Just a year or two ago, no one would have given Michigan much of a chance of coming back in last night’s game. With Jamie Dixon’s Panthers leading by four at the half and by seven early in the second stanza, it just seemed like it wasn’t Michigan’s night. Bounces were going the other way, shots weren’t falling, and Pitt was knocking down everything. But this team isn’t the old Michigan.
Right as things could have gotten out of control, John Beilein had the brilliant idea of trying out the 1-3-1 zone, the same zone that has both made him famous and led many pundits to believe that it’s Michigan’s primary defensive set. Contrary to this thought, however, the Wolverines haven’t operated this unique zone on defense for extended periods of time for at least two seasons. The number of possessions it was played last season couldn’t probably be tallied on two hands.
Perhaps that is the reason it was so effective. As soon as Beilein raised three fingers from the bench and yelled out “THREE!”, it was evident that Pittsburgh had not expected it. Dixon’s squad immediately went into shambles on the offensive end after burying the Wolverines in the first half with drive-and-kicks for made buckets with the shot clock winding down. Now, Pitt could hardly get a clean shot off without a Wolverine defender at least getting a hand on the ball at some point in the possession.
Around the same time in the second half, Michigan’s vaunted offense came alive after only managing 29 first-half points. It wasn’t a typical night for a Beilein team, as the Wolverines shot only 3-of-17 from downtown, but they still managed to get the job done with a balanced attack, key jumpers from two freshmen, and incredible finishes around the rim from their two superstars.
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. played 38 minutes each, showing that in close games against top competition, Beilein is still going to rely on his proven talent to carry the team. Their combined 1-of-11 three-point shooting will make Michigan fans cringe, but without them, Pitt would have run away by double digits. Burke and Hardaway attacked the basket with no abandon in the second half and managed 17 and 16 points respectively while shooting 10-of-16 from inside the arc. They also combined for eight rebounds, seven assists, and only two turnovers. If there was ever any doubt about this team’s on-court leadership, last night’s comeback erased it.
Freshmen Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas were again fundamental in the win, going for 13 and 15 points respectively in a combined 7-of-10 two-point shooting. On most nights Stauskas will do his damage from outside the three-point line, and it looked like that would be the case early on as a corner three with a defender in his face hit nothing but net to keep Michigan afloat. As the game went on and Stauskas’s outside shots weren’t falling, however, he showed everyone that he is no one-trick pony, flashing unforeseen quickness in attacking the basket and a mid-range jumper that may be smoother than his outside shot. Robinson III was again fairly quiet, but a talent like him simply cannot go unnoticed. There were no highlight-reel dunks, but there was an impressive block and a slew of rebounds that he got his hands on in addition to some nice cuts for lay-ups.
Looking at the box score, there are a couple items that stand out as being the difference in the game. Pittsburgh took three more shots (53 to 50) than Michigan and the two teams were within a percentage point in field goal shooting (Michigan 46% – Pitt 45.3%), a statistical wash. Three-point shooting, a typical strength for Beilein’s team (Michigan came in leading the nation in three-point shooting at around 53%), was a huge advantage to Pitt, as they made 40 percent of their 20 threes while Michigan was an awful 17.6 percent. Anyone who saw those numbers before the game would have undoubtedly put their life on the Panthers, and probably by a significant margin.
That would not be the case in New York last night though. Michigan’s aggressiveness was key in seeing them get to the line twice as often as their counterparts, and their 81.8 percent mark (18-of-22), led by Stauskas’s 6-of-6 free throw shooting, was huge in the comeback. Pitt got to the line just 11 times and made only six of their attempts, which proved to be more than enough to make up the point differential.
The rebounding game also gave Michigan a little bit of a leg up on the Panthers. After Dixon’s squad dominated the glass early on, Beilein switched to a two-big lineup for a minute to help mitigate the advantage, and it seemed to work before a smaller and quicker five held their own in the second half and got some better bounces. Michigan rebounded 82.1 percent of the available defensive rebounds and 33.3 percent of their offensive misses, impressive numbers for a Beilein team.
Many might look at the rankings and immediately think that this game should have been a gimme for the Maize and Blue, but make no mistake about it, Pittsburgh is a solid squad that should compete in the Big East and make the NCAA Tournament. The crowd was also on the Panthers’ side all night long, and under the bright lights of New York City against the first big-time opponent of the year, this was a quality win for Michigan, if nothing other than to prove the doubters wrong. Michigan’s bigs completed dominated top-10 freshman center Steven Adams, holding him to the tune of one rebound, zero points, and two fouls in just 10 minutes, and Michigan looked like the better team overall when all was said and done.
Two years ago, a Michigan team down at the half, trailing early in the second, and making only three threes all game would have been dead in the water. Last night, as the lights shone bright in the Big Apple, Michigan’s veteran stars shone brighter, and together with some young talent, proved that Michigan is back. No questions asked.
|Final Game Stats|
|01||Glenn Robinson III*||5-8||1-2||2-4||3||2||5||2||13||1||1||1||1||33|
|10||Tim Hardaway Jr*||6-13||1-7||3-3||0||4||4||3||16||1||1||0||0||38|