Michigan 59, Western Illinois 55

What is this I don't even...

This game was bad. Western Illinois may very well be a decent team -- Ceola Clark is a phenomenal player and he played better than anyone else on either team tonight -- but come on, they were the 332nd best team in the country (per KenPom). The bottom line is this: Michigan hasn't looked like a Top 25 team, they haven't looked like an NCAA Tournament team, and they haven't looked like they'll be competitive against Memphis in Maui. It might seem like I'm overreacting to a really bad performance, but Michigan hasn't played well yet all year save for ten minutes each against Towson and Ferris State. I get that we've only seen a very small sample size. Still, there's a lot of reason for concern. There's plenty of time to improve though.

Western Illinois jumped out to an early 8-4 lead before Michigan went on a 14-2 run and looked like they were going to run away with it. To WIU's credit, they battled back before halftime tie it up going into the break. In the second half, Michigan made more of a concerted effort to get to the free throw line and attack Western Illinois' bigs who were in foul trouble. It paid off as the Wolverines managed to go up and keep a little bit of distance between them and WIU for pretty much the entirety of the second half. It was a close game throughout -- and Michigan seemed like it could never put it together enough on both ends of the floor to put the Leathernecks away for good.

Western_illinois_medium

Western Illinois was shooting the ball out of their minds. They shot 48.8% from the field, 43.8% from behind the arc, and their eFG% was 57.3. A performance like that, especially from a team as weak as Western Illinois, is incredibly atypical. WIU hit their fair share of what-on-earth-was-that shots, but still, Michigan did a poor job of closing out on shooters and the Leathernecks got a lot of great looks from the field.

Michigan looks to be pretty good at forcing turnovers. They entered the day with the 4th best defensive turnover rate in the country (inflated by the poor competition, of course), and the Wolverines' ability to prevent turnovers was probably the biggest reason they didn't suffer a horrific loss. WIU turned the ball over on an absurd 18 of their 55 possessions. Part of this was due to their own ineptitude, but Michigan did a great job of pressuring the ball and forcing turnovers.

Western Illinois had the same amount of offensive rebounds as Michigan did, but got them at a better rate than the Wolverines did. Defensive rebounding has been a serious concern under Beilein, and it looks like those issues might be back after they appeared to be corrected last year. Darius Morris' rebounding ability on the defensive end was incredibly overlooked, but I'm afraid that Trey Burke and Stu Douglass won't get anywhere near that level of defensive rebounding from the point guard position.

An average performance on offense against a much lesser opponent is discouraging. We knew that losing Darius would create a lot of problems on offense, but Trey has played well running the offense and it still looks disorganized. There was a play in the first half when Michigan was running a play and Hardaway and Horford collided and threw off the timing. It's just been sloppy across the board -- something that appears to be universal in the first few weeks across college basketball, teams are getting in their groove on offense.

Player recaps after the jump

It appears that Michigan's main rotation is at eight.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr: Tim had the most statistically impressive night of any Wolverine, but it feels like he could do a bit more. 16 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists with only one turnover isn't a bad night (even though he was only 1-4 from behind the arc); it just seemed like he disappeared for stretches of the game. He only had nine field goal attempts in 36 minutes, and I feel like Michigan would be much better off on offense if they ran the offense through Hardaway more. He's the best player on the team, so the ball needs to be in his hands. He didn't do as well on defense -- he sometimes left his man open for a good look -- but he did take one nice charge.
  • Trey Burke: I feel like there's a chance that Trey might be the second-best player on the team. It was an up-and-down night -- 14 points on 3-8 shooting (3-4 from three, 5-6 from the line), 4 rebounds, and 5 assists with 3 turnovers -- but Trey has definitely shown flashes of why he's gotten so much hype. He has a very pure shot and is lethal from three, runs the offense well in transition, and is a very good defender. He played 35 minutes tonight, so it looks like he'll be one of the integral parts of the team this year.
  • Jordan Morgan: It seems like J-Mo is starting to cement his spot as the starter over Horford. He was 5-5 from the field and tallied 11 points, grabbed 5 boards, had a couple of steals and had a really nice block. His free throw shooting woes reared their head (1-4), he was a bit slow to get back to his man when he switched on screens a few times, and he picked up a couple of really, really ticky-tack fouls (which were not his fault), but other than that, Morgan looked great tonight. Overall, it was a really solid, in unspectacular, performance.
  • Evan Smotrycz: I wish that Smotrycz could play with more confidence, I really do. That stems to be the root of most of his problems: miss a few shots, turn it over, pick up some silly defensive fouls, and Evan is pretty much done for the night production-wise. This was one of those nights: 1-8 shooting, two rebounds and two fouls. He hardly played at all in the second half; it felt like Beilein thought that the team would be better if Smotrycz were on the bench. When he's on, Evan is a great weapon, but if he's not, he's in for a rough night. There wasn't any in between last year, and there certainly wasn't tonight.
  • Zack Novak: It's rare that Novak is as quiet as he was tonight, but he recorded very few stats in the 38 minutes that he played. The one field goal that he made was a big three-pointer, and it seemed like it was the first shot he took all night (he attempted four). He passed up shots that weren't open, he played mistake-free on defense, and he was invisible for a lot of the game. He did take the obligatory Novak charge though.
  • Stu Douglass: Along with Evan, Stu had a pretty rough night. After hitting his first three-pointer, he was cold from the field (only one made more field goal) and had two assists and two turnovers. It seems like Burke is the better option at point guard as of right now; Douglass made some bad decisions with the ball and had a very difficult time creating his own shot. His defensive abilities are a positive, but he's not a big threat offensively unless he's being a spot-up shooter.
  • Matt Vogrich: He finally hit his first three of the season, but it appears that Vogrich is still limited a bit by a knee sprain. He only played seven minutes.
  • Jon Horford: Horford also played sparingly, drawing a foul and converting both free throws for his only points in six minutes. It appears that the coaches have settled on Morgan with Horford as the primary backup; Horford is still a work in progress and looks a little lost on offense.
I think there's legitimate reason for concern as the Wolverines head to Maui for the games next week. I'll get into it a bit more in the Maui preview, but Memphis is a legitimate Top 15 team and poses a lot of challenges for the Wolverines. Michigan hasn't looked good so far, but hopefully that can be attributed to youth and playing down to their opponents' level. But hey, a win is a win and Michigan is glad to be 3-0 at this juncture.
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