Good Week for Michigan Hoops (Which Could’ve Been Even Better)

This past week the Michigan Wolverines basketball team played three games. Two of them came against top five ranked programs. They took on the Purdue Boilermakers at home in the Crisler Center and traveled to East Lansing to take on MSU. U of M then came back home to take on Maryland. They went 2-1 in those games and had a great chance to have gone 3-0.

The Purdue game was a good test for this Wolverine squad as they were hosting the number five ranked team in the country and their fantastic big man Isaac Haas. It was also their second game against a ranked opponent this season after losing to the North Carolina Tar Heels in late November.

It was a hard-fought game with Purdue leading throughout the night and by as many as 14 points early in the first half. But U of M clawed their way back and took a 64-61 lead with just under five minutes to go in the second half. Ultimately, they ended up losing 70-69 and fell to 3-2 in Big Ten play.

Michigan then traveled to the Breslin Center to take on the fourth-ranked Spartans. Michigan State, which was coming off a blowout loss to Ohio State and a close overtime win over Rutgers, had to be fired up to play their arch rivals, especially after losing to them 86-57 the last time they met.

But that was not the case. Michigan State held a slim 37-34 lead at the break but it was Michigan who came out to play in the second half and arrived back home in Ann Arbor with a 82-72 win over their in-state rival and a 4-2 record in conference play.

The Maryland game was also a hard-fought battle with the Terps leading by as many as 14 in the first half but the Wolverines coming out victorious 68-67. They also ran their Big Ten record to 5-2, good for third in the conference. It probably shouldn’t have come down to that as Michigan led by ten with just under six minutes to go, but a win is a win regardless of how you get it.

Over the course of these three games, the Wolverines showed plenty of things to be happy about moving forward, but there was also some signs for concern as well.

The biggest positive over this past week was the play of junior big man Moritz Wagner. While his game against Purdue wasn’t his best (11 points on 5-11 shooting and 6 rebounds), he showed up against the Spartans.

He scored a career high 27 points and grabbed four boards. He also shot 8-8 from the free throw line which is a good sign as he came into the game shooting just 65% from the charity stripe.

He also came to play against Maryland. He racked up a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds and was a big spark for his team in the second half. And while many will still say he is inconsistent, which is fairly true, he showed he has tremendous talent and can show up in the biggest of games.

Another positive for this team over the past three games was the play of their underclassmen. Zavier Simpson set a career high in points scored with 15 against Purdue and bested himself again with 16 against MSU. And while his game against the Terrapins wasn’t anything to write home about with five points, he still dished out five assists too.

Isaiah Livers scored 10, 6 and 7 points respectively in the three games and has provided John Beilein a nice option over the struggling senior Duncan Robinson. He even made the beautiful half-court pass to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman that set up the game winning free throws against the Terps.

Even lesser used young bucks like Jordan Poole, Eli Brooks and Jon Teske have held their own. Those three have come in and answered the call when they give starters like Wagner and Simpson a break.

Poole may have even forced his way into more playing time with his performance against Maryland. He scored 11 points on 4-5 shooting in 13 minutes and was the only other Wolverine besides Wagner to score in double figures. He also went 3-3 from beyond the arc in a two-minute stretch which saw Michigan go from being down seven to up by four.

The biggest negative takeaway from this past week of games has been the play of the two seniors who see playing time in Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson. MAAR shot 8-29 from the field and 3-10 from the 3-point line for a combined 28 points over the three games.

Robinson shot 4-11 from the field and 3-7 from beyond the arc for a total of 13 points. He was also replaced by Livers in the starting lineup for the MSU game.

And while Abdur-Rahkman hit the two clutch free throws to beat Maryland and became the 52nd Wolverine to score 1,000 points in his career (which is an awesome feat), he still needs to play better as the most tested veteran on this budding team.

Another negative from these past three games has been the free-throw shooting. They haven’t been good all year as their team percentage has hovered in the low to mid 60s all year and the Purdue game was no different. They shot 7-11 (63%) and lost by a point. Against Michigan State they actually shot 80% (28-35), but started off 20-20, and went 8-15 down the final stretch of the game when they mattered the most which gave MSU life. The Maryland game wasn’t good either with the team shooting 7-12 (58%) and Zavier Simpson missing two near the end of the game, which almost cost his team a win.

But even with those negatives, this Michigan team proved they can play with anybody in the country. Purdue is no joke and is currently ranked behind only Villanova and Virginia in the latest AP poll. Michigan State is still a good team with the talent to make some noise come March. Maryland is no slouch either and should end up in the top half of the conference.

U of M also entered the AP Top-25 for the first time this season with a number 23 ranking after their victory against MSU. And while they almost lost it right after they earned it with the nail-biter against Maryland, they should be a mainstay in the rankings for the rest of the season.

Coach Beilein always has his teams prepared as the season goes on and this team is no different. Michigan fans should be excited for the rest of this season, especially after this past week.

The Wolverines are a very young team as they rely on five underclassmen to perform and contribute. So while that could be a negative, I think it will be a positive, as they are only getting better. This past week clearly proved that.

A 2-1 record in your past three games may not be what many teams would want to write home about but, with the three teams they played and how they played, Michigan should be excited for what is yet to come.

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Don Brown’s “Pressure of the Week” – Purdue

 

by Mark Edwards

I wasn’t around much last week but can anybody tell me if Purdue HC Jeff Brohm was discussed much?  Oh, he was.  Did they mention that he uses RPOs, misdirection movements and tempo to move the football?  No way…they did?  Okay, this column is dedicated weekly to Dr. Blitz, Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown.  Purdue got off to a quick start using skullduggery to move the ball on their first drive.  So, it’s only natural that our “pressure of the week” would come from the first drive (NOTE:  Although, I’m sure the carnage of the fourth quarter would have been a good choice.).

THIS WEEK’S PRESSURE

SITUATION:  3rd & 9, Purdue ball on Michigan’s 39 yard line

TIME:  13:29 left in the first quarter

WHY THIS SERIES:  Purdue had opened quickly and was on the verge of scoring range as they faced a 3rd and nine.  This was Michigan’s first third-down snap of the game and you knew that Dr. Blitz wasn’t going to play coverage.  Also, this was Purdue’s first chance to show their hand on a 3rd & long in the face of an almost certain pressure call by Michigan.

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FRAME #1

OFFENSIVE FORMATION: Packers Right (Green Bay does this a lot with a stand up, number #3 receiver flexed off of the right tackle).

PURDUE  PERSONNEL: 11 (1 running back, 1 tight end)

DEFENSIVE BASE:  3-3

MICHIGAN PERSONNEL NOTES: In what is becoming Michigan’s base alignment vs. Spread formations, you have Rashan Gary #3, Maurice Hurst #73 and Chase Winovich #15 with their hands on the ground.  Gary is in a 5 technique (to the bottom of the screen) while Winovich is in a 4I technique which is inside shade of the left tackle (top of the screen).  The linebackers are shifted to the field with Noah Furbush (#59) showing a bump alignment over the #3 receiver (which is a TE).  Viper Khaleke Hudson (#7) has split the difference between #2 and #3 with his eyes in the backfield.  Inside linebackers Mike McCray (#9) and Devin Bush (#10) are aligned over the guards.  In the secondary, Michigan is showing a cover 2 shell (2 high safeties) and their corner bump alignment.

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FRAME #2

What is Purdue doing here?  A couple classic offensive movements are taking place here.  The three wide receivers are releasing vertically down the field.  The #3 receiver for Purdue is setting the edge while making it look like a shallow cross (his job is to block the first inside linebacker that shows)  Purdue QB David Blough is taking a deep drop to entice the already aggressive pass rush.  The running back is fitting into the pass protection in the A gap.

What has changed:  Michigan is in man coverage underneath and what Blough thought he was going to get in his pre-snap read is no longer what his eyes tell him is happening.

Michigan’s pressure: Now that he ball has snapped, the Michigan defensive line has ripped to the boundary (their right) while Furbush (#59) is blitzing off of the edge.  Also, Bush is on a B gap blitz to the field.  It is a classic five-man pressure, which we are seeing  frequently with the 3-3 base alignment.  McCray is in the middle of the field looking for #3 to come back to him, which he will.

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FRAME #3

What is Purdue doing here?  SCREEN!  They are releasing their guards and center in front of the running back to run a screen pass to the right.  Actually, it’s not a bad call by Purdue if you are expecting pressure.  Purdue has McCray blocked (or he soon will be) while the receivers are running off the corners.

What has changed:  The only change from Frame #2 is that Devin Bush has diagnosed that it’s a screen.  He has aborted his pressure to defend the screen.

Michigan’s pressure:  Hurst (#73), Gary (#3) and Furbush (#59) are all unblocked on their path to the QB.  Bush, as stated previously, he is the screen stopper.

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FRAME #4

What is Purdue doing here?  It’s time to throw the screen.

What has changed:  Bush has been engaged by a blocker and the running back, led by the three Purdue offensive linemen, is not moving to the field.

Michigan’s pressure:  Michigan actually is not in great shape here.  If Bush doesn’t make a play, the only defender left is Hudson (#7), who is on the 31 yard line AND severly outnumbered.  It’s time for an athlete to make a play.

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FRAME #5

What is Purdue doing here?  They have thrown the screen and all looks good.

What has changed:  Michigan’s pressure on Blough forces a “less than ideal” throw.  Bush saw the football and has jumped to attempt to pick off a woefully short throw.

Michigan’s pressure:  The defensive front got to Blough.  If they hadn’t, Purdue most certainly would’ve completed this pass and picked up a first down.

 

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FRAME #6

What is Purdue doing here?  They have shown that pressure can bother their quarterback.

What has changed:  Michigan’s pressure took a good offensive call and made it a rushed throw.

Michigan’s pressure:  The difference.

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FINAL THOUGHT:  Some will see this play and say that Michigan got lucky.  Others will say that Michigan made the play by executing the defensive call.  For me, this is always the line that Michigan is going to live on because of the heavy pressure approach.  If quarterbacks are less than 100% accurate under pressure like this, that bodes well for Michigan and is a part of Don Brown’s core philosophy.

Bo’s Warning About Purdue – Game Prediction

by Mark Edwards

Finally…the Big Ten opener is upon us!  The beginning of conference play always seems to bring a heightened anxiety level to fans and considering that some are in the stratosphere already, I’m worried.  When I say worried, don’t confuse that with a lack of confidence.  I’m confident that Michigan gets the job done and looks good doing it.

In 1989, a VHS tape was released called “Vintage Bo.”

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The 30-minute video is the precursor to any “Hard Knocks” or “Training Days” production that football fans clamor for like it is a right of passage.  In the video, the camera crew follows a 42-year old head coach named Glenn E. “Bo” Schembechler in 1971 as he prepares his Michigan squad to take on Iowa on November 6, 1971 in Michigan Stadium.  They have footage of Bo at home with his family, on the practice field, in the locker room and on the field during the game.   Michigan won 63-7 that day and left Michigan with only two games left in the regular season.  Obviously, “The Game” was last on the 1971 schedule but there was a trip to West Lafayette, Indiana to take on Purdue sandwiched in there.

In the victorious locker room, Bo gave his team this warning:

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“DON’T THINK PURDUE WON’T BE TOUGH DOWN IN WEST LAFAYETTE.  YOU KNOW THEY WILL.”

If Bo was still with us today, that would be his message for Coach Harbaugh, the team and the fan base.  I expect his words to be correct again.

OFFENSIVE PREVIEW

Is this the week that it happens?  Can Michigan put it all together and emerge from the shadows of one of the top defenses in the country?  Can Wilton Speight march the offense up and down the field?  Will the WRs show up?  Basically, can the fan base have last year’s offense back?

Purdue’s defense comes into Saturday’s matchup (4 p.m. FOX TV) with the same type of look as Michigan’s offense.  They’ve been good enough to beat Ohio (not that Ohio) and Missouri (not old school Missouri) but gave up 524 yards to Louisville in the opener at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Purdue will play inspired and their effort will be really good.

How does Michigan move the ball on the Boilermakers?

The answer has to be “however Michigan wants to move the ball on them.”  I’m not being disrespectful but it’s time for Michigan to impose their will on a defense (and I’m sure Bo is smiling down on that mantra).  Whether it be Michigan’s toss sweep game or their shotgun inside zone running attack, I think Michigan will be very efficient is that part of it.  Ironically, Michigan needs the three-headed attack to be lethal.  The three heads are:

  1.  Base run game
  2.  Special schemed runs (jet sweeps with McDoom & Peoples-Jones)
  3.  Intermediate passing game

If Michigan can accomplish those three, I think the offense not only moves the chains (which they have been doing more than fans want to acknowledge) but we finally see a red zone offense that reminds us of the first 10 games last season.  Did you ever think we’d miss Peppers as our wildcat QB?  Well, we have missed him (See #2 above).  I think Jim Harbaugh, Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton have focused on getting the ball to playmakers in the red zone this week.  Look for Peoples-Jones, Gentry and Grant Perry to be called upon in the red zone.

NOTE:  Losing Tariq Black will be compensated for by the infusion of Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins.

DEFENSIVE PREVIEW

When you hear Don Brown say “Oh, we’ve got a lot left”, you have to smile.  Dr. Blitz will return to his comfort zone as I expect a heavy amount of blitz on Purdue QB David Blough in first-year coach Jeff Brohm’s offense.  The mission…make Purdue one-dimensional.  Do you want Purdue to be the team who ran for 51 yards vs. Louisville or 223 vs. Ohio?  Survey says…Louisville in the #1 answer.  If this happens, the focus then gets shifted to the coverage of the secondary.  Michigan has far exceeded a “solid” label in the back half of the defense.  Can Hill, Long, Watson, Kinnel and Metellus lock down the Purdue passing attack?

How does pressuring the QB help this defense?

Count to 4…1, 2, 3, 4!  Boom!  That’s how long the UM secondary needs to cover if the Gary, Hurst, Winovich, Bush wrecking crew can get home vs. a Purdue offensive line that gave up four sacks to a mediocre Louisville defense.  Get home…get home…get home.  I don anticipate Michigan to roll safeties down in to the pressure, which is only made possible because of the Khaleke Hudson skill set.

If Michigan can get Purdue to be one-dimensional by execution and score of the game, I would expect the big Michigan contingent that travels to West Lafayette to be happy come 7:30.  If Michigan cannot get the job done, this game turns into a 50/50 “free for all” that puts more pressure on the offense than any game this schedule.

FINAL SCORE:  Michigan 34, Purdue 14

PICKS TO CLICK:  Offense – Wilton Speight, Defense – Maurice Hurst

CONFIDENCE LEVEL:  Confident but uneasy

ONE THING THAT MAY SURPRISE:  Michigan will win the turnover battle by at least 3 turnovers (+3).

ONE THING THAT MAY DISAPPOINT:  Purdue will hit one trick play that drives the fans nuts.  So if you find yourself thinking “How could they fall for that?”, I’m talking to you.