Three Thoughts on Michigan’s Road Win at Minnesota

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 3rd, 2014

About one year ago, an undefeated Michigan squad went to Minneapolis to face a Gophers team that was also ranked in the top-15 of the national polls. Both teams were highly touted before the match-up, and ultimately Trey Burke’s team muscled its way to an 83-75 win. One year later, the game was equally important, but for different reasons. John Beilein’s team needed to prove that it could survive a tough Big Ten road trip without Mitch McGary available, and Richard Pitino’s Gophers needed to prove that its 11-2 non-conference record was not just a result of a soft schedule. Even though the game last night was not nationally important, it was instrumental for each team to tip off the conference season with a strong start. Each team played like it mattered, so the following are three thoughts from a sneaky good game which resulted in a 63-60 Michigan victory.

John Beilein's Wolverines pulled out a tough win no the road against Minnesota.

John Beilein’s Wolverines pulled out a tough win no the road against Minnesota.

  1. McGary’s absence was felt on the defensive glass. The Michigan front line of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford was outrebounded by 10 on the offensive glass. The Gophers were all over the boards on the weak side because Horford consistently lost his man off the pick-and-roll, leading to several easy layups by Elliott Eliason. Horford and Morgan regularly pounced on the penetrating guards, leaving their men completely open either for rebounds or easy dropoff passes. Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu racked up seven assists, most of them to the big men in the paint in those situations. With McGary on the shelf, it’ll take some time for Horford to get used to these defensive sets and become more comfortable with how to communicate during the pick-and-roll.
  2. The Gophers need to find Dre Hollins during the final minutes of the game. If you could read lips, you could have seen Pitino call Mathieu over to the bench with a minute left in the game to tell him that he needs to find Dre Hollins. There were three straight possessions where Hollins didn’t take a shot because the Wolverines cornered him on the wings and Minnesota didn’t find him. It is easier said than done, but the player who is averaging 16.2 PPG needs to be involved in every possession during the final minutes of a close game. Because he wasn’t actively involved down the stretch, it wasn’t too surprising to see him miss a layup that he makes all the time – a missed play that could have tied the game with 15 seconds left. Opposing defenses will continue to double-team and isolate Hollins until the other Gophers make more of a conscious effort to get him involved when the game is on the line.
  3. Horford looked more comfortable on the offensive end, especially in the half-court. Not everything about Horford’s game last night was negative. Even though he could have done a better job on the defensive glass, he looked extremely comfortable in the half-court during the second half. He shot 6-of-8 from the field – using a soft jumper off the pick-and-roll and a couple of backdoor layups during the closing minutes. Eventually, the wings will need to help him with defensive rebounding, but any offensive contribution he can provide will pay dividends as the season progresses. Statistics aside, his ability to hit open jumpers will give Nik Stauskas and Caris Levert more room to operate because they don’t have to rely on just their long-range shots. It wasn’t a coincidence that Zak Irvin hit 5-of-8 from beyond the arc last night, because Horford’s play kept the defense honest in the mid-range instead of just gluing themselves to the shooters on the perimeter. 
Deepak Jayanti (270 Posts)

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