by an average of 27 points, but the fourth game against Oakland was a bit trickier. The Panthers trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half, only to rally back and take the game to overtime, where they ended up winning by 10. The halftime deficit of 14 points was the largest ever overcome by a Pitt team.

Michigan, on the other hand, has handled each and every overmatched early season opponent with ease. The Wolverines have completely eviscerated Slippery Rock (sorry guys, we still like you), IUPUI (all those letters couldn't save them) and Cleveland State. Is there much point in discussing these games with any sort of depth? Probably not, but it is worth noting that Jon Horford has seen time after missing most of last season with a foot injury. He provides invaluable depth and rebounding to the Wolverines, despite the fact that the Wolverines have seemingly acquired both over the span of one offseason.

Otherwise, Trey Burke is still Trey Burke. Tim Hardway Jr. (known here as THJ, for the uninitiated) has shot a hilarious 73% from 3 (8-11) and 62% from the field overall and the freshmen (minus LeVert) have all flashed their certain sets of skills that made them one of the best basketball classes to come to Michigan in some time.

The Opponent 
 
Pitt is averaging 79 points per game (to Michigan's 89 ppg), paced by three double digit scores in 6'9'' F Talib Zanna (14.0 ppg), 6'0'' G Tray Woodall (13.8 ppg) and 6'6'' F J.J. Moore (13.3 ppg).

Moore is the most efficient 3-point shooter on the team, having gone 6-13 to date (46%). However, Woodall has taken by far the most on the team, taking 27 and making only 8 (30%).

As a team, the Panthers have shot 52% from the field, good for 13th in the country. Luckily for Pitt, however, missing shots has been an "I ain't even mad, though" propostion: the Panthes have rebounded 50% of their misses thus far this season (55 offensive rebounds). Now, take with a sizable grain of salt given the level of competition, but Michigan will of course need to be ready to handle its toughest test on the glass this season by far.

As far as eFG% goes, Zanna is the only Panther who currently checks in within the top 100, sitting at 71.4% (awesome NB: Nik Stauskas currently leads the nation with an eFG% of 96.2).

Against Oakland, Pitt rolled out a starting lineup of Zanna, Woodall, G James Robinson, G-F Lamar Patterson and freshman 7'0'' center Steven Adams, a 5-star recruit from New Zealand.

Like Michigan, the Panthers are capable of dipping into their bench and finding some quality play. The aforementioned J.J. Moore actually comes off the bench himself, so Michigan's second-teamers will need to be ready to be aware of his presence on the 3-point line.

Trey Zeigler, a familiar name for Michiganders, also comes off the bench; he went 2-4 for 5 points and also pitched in 3 rebounds and a steal in 20 minutes against Oakland. 6'9'' 235 lb. F Dante Taylor logged the most minutes of any second-teamer for Pitt against Oakland, putting in 28 minutes and scoring 12 points on 6-7 shooting.

The Gameplan 
 Offensively, Michigan will be able to put up points. However, the step up in size with this Pitt front court will take some adjusting to, especially for a youngster like Mitch McGary, who has been a giant amongst men thus far. Jordan Morgan has been playing against guys taller and more athletic than him for a while now, and should be okay. This is a game where a guy like Horford could prove immensely useful.

i would imagine despite the similarity in height between Tray Woodall and Burke, either THJ or Vogrich will draw him on the defensive end (this is speculation, of course). Woodall is a redshirt senior who can fill it up from outside. He's only shooting 42% from the field --he shot 2-14 from the field against Oakland-- but leads the team in overall attempts with 48.

From the bits and pieces of highlight videos and other miscellaneous things on the Internet, he doesn't strike me as an exceptionally explosive guy. However, he can transition from the bounce to the jumper with relative ease, and he does not seem shy about launching it from beyond the arc. Burke/whoever will need to be ready to chase him around screens. In addition, Woodall is a more than capable distributor, averaging 7.3 assists per game thus far (and an assist percentage of .

6'3'' freshman James Robinson runs the point for the Panthers. He is definitely a classic point guard but hasn't been much of an active playmaker (that's been all Woodall) based on my limited exposure to Pitt basketball thus far. Then again, he is a freshman. With that said, and with all due respect to Robinson, a Rivals 4-star recruit, Burke should be able to have some serious success against him on the offensive end of the floor. I can't see Robinson hanging with him on the pick and roll and, really, off the dribble in general. Woodall has a bit more hop in his step than Robinson, so maybe he gets matched up on Burke after all.

Otherwise, the Panthers have some solid bigs that can score and hit the glass, but given the new look Michigan squad, Pitt's trio of 6'9''-and-taller players (Zanna, Taylor and Adams) shouldn't be able to have their way with Michigan like bigger teams have done in the past.

Miscellaneous Stats
  •  Possessions per game. Like Michigan, the Panthers aren't exactly the most up tempo team in college basketball: they average 62 possessions per game (to Michigan's 68). Michigan shouldn't really ever be out of its comfort zone in this one, pace-wise. 
  • Also like Michigan, the Panthers boast a nice and shiny assist to turnover ratio of 2.03 (Michigan is sitting at 1.66), good for 4th in the nation.
  • Block party. Pitt is 64th in the nation in block percentage at 9.1%.
Ending Thoughts, Predictions, Etc. 
I realize that basing most of my perception of the relative quality of Pitt's team and individual players on the aforementioned Oakland game might not be the most wise thing to do, but it's pretty much the only somewhat meaningful data point to work with at this point.

Pitt doesn't shoot the three all that well but they do seem to take care of the ball for the most part, in addition to getting on the offensive glass fairly effectively. If this were an NCAA game, Woodall is definitely one of the guys getting the "star player" designation; he makes things happen for Pitt, whether he's coming off a screen for a jumper or distributing the ball elsewhere (he has a 38.3% assist percentage).

Again, Pitt has some bigs, and freshman 7-footer Steven Adams can even step out and hit a mid-range jumper if you let him. Still, I don't feel as I did in the past when Michigan was going up against a physical team with multiple bigs, mostly because, hey, Michigan has multiple bigs too. It is a nice feeling, indeed, analogous to the feeling that I get when I watch the football team play defense these days after wandering in the darkness that was the Greg Robinson era.

This will be a good test for Mitch McGary due to the uptick in the level of quality of the opponent's bigs, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. A put-back or two on his first shift would certainly do wonders for his confidence, which is already pretty high to begin with.

Michigan probably won't blow out this Pitt team unless everything turns up Milhouse in a major way, but a 10-15 point victory is not out of the realm of possibility. Jamie Dixon's Pitt squad is an experience one, and will absolutely put up a better effort than it did against Oakland.

A lot of it comes down to whether or not Tray Woodall can have a decent night from the field and whether, conversely, THJ can even halfway continue his torrid shooting pace to date. For THJ, this also includes prudent shot selection, especially in an arena often known for its unforgivingly callous rims.

Score: Michigan 78, Pitt 70.