While the Twitters (nay, the entire world) are abuzz with the hiring of Ravens DC Greg Mattison to run Michigan's beleaguered football defense, I thought it prudent to talk some basketball.
Michigan lost last night to Northwestern, 74-60, in what might have been the Wolverines' worst performance of the season. My thoughts on the game and the state of the team after the jump.
Unfortunately, Michigan needed a bounce-back game last night. Coming into Evanston sporting an unenviable four-game losing streak, the stage was set for a badly-needed Big Ten road win and a chance to right the ship. To be fair, Michigan has had an absolutely brutal stretch and took OSU and Kansas down to the wire.
Northwestern completely outplayed Michigan last night, and never trailed in a fairly suffocating performance. Sure, we all knew this would be a rebuilding year for the Wolverines after losing Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, but last night was troubling. This team has shown flashes throughout the year, which made last night (and the recent skid) downright confusing. Northwestern should have beaten Michigan State over the weekend, but this was a team against whom Michigan should have been at least competitive. That didn't happen.
The word I'd use to describe the Wildcats last night was "poised," and due credit to F John Shuma for taking his team on his shoulders and personally going on something like a twelve-point run in the first half. For a few minutes, he looked unstoppable. That said, though, part of Beilein's philosophy is to take teams out of that poise and make them uncomfortable - the Michigan zone has been effective at this at times this year, particularly late in the game versus Kansas to force OT. I didn't see any of that last night, and the pesky, persistent Michigan teams that have won 11 games this year (albeit against not as stellar competition) were nowhere to be found.
With the team Beilein has, a very small, young team with a lot of streaky shooters, Michigan absolutely needs to be focused defensively on taking the other team out of their comfort zone. They made roughly 15% of their 3-point attempts against Kansas and still almost won the game because they were doggedly staying with one of the best teams in the country. This meant that our streaky shooters, Douglass, Vogrich, and others, can drill 3's that completely change the momentum of close games. But a 3-pointer down 10 or 15 doesn't, in my opinion, have the same impact as a 3-pointer in a close game. I guess what I'm saying is that Michigan needs more dimensions to its offensive attack, ones that must come, especially when the defense is unfocused and lets a team or a player run all over it.
But on Tuesday night, and this weekend against Indiana, Michigan allowed the other team to hit a groove, and a loss predictably followed. Last night it was Shuma, over the weekend it was Jones, the Indiana guard. These are the winnable games too. The best teams in the conference have players that take over games naturally.
I don't want to draw too many parallels between basketball and football, but one exists between the defenses - Michigan lacks a shutdown defender (or at least a competent one), partly due to Beilein's system, and partly due to the inexperience and talent level on the floor. Michigan has some pieces, but I just haven't seen Beilein consistently adapt them to win basketball games. Part of this is unavoidable, but part of it is coaching. This also creates a "ripple effect" for the offense - a very capable point guard in Darius Morris is forced into leading his team through impossible situations. Morris is the brightest spot on the Michigan team - a developing point guard who can and will pass the ball, helping his teammates create. He scored 17 last night but only had four assists - part of this lower total was some teammates' inability to finish, but part of it was the situation D-Mo was in - constantly down, trying to answer some big plays made on the other end.
So where does M go from here? At 1-5 in the Big Ten, some magic is certainly needed. But the team is young, small, and still meshing together. It has some, but not all, of the markings of a trademark Beilein team. They weren't outrebounded last night by much (32-31) and had a similar turnover rate. The key difference in the game, though, was assists - N'Western had the edge 18-8. Michigan needs to level this in order to have a chance to win, and they do this by frustrating the other team. Side note: Shooting a hair above .500 from the FT line doesn't help the cause, either. I hate, hate, hate missed free throws. There is zero excuse for missing them, ever.
Hopefully we'll see more of an effort to frustrate the opponents in the future. Again, due credit to Northwestern for a convincing home win and exploiting the holes in Michigan's game plan, and the game ball goes to Shuma for going all Matt McGloin on Michigan.
Michigan's prospects for the future are looking bright, if not a tad on the smallish side. This team needs to get big, and score a HS big man who fits into Beilein's system. Sure, it's easier said than done. But part of the job here at Michigan is hope, right?
For 2011, Michigan's class is guard-heavy, meaning that its two commits are, shockingly, guards. However, both these guys are the real deal - G Carlton Brundidge and G Trey Burke have both appeared on many national top-100 lists and seem like they can contribue immediately as freshmen. Brundidge is slightly more highly-rated, and having seen him play once, I can tell you he's an absolutely dominant scorer who can get to the rim at will. I cannot wait to see this guy lighting it up at Crisler. Michigan needs a slasher who will get to the hoop to open up its 3-point lanes, and they seem to have found their man in Brundidge. Burke can shoot the 3 (a must in Beilein's offense) and has shown good drive to the hoop. ESPN has him pegged as a strong two-guard that has the potential to run the one. (For you football homers, this means he's a shooter, but has flashes of being able to play the point.) There is still one-ish scholarship open for 2011, and Michigan's looking around for a big man. More on this as it develops.
For 2012, Michigan's got its eyes on a couple in-state players, F Jordan Hare and G Sherron Dorsey-Walker. Both are projects at this point, but the report on Hare (from MHoops.com) is that he plays extremely long, a very valuable trait in a Beilein offense. Dorsey-Walker is a "solid all around guard" according to ESPN who sounds like he'd be a great compliment to a senior D-Mo (if he stays) and more importantly, a valuable cog in Beilein's best asset, his frustrating 1-3-1 zone. Honestly, I'm more excited for Hare, though it's a long way off - Michigan's got a ton of guards, and needs more depth inside. I know a four or five-star big man is a big ask, but I believe that this should be Beilein's top priority.
Thanks to MHoops.com for the recruiting assist.