Michigan Basketball: Penn State at Michigan — Wrap-up — Power Restored In Near Blackout-Barely
When the ocean is at low tide, the water does not immediately rise to high tide: it takes time. The same can be said about the cyclical rise and fall of college basketball teams during a long, tough season.
Michigan is at low tide, giving a game away at Wisconsin, playing with embarrassing effort and efficiency at East Lansing, and playing a game against Penn State that was won solely due to better athletes, not basketball execution.The low has been explained, or spun, take your pick, as being on the backside of a grueling five game stretch against tough competition, youth, and wear and tear. Not so frequently mentioned have been defense, intensity, focus, and toughness.
The best thing about the loss at East Lansing is the game counts as one loss in the L column. That is the only good news. It is thought that after a team performs as poorly as Michigan did against the Spartans, a team comes back twice as tough. Michigan’s fiber is not composed of toughness and hence the close game against Penn State.
Oh, many will say that Penn State played hard; the Lions did. Many will say that Penn State played smart; the Lions did. It should not go unnoticed that Michigan again played absolutely horrible defense, in both halves. In the first half, Michigan defenders were easily beat one on one. In t he second half, Michigan sagged off and provided easy looks for shooters that were standing stationary, awaiting easy opportunities. In both halves, Michigan players got lost on basic cuts allowing very easy inside points.Penn State played classic East Coast type basketball which evokes smarts, passing, tons of classic cuts, including the age-old high post scissor cut, and solid defense. Continuously Michigan got beat on the cuts. The Lions also used a flash to the foul line area in the high post area to find cutters or open shooters from the outside. Again, this is an option that is something simple and decades old. The offense is a little Henry Iba and John Wooden. Michigan did not guard with energy and smartness and also again could not prevent simple offensive rebounding by average Division One competition. Again, Michigan lost players on the perimeter for easy cuts to the basket. Again, Michigan lost perimeter players, only to have defenders, including McGary, lunge far too late at the open shooter. Stauskas got beat bad inside and outside on defense, and he was not alone, perhaps just the most obvious offender.
The offense had bad moments as well in the first half. Morgan looks like he just cannot go, except to provide some valuable minutes. The incident where he turned his ankle several weeks looked very bad. Sprained ankles can be day-to-day or last for months. This certainly appears to be the latter of the two. Horford will fight for position and rebounds, but still, coming off an injury, and still being inexperienced, his contributions have been minimal. Mitch McGary missed two layups and probably not coincidentally left the game. He remains the only Michigan player that can play Big Ten inside defense.Michigan was bailed out by the play of Trey Burke and a nice effort by the entire team of ringing up foul shots. Robinson got his dunks on fast breaks, lobs, and cuts. Stauskas finally started to heat it up a little.
Michigan, as usual, made very few efforts to get the ball inside. Eventually, to compete with high-level teams, McGary needs to develop and execute some low block offense; he clearly is not going to win any three-point contests. His energy and toughness will never change, but he must become a factor or other teams will ignore him and concentrate on the perimeter.
Coach Beilein has a tough and important week ahead of him. Michigan is not executing on defense and the offense has been dependent on the running game. Excessive offensive rebounding by the opponents and playing soft on the perimeter continues. One problem is Stauskas has been playing 3 and 4 defense and so far that is not working. Coach Beilein seems hesitant to play two big men at the same time; part of this is probably due to the injury situation. The fact is Michigan has just ok defense at the one position and decent defense at the five with McGary. The rest of the defense is very problematical.
Michigan still must play Indiana and Michigan State, and if the play does not improve, both games will go into the loss column. In sports things change and maybe Michigan will reenergize and improve some obvious weaknesses. However, this team continues to play some of the worst defense in the conference, sometimes looking almost disinterested.Wisconsin again showed what team play, smart offense, physical toughness, and passing can do in demolishing an Ohio State team that resembled Michigan at East Lansing. This puts Wisconsin in pretty good standing. Even though Michigan is tied with Wisconsin, Michigan’s schedule still remains tougher than Wisconsin’s. Wisconsin’s win at Indiana will pay big dividends. And Michigan’s loss at Wisconsin will provide the opposite effect.
Michigan has won 22 games and nine league games, which is automatic entry into the NCAA tournament. Michigan is hanging on by a thread in the league race and further victories may count more for tournament seeding (both league and NCAA).
The call here before the season was a high water estimate of 25 wins and a low of 21. Michigan may just surpass that mark.
Illinois is next, and who knows what is going to happen in that game. Illinois and Minnesota are both elevator teams, but both are capable of ruining a good team’s day. Iowa continues to improve and still keeps hope of making the tournament.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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