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What a painful loss for Michigan today. Not necessarily because it was a rivalry or "must win" game, but because this was a game that Michigan should have won, multiple times. They sank a 3 pt at the end of regulation, gave up a half court heave, and missed gimmes in the final few minutes. This will likely be one of those games that Michigan and fans look back and say, "Wow, that easily should have been a win". There's no way of telling exactly how this will impact Michigan's Big Ten chances and NCAA Tournament seeding, but one thing is for sure, Michigan should have had this one.
Overall, Michigan didn't really play that badly. They had some trouble at times boxing out on Wisconsin and Ryan Evans, but against one of the best frontcourts in the Big Ten, there are going to be some mistakes. Michigan also mixed up lineups at times, but really used their 2 big lineup successfully. Beilein has experimented with it at times, but it got a huge amount of use today and and you can see that in Bielfeldt's 18 minutes. The Wolverines also stepped up on defensive, particularly late, with forced turnovers and well defended ball movement. Wisconsin converted on some of these, but Michigan was doing a lot better job than they did earlier this seaosn. The Badgers run a slow tempo system, but Michigan was still forcing them to use time and putting them into bad situations. For a team in a difficult road environment that is still improving, these were good signs.
Unfortunately, two things will dominate the storylines from this game. First, Michigan had horrible late game management. This is something that is rare with Beilein, but you really need to foul at the end of the game. Even if you put them on the line, Wisconsin is a bad free throw shooting team and will only have two attempts. Plus if you put McGary and Bielfeldt in, you will probably rebound the second shot, even if they miss. Of course, Michigan did not do this and allowed Wisconsin a 3 pt heave to force overtime. The second storyline will definitely be the officials. I am not one to complain on a regular basis about officials. For the most part, the officials do a good job, but this game was very badly called on both sides. Not only the calls, but the no calls as well. There were numerous times Michigan would drive the lane, get hacked, and nothing would be called. The Wolverines could have still won this game, but not calling that kind of stuff can really change a game, especially since Michigan is the kind of team that rarely fouls.
Burke and Hardaway carried the load for Michigan. Burke made some amazing plays and passes today and also snagged 5 rebounds. Hardaway was efficient with the ball and avoided costly turnovers. As a team, Michigan only turned over the ball 6 times. That's pretty solid considering the kind of defense they were facing. One thing worth noting about Burke today. A couple of times he got very set on launching a 3 pt basket, including before the half. Teams are starting to prepare for this and it's really going to hurt those shots. He also had some amazing passes to guys like GR3 in transition, but he missed some wide open guys like Bielfeldt. When Wisconsin started hedging, Michigan was getting guys open inside. The problem was that some of these guys weren't hitting their shots. This may or may not have caused Burke to overlook them, but there were some missed opportunities there.
Stauskas had an alright game. His offensive numbers were certainly less than many are used to seeing, but he actually did pretty well on the defensive side. He would get turned around here or there, but he caused a travel on one possession, was stopping drives to the basket, and rebounded well. If he keeps this up, his contributions are only going to be even more meaningful. Unfortunately, he only went 1-5 outside the arch, including some wide open attempts. GR3 did not have a great game. Beilein restricted his use because he has been playing such heavy minutes, but he was not a heavy contributor and really did look tired out there. He lost easy passes for wide open baskets, wasn't finishing as strongly, and wasn't able to rebound as well as normal. Michigan is going to need him to pick up his production if they want to have success on the road against teams like MSU.
Michigan had an unusual frontcourt in this game. Morgan was out and did not play. Horford did not look great. He wasn't nearly as bad as many are claiming, but he is just not that effective on the offensive end. He's been decent on the defensive end, but Michigan needs him to finish at the basket and convert when he has an opportunity offensively. Bielfeldt got a lot of play in this one and didn't do too badly off the bench. He will probably never be an offensive powerhouse, but he was fighting for rebounds (including an amazing one hander) and played alright defense. He did have trouble in low post defense, but once again, Wisconsin has a really good frontcourt.
McGary is really starting to come into his own. He still isn't quite there defensively, but he is the best offensive big man on Michigan's roster. He was the only guy who was converting inside and if he can stay out of foul trouble and work on his defense, he could be a very good big man for Michigan. He also had a monster dunk when Wisconsin did not box out properly and nailed some nice jump shots. If he can keep that up, that would be a huge addition for Michigan. He's still a bit too aggressive on defense and he gets burned sometimes, but if he can convert on some of those steal attempts, Michigan's defense is going to be pretty good. We will see where he fits in when Morgan returns, but for now, he's probably Michigan's best weapon inside. Spike also made a few nice plays today, taking a charge and getting a really good rebound. LeVert missed a wide open 3, but had a great fist bump on the bench so that makes up for it in my book.
This was certainly a frustrating game, but there are plenty of positives to take out of this game. Michigan is still in fine position to make a run at the Big Ten title, but they are really going to have to do well in the upcoming games. Tuesday is their last remaining major challenge on the road (MSU) and if they can come away with a win, it would be huge for momentum and their position in the Big Ten standings. MSU and Indiana are currently tied for 1st place, but Indiana will be on the road in Columbus on Sunday. This is going to be a crazy finish to the Big Ten season.
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