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Thoughts on Michigan Basketball's First Loss of the Season

Facing its first real test of the new season, Michigan traveled to Ames and eventually fell apart down the stretch and lost to Iowa State, 77-70.

David Purdy

I'll preface this by saying that since this was Mitch McGary's first game of the season, and especially because he was only available for one practice before this game, it's hard to make any concrete statements about how this game speaks to his overall season outlook (and in a larger context, how he fits in to the team as a whole). It's the only data point we have for now, but it probably doesn't tell us a whole lot.

It's clear that this team is a work in progress. Last year, Michigan's youth was largely masked early on because of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. -- the two combined for an astronomical usage rate, steadied the team when necessary, and needless to say, Burke in particular was responsible for covering up a lot of defects. With those two gone, there's a vacuum: who gets those possessions, what does Michigan do to generate offense, and how does everyone collectively make up for the loss of scoring and creative ability? This year the rotation likely will have one senior, one junior, five sophomores, and two freshmen -- and even though a lot of those young players show a lot of promise (Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are potential lottery picks, the two freshmen were Top-50 recruits, etc.), there will still be some issues with cohesiveness and composure against quality opponents for a little while.

Michigan had prolonged stretches of offensive sloppiness, had a few defensive breakdowns, and had issues containing Iowa State's size down low. After leading 62-57 at the under-eight timeout in the second half, Michigan faded down the stretch; Iowa State closed out the game with a 20-8 run amid a frenzied home crowd and hit some key shots down the stretch. Still, the game was essentially a toss-up until Iowa State, leading 69-68, threw the ball in to Georges Niang for two points on consecutive possessions that bracketed a missed GRIII three-pointer, putting the Cyclones up by five and effectively closing out the game after Michigan bricked a few more threes down the stretch.

Both teams had largely similar statistical profiles in this game -- Michigan put up a rather dreadful shooting line of 42 / 27 / 44, and wasn't able to get enough extra possessions to make up for it (both teams had a roughly average amount of offensive rebounds and turnovers, making the amount of possessions that both teams had roughly even). Even before the garbage-time parade of free throws, Iowa State was able to get to the stripe more often, and that was the difference between the two teams.

Ultimately, this was a tough game in November. Iowa State provided a tremendous home-court advantage, featured two seniors -- Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane -- who played quite well, and Michigan, who hadn't been tested at all to this point, just didn't hit enough shots or come up with enough stops near the end. Road games in college basketball are exceedingly difficult and Michigan (who probably didn't deserve its lofty #7 ranking, especially without a healthy McGary) and Iowa State (who falls roughly into the 20-30 range nationally). Both teams had a scoring run in each half and the game was close at the end -- Michigan just lost what amounted to a slightly weighted coin flip down the stretch.

Michigan Player of the Game:

Nik Stauskas -- 20 points (4-8 on two-pointers, 4-10 on threes), 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 turnover

It became apparent over the course of the game that Stauskas was Michigan's clear-cut number one option on the offensive end of the floor. In a game where the collective shot very poorly, Stauskas shot the ball well enough and played with his trademark bravado, seemingly unperturbed by the road environment. Even though some of his drives did not wind up in points, he was the most successful Wolverine at attacking the hoop off of dribble-drive action, was probably the best at running a successful pick-and-roll (which has been a glaring issue for this team -- I'm not sure if it's chemistry, poor screens, or what, but Michigan has not been adept at running their staple play), and hit as many threes as the rest of the team combined. Michigan fans harp on the "not just a shooter" platitudes given by announcers, and rightfully so -- Stauskas is versatile and warrants a high usage rate (though 18 shots against Iowa State certainly fits the bill).

Everybody Else:

Mitch McGary played 22 minutes in his season debut, and was understandably limited. His four made field goals came off of two offensive rebounding opportunities, a backcourt steal, and a nice dish from Stauskas on the low block. He wasn't a dominant rebounder, but that's expected as he rounds into form after his injury ... Glenn Robinson had issues with forcing the ball early on, and never was able to settle into an offensive groove. He did total four steals (as did McGary), but had some issues in the post on the defensive end. His jumpshot has been missing for a few games now, and if he starts hitting from the field, it will open up more lanes to the basket ... Caris LeVert -- who I've been particularly high on -- didn't play well yesterday (2-9 from the field, and was continually beaten up down low for easy baskets in 1-on-1 post defense situations). LeVert's shot looks much better than it did a year ago, and he's playing with more confidence: I'm willing to chalk this up as sort of an anomaly. He's played well thus far this season ... Derrick Walton got the start, and had an up-and-down game. He had a couple of key turnovers in the second half and did not shoot well from outside (1-5 and the only make was banked in off of the backboard), but his defense was solid and he was able to penetrate decently and eventually did finish as Michigan's second-leading scorer with 13 points ... Zak Irvin (Michigan's likely sixth man) didn't play well in his first road game and didn't tally any points in 13 minutes ... Spike Albrecht handled the ball better than did Walton and had a couple of nice offensive plays, but he continues to be a pretty glaring minus on the defensive end and Iowa State exploited that accordingly ... Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan combined for 18 minutes, but that's likely to decrease as time goes along; Michigan seems content to go with one big at a time, and as McGary gets more playing time, the two upperclassmen will see less. Neither played very well against the Cyclones.