Michigan Basketball: Michigan at Bradley — Wrap-up
As mentioned in the preview, playing a first game on the road against any decent team is a test that presents unknowns to a coaching staff. Poise is needed, focus is needed, sticking to the plan (as long as possible) is needed, and most of all the above three equate to needing solid play. Michigan did prevail, 74-66, but as has been the case this season against good competition, the result was not easy. Bradley certainly does not have the athletes of North Carolina State or Pittsburgh, but the Braves were at home, on a roll, and had in front of them an opportunity to take a big win. Michigan was again Michigan in the endgame scenario.
The primary questions before the game were Michigan’s defensive softness and still limited defensive play and Bradley’s ability to hang with Michigan’s onslaught if the Wolverine’s offensive options were clicking. Some side notes included to what degree Michigan would successfully put into place Coach Beilein’s proclamation that the inside post offense would be emphasized and how Coach would continue to search for player combinations. Foul trouble and an up and down game left the first question unanswered; the second question is open to conjecture, although no combination on the floor Saturday significantly hurt Michigan’s chance at victory.
Michigan drew a sellout at Carver Arena, in a game that may be the highlight of Bradley’s preseason schedule: so the game began. Former Ohio University gunner, Geno Ford, coaches Bradley.
Michigan started off by going to Glen Robinson and Trey Burke. But Burke tallied an early foul and Bradley got an offensive rebound right at game’s start. Bradley was clearly going to use the inside game and attempt to mix it up. The result the first half was successful.
Bradley has some good-looking athletes and does not mind running. The score bounced a little and mounted to 12-7 Michigan at the first TV time out.
Bradley continued to score inside. Michigan does not guard the post well and this is no secret. With all his improvement, Jordan Morgan still cannot defend the post single-handed, and not much help is available unless McGary is in the game. When others are isolated down low, points are given up. In defense of Morgan, little help side defense was present in the first half. Asking a guy to play behind, especially one who is not a quick jumping shot-blocker, and receive no help is a bit much.
Bradley went to some combo defenses, zone and switching to man-to-man as the clock ran out. Michigan continued to tinker with here within unused game combinations: Coach Beilein is either confident he can take this game at the end or is very serious about finding combinations for the conference season. Perhaps both causes are accurate.
Michigan plays some zone and man but Bradley hits a couple of near prayer threes, but the scoreboard counts the shots. Stauskas is playing a little out of control, but not to fear, he is a gamer.
Michigan goes into the second TV time out with a five point lead, both teams are running, but with McGary in the game, Michigan now has an inside presence that is paying off with second chance points on the boards. Unfortunately in the second half McGary did not play in a measured fashion, and had to be sat on the bench, more as a negative punishment than a need to save his fouls. He did finish with four fouls,
Michigan failed twice to get rebounders back on the fast break, giving Bradley easy points. Bradley gave maximum effort in the first half. Michigan gave plenty of effort on the Wolverine side as well.
McGary missed a couple of close opportunities early in the second half and the frustration mounted. Michigan goes to the hole on slices by the bookends and Trey Burke with mixed success. The newfound lob pass option has not yet yielded a dunk. Michigan continues to hit the boards hard but gives up a ridiculously easy bucket by Lemon on a drive straight down the middle with no opposition. The halftime score ended with Michigan leading 34-30. No doubt poise, toughness, and offensive options for the second half were points of discussion in the locker room.
Michigan goes after Bradley’s Egolf inside to start the second half and the 4th foul was quickly picked up as Morgan used a nice slide release from a screen to go to the rim. Bradley threw up some tough, unsuccessful shots and Michigan hit a Stauskas wide-open transition basket to build the lead to ten points.
A good part of the early second half success was due to tighter defense, especially down low. Michigan was running good motion but still continued to throw enough passes away to keep the lead from getting into the red light alert status. Hardaway continued to struggle, even with open looks, but later pulled it together when needed. McGary committed a Morgan type of foul and was pulled. Bradley then returned the high pick and roll favor to Michigan getting a foul on Robinson. Michigan transitioned very well in the early part of the second half, but in the half-court set, without Morgan or McGary, started relying on quick shots from outside instead of attempting to get the ball to the boards. The game entered the final 12 minutes with Michigan still holding a slim lead.
Michigan showed some very strong progress from the 10-minute to the five-minute mark. Hardaway showed he is a great flash option against a 2-3 zone, as he has all year. Burke can isolate and take charge pretty much at will sometimes, the mark of the ultimate point guard. Nik Stauskas brutally reaffirms to observers he is more than just a guy who can stand at the three-point line and hit about one of every three. His decisions during this part of the game yielded points and gave Bradley plenty to worry about besides the threesome of Burke, Hardaway, and Robinson.
With a good lead, Michigan allowed Bradley to spread the floor some and easily penetrate Michigan’s defense. Michigan goes into the slow down mode and a lazy, short pass led to a Bradley score. Burke missed inside and Bradley turned the ball over on a questionable charge call. Michigan again gave the ball up on a steal. Hardaway then missed a free throw. The endgame offense and defense (no help on penetration and giving up soft baskets) of Michigan again showed how much work is left to get to a higher level. Michigan had a chance to end the game early and failed.
Now, then, on to the bottom line nuggets of the game. Michigan went into a tough place and won. The win should have been by more, but the endgame again hurt the Wolverines. So far, Michigan has the talent to overcome these moments, but that will not happen against top Big Ten teams. This team still needs to develop the toughness and willpower to rip a throat out when the chance arises.
The offensive options of Michigan just increased as Cold Stone Nik Stauskas again shows he is a player, and one who loves the big stage and possesses no fear. Michigan gives up points inside way too easily, a long time trademark of Beilein teams. Man-to-man in today’s era must have help principles that are effective.
The rebounding is better, but of the greatest note is that this Michigan offense is spectacular when clicking and the running game can be fatal to an opponent. The options of Coach Beilein’s offense are dynamic and very hard to prepare for, especially when Stauskas can shoot horse shots with no one around.
If was fortunate that this team had a good test. Nothing has really changed as Michigan’s strengths and weaknesses both remain obvious. Many college coaches in the country are probably watching Michigan’s offense and submit to instant envy.
Jordan Morgan had ten points and ten rebounds; this is all he needs to do to carry his share. But more is never unappreciated.
The final bottom line is that if Michigan wants to go deep into the tournament, some things need to change. The really good news is this team is much better than the team that teased Michigan fans and pulled a rabbit out of the hat last season. But as good as the Big Ten was last year, it is equal or better this year, the difference being dynamite mid-level teams like Wisconsin and Minnesota that can clean a clock with little warning.
Michigan needs to figure out a way to keep great offensive players like Zeller and Thomas under control. The offense has just begun to speak and that is exciting.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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