Amid the consternation and teeth-gnashing regarding Michigan's offense on the gridiron and the impending doom in the Big House this Saturday, the basketball team traveled to Puerto Rico for their annual November tournament. As always, extrapolating much of anything from November basketball data is a tricky thing, but Michigan's trio of games in San Juan revealed a little bit about this young, work-in-progress squad.
This is a day late, but here are some scattered thoughts on the tournament that was:
Michigan did not play great basketball in Puerto Rico, but they should be commended on their ability to turn around and play three games in four days, just three days after taking a tough loss at the raucous Hilton Coliseum in Ames.
On that note, the Wolverines pasted an admittedly bad Long Beach State squad in the first round, 85-61, shooting a tremendous 46.7 percent from beyond the arc. Caris LeVert went 4-for-7 from there while Nik Stauskas buried four treys on six attempts. Mitch McGary had a quiet game, scoring six points (albeit on 3-for-3 shooting from the field) in only 14 minutes, but the Wolverines' shooting rendered that immaterial.
As is always the case with John Beilein's teams, when the three is falling, it's almost impossible for most opponents to overcome, let alone a bad LBSU team.
As for the other two games, Michigan's resilience is the biggest takeaway from this tournament. The Wolverines went down 16 early in the second half against Florida State, only to battle back admirably to take the game to overtime. For a team that is still trying to find itself, having the wherewithal to make such a comeback against a talented and athletic FSU squad is nothing at which to scoff.
After getting beaten up all game in the paint, John Beilein threw the 1-3-1 zone at the Seminoles, a move that ended up being the turning point in the game. The zone hasn't been used much by Beilein in Ann Arbor for a reason, but with Michigan's length, it could become a reliable changeup going forward. The 1-3-1 confused the 'Noles, forcing several bad turnovers and limiting their access to easy buckets on the interior.
Stauskas poured in 26 points, including the game-tying layup with eight seconds remaining. Stauskas still has a great deal of work to do on the defensive end, but, six games into the season, it appears that Michigan has found its go-to guy in the post-Burke world.
Also on the encouraging front, McGary pitched in a double double against the 'Noles, scoring 14 points and pulling in 12 rebounds, in addition to three assists, a steal and two blocks. For being only his third game back, his performance against an imposing FSU frontcourt was a good sign.
As for Michigan's freshman point guard, Derrick Walton scored 15 points against the Seminoles on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-5 from three). He also tallied six assists, making for his best game of the young season.
Lastly, say what you will about Michigan losing to Charlotte, but coming back to tie the game after shooting the way that they had is a testament to this team's mettle. This is especially true given the fact that Glenn Robinson III did not play the second half, and Stauskas was clearly hobbled with an ankle injury.
Losing is never fun, especially of the upset variety, but these early season tournaments are more about the opportunity to learn and figure things out as a team than they are strictly about wins and losses. In that vein, Michigan left Puerto Rico with a go-to scorer, a gradually returning to form Mitch McGary and valuable experience for Michigan's young point guard, Derrick Walton.
Defensively, the Wolverines have issues in man-to-man. The Seminoles got everything they wanted on the inside, and the Charlotte 49ers had their fair share of easy buckets too, especially in the final minutes of the game. If the Wolverines can't clean things up, a shot at the Big Ten title --regular season or tournament-- might be beyond its reach this season.
Post-shot defense has also been an issue for the Wolverines, who have struggled to consistently clean up on the boards. Charlotte's Willie Clayton reeled in nine offensive rebounds by himself on Sunday; as a team, the 49ers managed an offensive rebounding percentage of 40 percent. This was a big step down from the FSU game, in which the Wolverines, somewhat surprisingly, only allowed the 'Noles to grab 25 percent of their misses.
Thus far, Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan haven't been big factors on either end of the floor. Morgan has sort of been lost in the shuffle, minutes-wise, but the Wolverines will need him to contribute the strong defense he's been capable of down the stretch if they are going to check any halfway decent power forwards this season.
Lastly, although Robinson pitched in solid outing against LBSU and FSU --scoring a combined 27 points on 10-for-18 shooting-- he hasn't seemed to make much progress in the shot creation department just yet. The season is still very young, but, for whatever reason, Robinson does not seem comfortable with putting the ball on the floor and attacking in halfcourt sets. He remains an elite option in transition and a capable converter of putbacks via his athleticism, but Michigan will need more from him going forward, especially when the outside shot doesn't fall.
Most importantly for Robinson, however, is getting healthy. As of yesterday, the extent of his injury wasn't known (per Brendan F. Quinn), but if sitting out Friday's matchup against Coppin State means he'll be available for the Dec. 3 trip to Duke, then that is what needs to happen. On that same note, the same also applies for Nik Stauskas vis-a-vis Friday's game.
Michigan's offense continues to come to a grinding halt when the outside shots aren't falling. The Wolverines scored 30 points in the first half against Charlotte, 16 of them from Stauskas. A 30-point half doesn't sound particularly dreadful, but, according to ESPN's play-by-play, non-Stauskas Wolverines shot a combined 3-for-24 from the field in that first half.
Zak Irvin was ice cold from the field, shooting just 1-for-9 in the first half against the 49ers, most of them very good looks. On the bright side, Irvin did bury a huge three in the final minute of the game to cut the Charlotte lead to two; his reaction after the shot told you all you needed to know about his frustration. Irvin needs to shoot when he's open, and his recruiting profile (and even his play to date) indicates that he can be a significant contributor this season. However, it seems likely that he will have his share of games like this, and Michigan will need to find a way to overcome that.
Derrick Walton was a complete non-factor against Charlotte. Walton did not score a point and missed his only field goal attempt while only playing 17 minutes to Spike Albrecht's 27. Additionally, Walton turned it over three times while tallying zero assists. Thus far, Walton has 16 assists and 15 turnovers to his name this season. If you were expecting Burke-esque ball security from Michigan's freshman point guard, it's probably time to disabuse yourself of that notion. After all, he is just a freshman, which is exemplified best by the fact that he followed his impressive stat line against FSU with a scoreless evening on Sunday against Charlotte.
Walton has shown serious flashes of ability in his first six college games. Overall, there's much more with which to be encouraged by Walton's game than discouraged. But, for now, Spike Albrecht will continue to get big minutes as Walton finds his offensive niche, both as a scorer and a distributor.
On the injury front, Nik Stauskas played the second half against Charlotte but was clearly not 100 percent. After scoring 16 in the first half against Charlotte, he scored just four in the second.
Additionally, Glenn Robinson III only played nine minutes in the Charlotte game (only two in the second half) due to what sounds like some sort of back injury. With two of Michigan's top scoring options either out or seriously hobbled, it's impressive that the Wolverines were able to battle back from an 12-point deficit with 16:36 remaining in the game.
In short, Michigan clearly did not leave Puerto Rico with the ideal outcome. A tournament victory would have been a good thing for Michigan's morale, but failing to get that result was far from disastrous.
Michigan has its work cut out for it when it heads to Cameron Indoor on Dec. 3; but, like the Tip-Off, it will be an opportunity for Michigan to grow as a team before the Big Ten schedule begins in early January. Whatever happens at Duke, the Wolverines will have two more opportunities to pick up quality non-conference wins, on Dec. 14 against Arizona at the Crisler Center and Dec. 21 against Stanford in Brooklyn.
Once again: college basketball is a marathon, not a sprint. Despite Sunday's result, this is a Michigan team that is poised to win a lot of games this season.