Friday, November 23, 2012

Michigan Escapes Physical Pittsburgh Panthers

I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving yesterday. Like many of you I was enjoying yesterday with family, and didn't do any blogging. So that means that I still have a few games to catch up on from Wednesday. Once I get through those I'll have some posts later today going over some interesting action from Turkey Day itself.

#4 Michigan 67, Pittsburgh 62
This was an enjoyable game between two athletic and physically tough teams. Michigan managed to escape Pitt despite 3-for-17 three-point shooting (compared to 40% for Pitt). The difference in the game was that Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr were able to get into the lane at will (10-for-18 two-point shooting plus 7 assists combined) while Pitt was forced into being a jump shooting team in the second half. They seemed very confused by the long and athletic Michigan zone. Watching this game I was very impressed by Glenn Robinson III, who had the best game of his young collegiate career. His ability to muscle inside and shoot outside makes him incredibly important for a Michigan team that otherwise has no real front court depth behind Jordan Morgan.

Prior to this game, the only chance most people had to see Pittsburgh play was that overtime game against Oakland. And they certainly didn't look good there, but it's a mistake to judge a team on one game. They have otherwise played well this season, and even in defeat here had the look of an NCAA Tournament team. They will face a feisty Delaware team on Friday in the NIT consolation game. After that their schedule is pretty soft prior to Big East play. The toughest game will be against Duquesne, on December 5th. Considering the lack of big non-conference wins, Pitt will probably need to go at least 10-8 in Big East play to make the NCAA Tournament, but I think they have that in them.

I had two big concerns about Michigan's Top 5 ranking to start the season. One was where they would get outside shooting from considering how much John Beilein's system relies on it. The second was where they would get front court depth from. Glenn Robinson III has lived up to all of the hype and deals with much of the latter problem. Meanwhile, Nik Skauskas has a very pretty shot, even if he hasn't had any real breakout games yet. I still don't really buy Michigan as the 4th best team in the country, but they're a very realistic top ten team if Skauskas can find more consistency with his shot. They'll play Kansas State in the NIT title game on Friday. They'll then come home to face NC State on Tuesday.

Marquette 72, USC 64
On the court, this was something of a ho-hum game for Marquette. They were decent-but-not great in dispatching a mediocre USC team by eight. Jamil Wilson was white hot, hitting 7-for-9 from the field, including 3-for-4 behind the arc. The concern for Marquette was late, when star Vander Blue went down with an apparent knee injury. He was standing around and limping after the game, and it was diagnosed as just a sprain. Marquette will obviously hope that's all it is.

Marquette has been solid to start the season, even if the results haven't been wonderful. Their one game against a likely RPI Top 100 ended in a brutal buzzer-beater defeat. They will get their chance to prove themselves against quality opponents next week, when they'll play at Florida on Thursday. They also have a home game coming up against Wisconsin on December 8th. If they can steal one of those two games and avoid any bad non-conference losses, then a 10-8 Big East record should be enough for an at-large bid.

USC has been fairly unimpressive to start the season. I wonder if there are still lingering issues for Jio Fontan, because he just hasn't been the same player that he was before his torn ACL. JT Terrell, the Wake Forest transfer, has been the best USC playmaker and scorer. Even with the Pac-12 still pretty mediocre this season, I expect USC to be contending for the basement. Their next game will be Sunday, against San Diego State.

Wichita State 75, Iowa 63
When you shoot 7-for-8 on three-pointers and are only up by two points on halftime, that's usually not a great sign for the second half. And that was certainly the case here for Iowa. Their offense fell apart in the second half - in the opening six minutes they shot 0-for-5 from the field with 4 turnovers - and Wichita State built a quick eight point lead that was never seriously threatened the rest of the game.

Juco transfer Cleanthony Early was big for Wichita State off the bench here (25 points on 7-for-13 shooting, along with 9 rebounds), but a real standout was 7-footer Ehimen Orukpe. Orukpe's five blocks were a big reason that Iowa was completely unable to get a good shot near the basket (they shot a mind-boggling 4-for-31 on two-pointers).

Iowa is going to score a lot of points this year because of Fran McCaffery's uptempo style, but offensive efficiency remains a very serious concern. They have enough talent to be an NCAA Tournament team, but they didn't play like one here against Wichita State. And coming off less-than-impressive wins over Gardner Webb and Western Kentucky, I'm starting to rethink having them as a projected at-large team. They will be on the road to face Virginia Tech on Tuesday. After that, games against Iowa State and Northern Iowa will be their only action against quality opponents before beginning Big Ten play.

Wichita State, powered by a really good defense, is now 6-0 with a pair of a nice wins (the other nice win came over VCU). They're good enough to make a run at an at-large bid, but have several minefields that they have to pass through to get there. The margin of error is just less in the Missouri Valley than it is in a conference like the Big Ten. Their next task is to get past a couple of tricky road games over the next ten days, at Tulsa and Air Force.


Anonymous said...

I think you are underselling this Michigan team. They have certainly looked like a top 5 team thus far. They have two stars in Burke and a much improved Hardaway. And Robinson III seems to be the most talented player on the team. Stauskus is lights out from three, and they have solid front court depth with Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and freshman phenom Mitch McGary. This team has a legitimate chance to get to the final four, and could even contend for the championship.

Jeff said...

Burke and Hardaway were great last year, too. And 30 other teams have fans that will give you their list of 8 players who are either really good or freshman phenoms or whatever.

I never denied that they have a chance to get to the Final Four - they certainly do. There are probably 50 teams with a chance to make the Final Four, so it's a given that Michigan is in that group.

I just think that they are thin at a couple of key areas. Stauskas is a good shooter, but that's it for Michigan's deep threats (unless you really believe Hardaway's hot start to the season). And Robinson is the team's second best big and is only 6'6". That will be a concern against Big Ten defenses with big front lines that will clog the lane and dare Michigan's shooters to beat them.

Michigan is definitely a contender to win the Big Ten and make the Final Four, but those are two significant concerns that have to be addressed.