Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Defense Rests

Michigan Blown Out By UCLA On National Television

A lot of firsts occurred on December 23, 2006 when Michigan played UCLA.

1. It was the first time UCLA had scored more than 90 points this year.
2. It was the first time UCLA had beaten an opponent by more than 35 points this year.
3. It was the first time Michigan failed to score at least 60 points this year.
4. It was the first time Michigan has turned the ball over more than 20 times in a game this year.
5. It was Michigan's first nationally televised, prime-time Saturday game on CBS.

The unfortunate thing about December 23, 2006 was that this was not the first time Tommy's teams have embarrassed themselves and their school before a national television audience.

In the opening 20 minutes of the game Michigan turned the ball over 15 times. Not surprisingly Michigan was down 36-23 at the half. With the game all but decided at the start of the second half, Courtney Sims at least tried to make it respectable. Routinely fighting off double and triple teams Sims tried to keep the Wolverines close. Unfortunately no one else did. Only Sims and Lester Abram managed to record double figures, while four Bruin starters matched or bettered their outputs.

It's hard to say where to begin breaking down this debacle. Michigan was out manned. Michigan was out coached. Michigan was out hustled. Michigan was basically out everythinged. It's easy to point to the Bruin's perfect record and say, "That's what supposed to happen. Michigan was unranked and UCLA was/is No. 1." But you really can't say that with a straight face. BYU, Chaminade (where the eff is Chaminade?), Long Beach State, and Sam Houston State all outscored Michigan and held UCLA to a lower point total. No. This was a special day. This was a day Michigan was on national television. And this was the day they provided wouldbe recruits and future opponents with their most polished Washington Generals impersonation.

What happened on Saturday was an embarrassment to the program. Michigan showed no pulse and no heart. They were even more disorganized than usual. No one cut to the basket. Simple pressure applied by UCLA's guards turned into the majority of Michigan's turnovers as Harris, Coleman and Smith appeared clueless as to how to deal with it. Passes were lazily lobbed into the paint with a big "STEAL ME!" sign attached to them. No one rotated to help Sims or Petway in the blocks. Once Sims was double teamed in the paint, the ball usually went the other way. No one can hit a shot outside of ten feet. Michigan hit 1 three pointer. Michigan had only 9 assists compared to 23 turnovers. As usual, Michigan shot half as many free throws as its opponent.

Defensively Michigan was an absolute joke. UCLA shot 50% in the first half and 66.7% in the second. They were also 55% from behind the line. Amaker's team was puzzled, nay, totally blown away by UCLA's new fangled drive-the-lane-and-pass offense. Unable to adapt to a team that didn't shoot the ball from a set position with both hands, Michigan stood around in amazement as UCLA's quicker, younger players drove the lane for easy layups or easy kick out passes. It is apparent from watching Michigan play that the word "Rotation" has no place in the play book and is only loosely associated with car tires by this Wolverine team. Michigan has no idea how to deal with a pick. Michigan can't fight through a screen. They play defense like it's time for a nap. All this is the result of coaching from a man who was once the defensive player of the year in college basketball. If that is not a screaming indictment of his ability as a head basketball coach, I don't know what is.

After Saturday it is more than obvious to anyone watching that Courtney Sims is the only reliable offensive threat Michigan possesses, and that is stretching the word "reliable" to its logical and legal extreme. This is especially troubling when you consider that in order to win games, Michigan must outshoot its opponents to have any prayer of winning based on its paper towel like defense. Once Sims was taken away, Michigan collapsed. The only bright spots have been DeShawn Sims and Epke Udoh who are seeing increased playing time as Michigan starters continue to struggle.

I still have no idea where to start. This team is disorganized, inept, and incapable of passing the ball to members their teammates. Talent, honestly, isn't the issue. There is talent in Maize and Blue. The issue is coaching. Coaching tells a player how to break the press. Coaching changes gameplans when the first doesn't work. Coaching doesn't go to Zone when you're down 20. Coaching finds a way to break a 12-4 run early in the second when there is still a hope of a comeback. Coaching finds a way to may even the flattest games respectable. Coaching focuses on a team's weakness and makes them stronger. Coaching prepares teams for big games before national TV audiences.

I have never seen that out of Amaker's teams. Never.

If I do it'll be another first for this year.

* photo courtesy Mark Avery/AP


At 7:12 PM, Anonymous PeteM said...

This is not meant to be a complete defense of Amaker, but I've seen his teams play a lot of better than this. The 13 straight games they won in 2002-3 beginning with the comeback against Wisconsin comes to mind.

My point isn't that he's great coach, but that he's only part of the problem. When he had a player who showed leadership (Horton) the team had a chance even against good teams. No one (at least no one who controls the ball) on this team seems to want to exert leadership.

At 10:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I respect your blog, and for the most part agree with you on this issue. We have reason to be upset.

However, it simply isn't fair to judge Amaker on the basis of a single game and act like his prior successes didn't exist. Did you watch the MSU, Illinois, and Wisconsin games (at home) last year???? They were big wins, regardless of subsequent events. I could sit here and name 20 "big" Amaker wins where his team looked
prepared, and another 10 losses against great opponents where we also looked prepared.

I'm sick and tired of listening to people jump on the negativity bandwagon after watching their 3rd game of the season. I don't know if that is the case with you, but it seems that way as evidenced by your lack of coverage of this year's team.

Let's at least see the team play real competition a few more times before we pass these types of judgements.


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