Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Whew...

Michigan 72, Minnesota 50

The losing streak is over. For the first time in two weeks Michigan took care of the ball, played smothering defense, and came away with a sorely needed victory.

Everyone was concerned going into last night that Minnesota would take advantage of Michigan's, till then, horrendous defense. While the Gophers hadn't been shooting the lights out, they'd been hitting an average of 46% of their shots their last four contests. Over the last three games Michigan had proven to be the spark teams, like Purdue, needed to get hot. Michigan, which seemed to be a tournament lock two weeks ago looked like it was beginning a serious slide towards the NIT with the hardest part of its schedule ahead of it. There was nashing of teeth and the seas were beginning to boil... (cats, dogs, living together. Mass Hysteria!)

Then this happens. Minnesota got smacked down. Hard. Rick James style hard.

Tommy apparently got the memo:

"The key will be improvement on defense... The story's out on Michigan's defense. Literally. The Detroit Free Press ran an article on it today. So if the rest of the world knows it, so does Amaker. Hopefully that's a good thing and they worked on it in practice this week."

Amaker apparently also got the memo on Sims, putting him on the pine as the game started and giving his minutes to Senior Chris Hunter. Hunter responded with 11 of 13 points in the first half and grabbing 6 boards for the game. As you will observe (at right) he also played some D. (photo: Steve Perez, Detroit News)

Defense was not a problem tonight. Michigan played with urgency and put pressure on the opposing ballcarriers. Getting out of the blocks quickly, Michigan forced Minnesota into bad shots and turnovers. As a result, they started the game on a 28-4 run and never looked back. As a testament to their effort the final number showed Michigan held Minnesota to a paltry 35% shooting on the night.

After all that was written, blogwise or in the papers, about Michigan's problems guarding the three point line, tonight proved that Tommy isn't blind, deaf or dumb. Minnesota got off only four three point attempts in the first half, open shots or otherwise. When you consider the fact that Michigan allowed Purdue to shoot 6-10, Ohio State to shoot 12-16, and Iowa to shoot 7 of 9 in first halves of their three previous games, tonight showed adjustments have been made. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, but I'll reserve judgment until they do it in two straight games.

Michigan's defense wan't limited to the perimeter either. A little in your face D, turned into six steals on the night and a handful of blocks. As easy as it would be to credit a bad Minnesota shooting night, Michigan played SUBSTANTIALLY better defense.

Offensively, Michigan looked good. The team shot 51% for the game. Horton and Hunter were the keys. Horton had a great game, scoring a game high 21 points, snatching 4 steals and dishing 5 assists. More importantly, he was in control. No wild, try-to-do-too-much craziness. He was solid. Last night provided him with a great bounce back game after the Purdue disaster. In addition Chris Hunter and Ron Coleman pouring in 13 a piece. Amaker credited Hunter for the team's fast start and energy, and Coleman added three triples to kick start Michigan's first half.

On the minus side, the bench warming and 14 minutes Courtney Sims contributed only highlights his regression as the season has gone on. However, no one besides Horton, Hunter or Coleman scored in double figures, so I shouldn't single him out. The turnover plague that has smote the Michigan offense in recent games hasn't completely gone away, as the team coughed up the ball 12 times. While its 3 fewer turnovers than the average the last three games, its still too many.

Good News on the Injury Front: Dion Harris and Jarret Smith will be back in the line-up for Michigan State. Unfortunately, Lester Abram is still out till the Illinois game. Look for Harris to make an immediate impact. Smith, who's recovering from mono (which I'm sure the Michigan health system initially diagnosed as pregnancy), may still have some troubles getting his wind back.

Bottom line: A must win, won. Amaker made a semi-tough call in benching Sims for Hunter. Sims talent makes him a threat every game, but his effort earned him a seat on the bench and Tommy finally gave it to him. The team is acting like one. According to Jim Spadafore's article in the Detroit News, the Michigan seniors called a players only meeting and straightened some s@&^ out. They came to play last night. Again, I'll take that as a good sign.

Does this mean they're in the tournament? Hell no. Minnesota is a team Michigan is supposed to beat. Tournament teams win those games. They've still got work to do. But, as I wrote earlier, its one of three wins they need to cement an invite. Michigan State is next.

One down. Two to go.

Just for fun, RBUAS is in a celebratory mood after the victory.

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