Last week, instead of making a full blog post about random Michigan basketball pessimism, I took to Twitter:
Like a few years ago, I worry about this team against athletic opponents (Minny, IU, etc). Saw it against NC State.I didn't have anything else to contribute aside from that. Anything more substantial would have required some kind of research that I a) didn't know where to begin on and b) didn't care to do if I could figure it out. So to Twitter it went, where 355 people ignored it. But in the wake of the Ohio
Michigan's defense only works (not fouling, getting boards) when you have teams that will settle for shots. If you have opponents that attack the rim, you end up fouling a lot more frequently and giving up more OReb. Also, athletic teams rotate on defense better.
So I think this M team can finesse with most teams in the country. I see them struggling against athletic teams, even if they're not elite.
Also, think Ohio last year in the tourny. M would beat them this year, but they could run into a similar outfit later in the tourny who have more talent. Athletic teams with scoring capabilities (IU, OSU, Minny, Kansas, Louisville) really worry me.
When watching the game, it was immediately clear that athletically OSU simply outmatches Michigan. The proof is in the pudding: Michigan's shot chart
Throughout this entire game, Michigan couldn't get near the basket. The much-hated long two-point shot became the team's go-to attack, not because they lost their composure--as story-driven announcers would have you believe--but because Michigan simply wasn't fast or strong enough to get into the lane. Nik Stauskas' disappearance comes hand-in-hand with this inability to get into the lane: as a spot-up shooter, he relies on drive-and-kick opportunities created by Trey Burke and others, but without a need to collapse on the lane, Stauskas becomes a non-factor.
It may be safe to assume that Aaron Craft was the driving force behind this denial--when he exited the game late in the first half, Michigan went on a run that would carry over to the second half--but that's reductive. Not only did Craft frustrate the Michigan offense by harassing Burke, but OSU's rotation defense was simply faster than Michigan's offense, and when the ball was eventually dropped into the post to an unguarded big man, only Mitch McGary was able to convert (yet another instance of the increasing distance between his and Jordan Morgan's capabilities).
The other place that Michigan's inferior athleticism appeared was on the glass, previously a point of dominance for Michigan. On the season, Michigan has rebounded 35% of their misses. Against OSU, that number was a mere 13% (snagging only 4 of their 29 misses).
This brings us to the future of the team this season. Michigan has 6 more games against Big Ten opponents that I deem to be more athletic (the usual customers: Minny , Indiana , OSU , and Illinois ). The problem that Michigan faces is that the good teams in the Big Ten are specifically designed to beat the precision-focused offense of Beilein. While there's only so much a team can do to prepare for the complex schemes, having sheer athleticism that can recover from mistakes defensively is the greatest attribute when trying to beat a team that's built like Michigan (see Ohio in the Tournament last year). With three of those games coming on the road, Michigan is probably more likely to end up 2-5 or 3-4 against the Big Ten elite than it is to finish with a winning record.
What people have been looking to for hope after this game was how poorly Michigan played in the first half, but OSU played nearly as badly in their second half, allowing Michigan to climb back into the game. While the common refrain is, "Well, Michigan played its worst basketball in the first half and still had a chance", OSU fans can nearly point to the same phenomenon in the second. But both of these arguments ignore the real takeaway from this game: there's probably a reason both teams played so poorly for 20 minutes. For Michigan, it was because the team was simply outmatched physically and struggled to get the looks they had previously. For OSU, it was because the shots that were falling in the first half weren't going down in the second. Ultimately those are a wash (see: 3-point margin of victory), but I'd probably rather go with the athletic superfreaks than the kids that rely on spot-up jumpers.
There was a lot of speculation about why Sunday's game was actually a positive sign for Michigan, but I couldn't look past the glaring lack of athleticism that this team still offers. As the season goes on, how Michigan responds to athletic (but raw) teams will be something to keep an eye on, but this game was a stark reminder that Michigan still has a ways to go before they can hang with the nation's true elite.