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Michigan Escapes Minnesota, Looks to Beat Ohio State

Michigan 73, Minnesota 69 -- OT

Michigan had a lackadaisical start to the Big Ten Tournament with a Minnesota run opening the game with a 13-4 run. The Wolverines' offense was plagued with turnovers and couldn't hit anything from the field -- Trey Burke made the first field goal of the game at the 13:27 left . Trey then proceeded to put the team on his back and scored 13 of Michigan's first 16 points. John Beilein elected to go to a 2-3 zone and have Minnesota shoot them out of it, and it was effective in stemming the Gophers' run. Neither offense did much of anything in the first half, and Minnesota entered halftime with a 23-20 lead.

Tim Hardaway Jr. came out of the locker room at halftime and scored 11 points in the first four and a half minutes. Unfortunately Minnesota also turned their offense up a notch; Rodney Williams were still able to score at will inside and the Gophers' three point specialists started hitting. A dunk from Williams put the Gophers up 54-45 with 4:30 left, and closing that nine point difference seemed virtually impossible. Michigan responded with its best stretch of the game -- Trey made a layup with his off hand, Zack Novak buried a corner three for his first points of the game and hit another minutes later, and Evan Smotrycz buried a three to send the game into overtime. Michigan opened up a comfortable lead in the first few minutes of overtime much like they did against Northwestern a few weeks ago. Stu Douglass hit a three, Trey made another, and Michigan collectively made seven of eight free throws down the stretch to win the game.

I underestimated Minnesota -- the unexpectedness of how stellar Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins were was especially significant, as both guards scored in double digits (oh, and Rodney Williams was very good and scored twenty points) -- and Michigan almost lost. Thank goodness for Trey Burke and his thirty points and Tim Hardaway (at least in the second half), because everything else went poorly for the Wolverines. Zack and Stu were scoreless combined for the first 35 minutes of the game, Jordan Morgan had a few key offensive rebounds but struggled from the free throw line, and Smotrycz fouled out after twelve minutes of game action. Michigan couldn't keep the Gophers off of the offensive glass -- four Gophers pulled down two offensive boards. The Wolverines can't afford to turn in a performance like this in the NCAA Tournament as it would probably result in a loss. Fortunately Michigan overcame a less-than-ideal performance and a hungry, talented opponent to come away with a win.

Hit the jump for more on the Big Ten Tournament with a preview of today's game against Ohio State.

Michigan vs. Ohio State, Big Ten Tournament Semifinals

The Ohio State Buckeyes beat Purdue in the final quarterfinal matchup, pulling away from Purdue with a 14-0 run late in the second half for a comfortable 88-71 win. Jared Sullinger played very well, scoring 30 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, and the rest of Ohio State's starters also finished in double figures (notably, Deshaun Thomas scored 22). The Buckeye offense was again potent against Purdue, but their defense wasn't quite as good: Purdue shot the ball very well, particularly from three, and didn't turn the ball over often against Ohio State. It seems like Ohio State is playing their best basketball of the year -- their upset in East Lansing and their game yesterday were very good performances.

My keys to winning the last game against Ohio State (which Michigan did!) still hold true for the game today. Here's how Michigan did last time:

  • Michigan really cannot afford to get killed on the glass. Fortunately, it wasn't too bad. I expected much more out of Ohio State, and Michigan did a very good job of getting the 50/50 chance rebounds. There's not much you can do when Deshaun Thomas is being boxed out by Zack Novak, but getting rebounds on the floor or ripping them out of the opponents' hands is something that Michigan needs to do to be competitive.
  • Trey's offense needs to be better than the legendary defense of Aaron Craft. "The Pride of Columbus, Ohio" did just that, scoring 17 points (6-14 shooting) and notching 5 assists to 3 turnovers. More importantly, Burke scored two buckets to protect the win after missing the front end of a one-and-one. Trey was extremely fatugued, but getting by Craft twice for two huge baskets and getting the better of him for the whole game was awesome.
  • Evan Smotrycz and/or Tim Hardaway need to break out of their slumps in a big way. Smotrycz definitely did not have a memorable game (2 points on 1-4 shooting in 18 minutes) but played decent defense against Sullinger. Hardaway, on the other hand, had a great game. He didn't force things too much wound up only missing one shot all game. Michigan had other players step up (notably Burke and Morgan), but Hardaway played a nice supporting role.
  • Contain Sullinger, but don't let him beat you by setting up opportunities for his teammates. Michigan threw a unique defense at Jared Sullinger, one that he hasn't seen very much of in his five career games against Michigan. The Wolverines didn't double onto Sullinger as often, leaving Jordan Morgan to go one-on-one against him for several possessions. This worked out pretty well for the most part, Morgan held his own and only picked up two fouls. Sullinger only had one assist.
  • Jordan Morgan needs to be there. He was. It was easily Morgan's best performance of his Michigan career. He had 11 points on 5-8 shooting and 11 rebounds (2 offensive). Not only did he provide much of Michigan's rebounding and interior post play, but he also played some of the best one-on-one defense against Sullinger that I've seen from anyone. His intensity was great and Morgan played with as much passion as I've seen him play with.
  • Michigan needs to hit threes. Not so much, I guess. Michigan only hit 3 three point attempts, and proved once again that the "Michigan lives and dies by the three" mantra is wrong. The Wolverines excelled from inside the arc and have done so all year, so three point shooting hasn't been a strong determinant of Michigan's success. I don't know why I put this as a key to winning, but I guess I didn't foresee Michigan's success against the Buckeyes' strong interior defense.

Michigan won this game with a combination of good interior shooting, not turning the ball over, and great play from Trey Burke and Jordan Morgan in particular. Those things will need to be present today, because even though Deshaun Thomas was the only Buckeye outside of Sullinger to have a big day in Ann Arbor, plenty of other players -- William Buford especially -- are capable of having big games (heck, Lenzelle Smith Jr. even had a huge performance in Ohio State's win over Michigan earlier this year). Michigan will need to do most of those things again to beat the Buckeyes in Indianapolis, as the Wolverines need to turn in a much better performance than they did against Minnesota to beat Ohio State.