We here at BTPowerhouse love the schools and teams we write about. Some of us have family connections, some of us attend the school or are alumni, and some of us are from the area and love the team. As a Big Ten basketball blog, we try to give unbiased information from the game with an optimistic look at our favorite teams. It was especially hard to do that on Saturday.
Michigan played two games this week, a marquee matchup against Syracuse and legendary coach Jim Boeheim and a 12:00 afternoon game against N.J.I.T, the only independent team in the entire country. Michigan finished the week 1-1, and we break down the good, the bad, and the horrific below.
On Tuesday, Michigan played one of its most complete games of the season despite only beating Syracuse by three points. The Wolverines had a balanced attack, led by Zak Irvin's 18 points. Four other Wolverines found themselves in double figures as Caris LeVert (12), Ricky Doyle (12), Spike Albrecht (11) and Kam Chatman (10) all played big roles in the victory.
Despite pulling out the victory, Michigan only shot 38.5% as a team, and went 11-33 on 3's. Part of the high volume of 3-point attempts is due to Syracuse's zone, but Coach Beilein needs to find a better option than shooting 33 3-pointers in a game. Caris LeVert especially needs to focus on this, as his role could involve more ball-handling and trying to generate offense for other players.
While Irvin finished with the most points, the clear MVP on the night was Albrecht. His passing was sensational, as he finished with 9 assists including a highlight reel behind-the-back pass that Doyle finished with a thunderous dunk. Albrecht let the game come to him, something that he has done throughout his Michigan career but was more attack-minded especially against Syracuse. His 3-pointer is what ultimately sealed the victory for the Wolverines, as the shot rattled in from the top of the key and put Michigan up 66-63.
The other surprising bright spot for Beilein was Ricky Doyle. All season, Michigan has been looking for a go-to player down low, and Doyle proved to be just that against a long and massive Syracuse frontline. Doyle had 6 rebounds to go along with his 12 points in a productive 24 minutes of work, finishing around the basket very well and wreaking havoc on the defensive end. While Doyle has put together a few complete games for Michigan, he will need to continue to do so before Beilein has enough confidence to insert Doyle permanently into the starting lineup.
While the Syracuse game gave Michigan fans a glimpse into a few bright spots, the N.J.I.T game exposed them. Michigan was stunned on their home floor, losing a heartbreaker by the final score of 72-70 on Saturday. The Highlanders couldn't miss from the outside, shooting a scorching 11-17 on 3-pointers and 59% as a team overall.
For Michigan, the lone bright spot was Caris LeVert. The star junior essentially willed the Wolverines to stay in the game in the second half, hitting tough shots and burying 3's. LeVert finished with 32 points on 11-18 shooting, and 6-8 on 3's. Besides for LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr. was the only other Wolverine in double figures with 16, but was relatively ineffective down the stretch.
Michigan started off the game on an 8-0 run and seemed in control for the majority of the first half. But the Highlanders kept shooting, and continued to make contested 3's to race out to a second half lead. N.J.I.T extended the lead to 7 points, 51-44, before John Beilein was forced to call a timeout with 9 minutes left. Caris LeVert banked in a 3, Derrick Walton hit one on the next possession, Albrecht took a charge, and LeVert followed with another 3 to turn Michigan's 7-point deficit into a 2-point lead.
But N.J.I.T couldn't miss in the second half, and after a LeVert 3 cut the lead to 1 and Michigan got a stop, LeVert threw the ball way in the direction Spike Albrecht. With under 10 seconds remaining, the Highlanders grabbed the most important rebound of the game and iced 2 free throws to go up 3. Kam Chatman was fouled and made the first free throw, purposely missed the second, and N.J.I.T hit one free throw to end the game.
For Michigan, there's no two ways around it: Losing at home to the New Jersey Institute of Technology is an embarrassing loss and is unacceptable for a program that went 15-3 in the Big Ten last season. Call it a hangover from Tuesday, blame the early start time, but none of those are real excuses. Michigan got outshot by a team far inferior to them. Zak Irvin shot 2-11. Kam Chatman was 0-6. Ricky Doyle did very little.
John Beilein will regroup his players for a winnable game on Tuesday against Eastern Michigan before they have a few days off. The Eastern Michigan game now becomes a statement game for Michigan and the entire program. If Michigan wants to have any shot next Saturday to keep the game competitive with Arizona, it has to start with defense. This Saturday, it didn't.