Dispatches From The Weekend: Notes on Michigan's First Two Tourney Wins

Michigan is going to another Sweet Sixteen. How'd it happen?

1. Snail Ball. Michigan came into the tournament as a slow paced team, but what happened in the first two games was much slower than Michigan is used to. The Wolverines played Wofford in a 56 possession game before playing Texas in a 57 possession game.

The strange thing is that Michigan played five games of less than 60 possessions during the regluar season, but of the last five Michigan games, four have ended up at fewer than 60. Only a win over Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament pushed over 60.

Against Wofford this isn't so surpring, but Texas runs the 105th fastest pace in the nation at 68 possessions per game. That just goes to speak to how dominant Michigan was in that one.

2. Hooked The Horns. Watching Michigan dismantle Texas's defense on Saturday was impressive, but going home to read that Michigan's offense produced 1.4 points per possession puts that effort into all sorts of context. Michigan obliterated Texas from start to finish, and of the four, ten minute "quarters" in this game, Michigan only failed to score over 20 points in one of them — the ten minutes after halftime in which Michigan went a little cold from the floor.

This shouldn't have been all that surprising. Texas is in the bottom 25% in limiting opponent three point attempts, and while the Longhorns are 31st in three point percentage defense, this Michigan team shows just about how much stock you can put into that number as a predictor of success on defense against Michigan. The Wolverines took advantage of Texas's size in a way that wasn't discussed before the game. Michigan simply shot over the defense when it was slow to recover or help, something that happens when you have 280 lbs. centers as the help man on pick and roll defense. That's how Michigan goes 14 for 28 from outside the arc en route to a big win. Don't give Michigan's shooters daylight, or else.

3 Another March, Another Big Man Stepping Up. Jordan Morgan has been a big topic of conversation recently as his play just keeps getting better and better. He is no Mitch McGary, but in the context of this offense and what it needs, he may be a better fit.

Of course, his defense and rebounding were always the areas that palled in comparison to Mitch, but the Texas game is another example on Morgan's side. Five offensive and five defensive rebounds, getting to the line for eight free throw attempts, and add in two assists and two steals and you have pretty much the same stat line that everyone went gaga over last year as McGary made his presence known in all categories. Morgan still isn't the same kind of player, and his ceiling for production is limited by his size and athleticism relative to McGary. However, considering the savvy and understanding he plays with and that ceiling is proving to be much closer to McGary's than anyone imagined previously.

4. The Turnover Bug. The one strange thing that seems to hold this team back is a penchant for committing turnovers at a higher rate than normal out of simple sloppiness. Michigan did it against Purdue in the first half of the game in West Lafayette and has fallen into that trap recently in the Big Ten tournament. Sometimes it is good defense, but other times this Michigan team just seems like it gets butter fingers.

Against Wofford Michigan's issue once again came up. In a 2-15 game where the 15 shoots better than 1 for 19 from outside this has the chance to become an issue. Fortunately for Michigan its off night coincided with Wofford's off night in something more important.

Michigan doesn't have the defense to let this continue. Against better teams Michigan can't afford to waste possessions, especially as the rebounding advantages begin to swing further and further away from Michigan.

5. Those Offensive Boards. Against Michigan, Texas had more offensive rebounds than either team had defensive rebounds. Michigan was thoroughly worked in this part of the game, so much so that Texas not only got monster games from a few players (three players had 4+ offensive rebounds), but it also had a nice team effort (seven players grabbed at least one OReb and "team" is credited with two).

The Wolverines are looking down a gauntlet next weekend where offensive rebounding will be a major opponent key. Tennessee and Kentucky are both top-5 nationally in OR%, and Louisville is still hanging close at 23rd. For reference, Texas was 5th nationally in the stat.

Does Michigan have enough defense to render those second chances irrelevant? Against Texas this was the case, where Michigan did a good job not letting Texas convert those second shots into points. Of course, Michigan also put up a superhuman offensive effort to keep the game effectively out of reach for the majority of game time.

Something has to give. It would seem that either Michigan continues on this kind of roving-death-maching offensive tear, or the Wolverines will be forced to put a body on someone once or twice to help secure a win. Of course it isn't that simple. Michigan can survive with an average offensive game while getting killed on the boards. Its just that nothing else can go wrong. If Michigan starts missing its shots or turnovers become an issue, the next game could easily turn into a repeat of the Big Ten Tourney title game.

6. Next Week. Michigan will take on an 11th seed that Kenpom predicts will win. This weird world is brought to you by the SEC, which seems to have a distorting effect on Kenpom's stats. Tennessee is 6th to Kenpom while Kentucky is 12th. This is in spite of the fact that both teams lost double digit games, play in a pretty bad conference, and are in the tournament as low at-large seeds. Either Kenpom is giving these guys too much credit or Michigan has a hard road ahead of it to the Final Four.

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