This season, Michigan has taken on the #9, #3, #2, and #1 teams in country at the time they played. In each game, Michigan demonstrated the ability to hang with these teams, losing by 3 to #9 Syracuse, in OT against #3 Kansas, by 5 to #2 Ohio State in Ann Arbor, and by 9 to #1 Ohio State in Columbus. In each of these games, Michigan has had a point at which they could have stepped on the gas and won the game. The problem is that they're already at full throttle. And that's alright. This isn't saying anything that you don't already know, but this team hustles and grits it way through nearly every game it plays, and that can make up for lack of length and, in some cases, skill - but only to a certain extent.
There is nothing that this team does well, beyond generally grittiness. They shoot the ball at 44.2%, good for 139th in the nation. They're allowing opponents to shoot 43%, good for 172nd in the nation. They take 8.5 3 pointers per game - 20th in the nation - but only make 34.6% of them - 150th in the nation. They are a team that lives and dies by the 3 point shot, but aren't making those 3's. The offense, as has been pointed out, appears to be "do something, Darius" after the first backdoor cut doesn't work. The 1-3-1, just as much a Beilein hallmark as the 3 point shot, appears to confuse opponents enough to get some good stops, but can't buckle down once the opposing offense makes an adjustment. In nearly every facet of the game, they're almost there but seem to be missing that last kick needed to get from mediocre non-NCAA-Tourney Big Ten team to Conference Title contender.
This sounds like I'm being grouchy, and I'm not meaning to. Being "almost good" is a vast improvement over that foul miasma of a team that we had under Elerby and Amaker. We're taking the country's elite - final four contenders - to the brink. We're missing just a few pieces and some experience. Just think about how this team is different with some size (any size) down low - Ben Cronin...paging Ben Cronin. Michigan is woefully young and undersized, and when the rims go clang they can be very ugly. They can come out and punch the best in the country in the gut for 15 or 20 minutes, but they lack the counterpunch for when the adjustment comes. That counterpunch will come with size and experience. This year's team is fun to watch, gritty as hell, and capable of maybe doing some damage in the NIT. They are outperforming their preseason expectations (remember, they were picked dead last in the Big Ten), and have some pieces that will work as they get older and bigger. For now though, they're almost good, and given everything that goes into that, it's good enough for me.
Ohio State Notes Yes I'm Blatantly Stealing Mgoblog's Format
Michigan shot just 4 free throws to Ohio State's billion. This is frustrating, and also part of playing on the road in the Big Ten. Beilein's system is not designed to get to the stripe, but there were a few times last night that I was shocked that there wasn't a foul called when it seemed like a stiff breeze on the other end sent Sullinger to the line.
Speaking of which when the free-throw discrepancy is that huge, you should probably not complain about your precious big man getting a little roughed up, Thad. That was as odd of a post-game interview as I've ever seen. Did he watch the game?
Announcers rarely say something insightful, but against Michigan State somebody said that to win on the road in the Big Ten you'd better be 10 points better than the other team. I tend to agree with this statement, and Michigan was simply not 10 points better than OSU last night.
Make a lay-up guys. No seriously, just make the stupid layup.
The offense looks dysfunctional. Hardaway, Douglass, and Morris seem to get the ball in their hands, then dribble around at the top of the key for awhile before either driving the lane for an ill-fated pull-up from the elbow, or an attempt to get to the line that obviously wasn't coming last night. With Jordan Morgan actually holding his own against Sullinger, I was surprised that we weren't feeding him the ball more. OSU was basically daring Michigan to put it down there, allowing Morgan to post up Sullinger on the block. The few times we were able to get it down there, Morgan did ok, he had 10 points on 5-9 shooting.
Horford is not ready to play against top-tier big men. When he was in the game, Ohio State pretty much did whatever they wanted. I think Horford is going to be a really good College Basketball player, but he needs to add some weight before he's ready to bang in the paint in the Big Ten. This is another function of youth - we've got to play these guys who just aren't ready.
A loss by 9 on the road against the #1 team in the country? It's hard to be too depressed. Sullinger, in his post-game interview, said that the double-team that Michigan deployed against him was new, and it worked for the first half. This is encouraging - Beilein drew up a defense against the best player in the country (maybe) that was a) new to him and b) effective. The problem was that Ohio State adjusted to it, and Michigan hadn't capitalized on his ineffectiveness enough to ride the Ohio State run, and lacks the experience to counterpunch.