Heading to Pauley Pavilion to battle the number one team in the country is an arduous task for any team, so the idea that Michigan would head out West last weekend and come away with a victory was probably an unrealistic expectation. However, it was fair to expect a veteran laden team with four seniors and a junior in the starting lineup to not get blown off the court. After playing twelve games against beatable opponents, even the players themselves were saying that Saturday's contest was going to be an early season barometer of where they were. For most Maize & Blue followers, simply showing they belonged on the same court with the Bruins by keeping the game close would have sufficed as a successful trip. Now in the wake of a 37-point loss, the unfortunate consequence is many that were looking for some sign of progress believe there hasn't been any.
What has to be particularly troubling for Tommy Amaker is his veterans are not delivering as consistently as they should be. One week prior to the UCLA game he had to pull the entire starting five and replace them with a younger unit to get the kind of spirited play he was looking for. Saturday against the Bruins, it was imperative that the upperclassmen lead the way, especially in the post. It was clear that the key to the Wolverines even staying in the game was strong play in the paint where they had a numbers advantage and the only real back-to-the basket threat in the game.
Last year the Michigan had a similar advantage, especially with regard to experience, but were out-hustled inside (they lost the rebounding battle 24-20 in the post). Courtney Sims was held to six points on two shot attempts thanks to an aggressive double team. UCLA implemented the exact same game plan this year, and Sims was stymied in much the same way he was 2005. The double team again nullified his effectiveness, forcing him into three first half turnovers and limiting him to two points and three rebounds on only two shot attempts. He scored 11 points in the second half, often taking advantage of one-on-one opportunities that he didn't see in the first half, but the game was already too far gone.
The overriding them was his utter lack of aggression when the Bruins doubled down. He did score on a nice hook in the first half when going right at it, but that kind of aggression was few and far between. He still looked uncomfortable finding the open man, and only seemed comfortable passing to the perimeter. To be fair, his teammates didn't always do a good job of presenting themselves as open targets… but he often missed when they did. (One instance that comes to mind occurred when Ekpe Udoh made himself an option by sliding to an open area to wait for a pass that never came).
On the perimeter, the guards and wings didn't fair much better against the Bruins' intense defense. The ball pressure often pushed point guard Dion Harris out to the half court line and prevented him from getting clear looks at the basket. He didn't score a single basket in the first half, and finally got in the scoring column when he took the ball to the hole in the second. Two points, three turnovers and zero assists were his final stat line. His backcourt-mates were shaky as well. Lester Abram has been mired in a season long slump and was limited by turnovers and fouls. Meanwhile Ronald Coleman was one of the bigger culprits of lack of ball security, committing four turnovers to go along with two points.
One of the big issues was again post entry. The penchant for players off the ball to stand around while the post is being fed harms spacing and lends itself to helping the opposition bother the pass. The tendency to stand around, in general, is one of the major reasons the offense often bogs down.
The composition of this team from a skill standpoint calls for players that are going to scrap when they get out on the floor. There isn't a player on the roster that can consistently create his own opportunities against elite competition. That means that the players on the floor (at the very least) have to be high energy and have to be in constant motion to generate more opportunities. As a matter of fact, they have to be aggressive on both ends of the floor. Those that consistently play in that manner will have to be the ones that play more, regardless of age. Leadership isn't solely a function of how long you've been there. It's also about performance.
Clearly one game does not determine a season, so to turn off the lights right now is very premature. That said, it is not too soon to look for some major changes in the distribution of minutes on this team. At this point, the question has to be asked, "what harm does it do to give some of the younger players more minutes?" In many instances, they certainly couldn't have played any worse than the veterans.
On the flip side, the youngsters have to turn it up. Ekpe Udoh has done that already…in practice and in games. In both contests against major conference competition this year, the freshman has come on and been a presence in limited minutes with his gritty style (10 points three rebounds and four blocks against NC State, and seven points, three rebounds, and a block versus UCLA). Deshawn Sims has come on recently as well, showing glimpses of being the offensive low post threat many thought he would be coming in. Guys like Jevohn Shepherd, and even Kendric Price, have to show in practice that they're deserving of more minutes… if not with lack of mistakes, at least with their effort. The point is, not a single minute on the court should be guaranteed to any player in the starting lineup not named Brent Petway. Twice this season Amaker's veterans haven't performed when they were needed the most.
This weekend's Georgetown game was big before the last Saturday's contest with the Bruins. Now it is huge! Michigan doesn't have a single win under its belt that the selection committee will look at and say, "that's a tournament victory." A win over the Hoyas not only would give them their first one, it would also give the Wolverines some much-needed confidence heading into Big Ten season.
Be sure to check out Andre Barthwells postgame thoughts by clicking here.