For the second time in two games, Michigan shot fewer threes than their preseason tournament opponent, and for the second time is as many tries, Michigan beat an undefeated high-major opponent behind the scoring punch of Tim Hardaway, Jr.
It’s becoming more and more evident with every passing game that John Beilein is constantly adapting his system to match the strengths and weaknesses of his personnel on the court. In Michigan’s two games at Madison Square Garden, the Wolverines hoisted a combined 29 three-point attempts and only made seven of them. In years past, any Michigan fan could have easily predicted a pair of losses, seeing no way a Michigan team could out-muscle Pittsburgh and Kansas State, two historically big, bruising, rebounding-minded squads, inside the arc. But that is exactly what happened.
Eleven Wolverines saw the court in all, and nine of them grabbed two or more rebounds on the way to dominating Kansas State on the defensive glass by rebounding 74.4 percent of the Wildcats’ misses and grabbing a respectable 32 percent of their own misses.
And while Michigan has shot the ball well from deep early on this season, there was simply no need for it tonight. Hardaway, Jr. made a ridiculous nine of his 12 two-point attempts, including an array of smooth mid-range jumpers and strong, gliding drives to the basket on his way to recording 23 points and seven rebounds. Trey Burke chipped in with 10 points, all in the second half, on 5-of-8 shooting inside the arc.
Kansas State’s inside girth with 6’11”, 250-pound senior Jordan Henriquez and 6’7″, 270-pound behemoth sophomore Thomas Gipson posed some problems early on, especially in the rebounding department, but Michigan’s bigs did a good job of boxing out and leaving the boards for the wings to collect. Glenn Robinson III seemed to grab every loose rebound with his long arms and nose for the ball and missed a double-double by just one point, as he grabbed 11 rebounds. Burke added six more himself and Stauskas grabbed four to go along with his 10 points in addition to Hardaway’s high-leaping efforts from the wing.
After a fairly sloppy start to the game that didn’t see either team make a bucket for two and a half minutes, Michigan got on the board with a mid-range jumper courtesy of Hardaway, Jr. and never looked back, scoring the first six points and jumping out to a 29-24 halftime lead. The Wildcats’ closest sniff came with just under six minutes to go in the first half when they cut the deficit to two, but a 22-6 Michigan run over the first 9:19 of the second half put the game out of reach.
There was nothing that stood out as the difference in this game other than Michigan clearly being the superior team in just about every facet of the game. They seemed to play smarter, shoot better, and were all-around more athletic on the court.
Going into tonight’s game as a top-five team in the country, Michigan had a swagger about them that they wouldn’t be denied, and there was very little doubt from the start as to what the outcome would be. It’s getting harder and harder to make an argument against Michigan being so highly thought of, and while Pitt and Kansas State may not be the best barometers of success in the country, they are two solid teams from good conferences that should at least put up a good fight for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Next Tuesday’s match-up with preseason top-five ranked NC State should be the first big test in the young season. A passing grade there would seem to legitimize all the hype.
It’s a good sign after a game when the biggest worry for a fan base is not how well or poorly the team played and what needs to be fixed, but the health of the players. Hardaway, Jr. went down late when he was accidentally kneed in the side of the head by a Kansas State player and was slow to get up and noticeably woozy; a concussion would likely mean he would have to sit out of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game in Ann Arbor against the Wolfpack. Obviously this is a terrible thought for Wolverines fans, but the injury didn’t appear extremely serious. If he is to sit out, Stauskas would play 30-plus minutes in the upcoming showdown, but the Wolverines would be in for a serious challenge.
At this point, however, maybe they need a serious challenge.
|Final Game Stats|
|01||Glenn Robinson III*||3-11||0-3||3-4||4||8||12||0||9||2||0||1||1||36|
|10||Tim Hardaway Jr*||10-15||1-3||2-4||0||7||7||1||23||0||2||1||1||32|