Often Michigan basketball has been accused to playing to the level of its opponents, but that cliche has never been more true than this season. While too many games against weaker teams have been left to the final 10 minutes of the game, the Wolverines have no problem showing up against quality foes. Unfortunately for Indiana, the contest was already out of hand 12 minutes in.
The Hoosiers fought back but never got closer than seven, as Michigan earned its 15th win of the season. The offensive onslaught resulted in 1.26 points per possession for the home team, the best output by the Wolverines this season. The defense allowed its second-worst performance with 1.08 points per possession, but did enough to secure the victory.
The MBP trio
There is not yet a fun nickname for Michigan’s offensive leaders, but when at least two of Charles Mathews, Ignas Brazdeikis, and Jordan Poole are firing, good luck stopping the Maize and Blue. While the freshman sat with some early foul trouble, Matthews and Poole blitzed Indiana early on. Each had 18 points on the day, and the trio combined for a crisp 46 in total.
Matthews was surprisingly the most efficient from behind the arc, but it was his attack on the break that was most lethal. The Hoosiers had a few costly turnovers in the first half that led to dunks, and Matthews did not hesitate to make him pay. He recorded all four of Michigan’s steals.
Brazdeikis did come back to contribute in the second half, and helped add some size into the lineup. He ended with a modest 10 points, with six of them coming from the free throw line. His impact was felt when he was on the floor, but in the first half it was all Matthews and Poole.
A recurring problem
With the defense sitting at No. 4 overall in efficiency, there are not many clear weaknesses. However, Indiana’s Juwan Morgan was the encore to Northwestern’s Dererk Pardon, crushing the Michigan big men down low. Morgan had an astronomical 59.3 (!!!) percent usage rate. The Hoosiers kept feeding him the ball and the home team had no answer.
Trying to defend him basically just ended in fouls. Jon Teske had four for the game, as did Austin Davis. The latter was a huge liability and provided essentially no value for the Wolverines. His playing time might be falling from the little he currently sees to basically none. While part of this is due to his own ineffectiveness, he was also severely outplayed on Sunday.
Freshman Brandon Johns entered the game with just 36 minutes played, but recorded 13 huge ones against Indiana. He could not completely stop Morgan but looked better than Davis did, and he added a timely eight points as well. Head coach John Beilein is notorious for not rushing freshmen into the rotation until they are ready, but at this point it is hard to see any area where Davis is better than Johns. With Isaiah Livers still out of the lineup, Johns stepped up in a big way and earned more playing time going forward.
Odds and ends
- Michigan had its best offensive performance without doing much from three; only Poole and Matthews connected from deep and the team went 4-for-16 as a whole. Though the game was basically won in the first half, there were still stretches where the offense struggled to run smoothly. Settling for deep shots late in the shot clock is not a great strategy.
- Indiana entered the game near the bottom of the country in turnover rate and offensive rebounding, but the Hoosiers looked pretty strong in both areas on Sunday. Michigan’s defense is not necessarily built on steals, but given the team’s strength in transition, it would be nice to see a little progress in this area. The offensive rebounds allowed relate to the mismatch down low, and the Big Ten is a conference where this could be a problem going forward.
- Zavier Simpson is all-in on the sky hook. He hit a couple more against Indiana, continuing his new-found trend. The point guard was 5-for-8 from two but 0-for-2 behind the arc. It might be time for him to consider moving away from the three ball.
- No game is easy in the Big Ten this season, but Sunday was close to a must-win, as are the two games over the next seven days. The schedule gets rough in the middle before turning brutal at the end, so racking up the wins now is key. Oh, and staying undefeated is nice too.