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Luke Pasch: Comprehending Michigan's loss to Virginia

Andrew Shurtleff/AP
Freshman guard Trey Burke was held to 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting. He also recorded four rebounds and four assists in the loss. Buy this photo

By Lucas Pasch, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 29, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Deciphering Michigan’s 70-58 road loss to Virginia on Tuesday night is a game of elimination.

So let’s play.

Did Michigan lose because of poor shooting? No. The Wolverines shot 44 percent from the field and a blistering 45.5 percent from behind the arc. Their 10 3-pointers were actually the most the team has hit in a game all season.

Some of those points came off desperation 3-pointers toward the end of the game, but it was still encouraging for Michigan coach John Beilein to see players not named Tim Hardaway Jr. knocking down shots.

Was Virginia’s unique pack-line defense too much to handle? Maybe in the first half, but Michigan still finished with an acceptable 58 points. The Cavaliers entered the game second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 45.3 points per game.

Beilein said after the game that he thought his team was poised on the offensive end.

“I’m not crazy about scoring 58 points,” Beilein said. “But not a lot of teams may score 58 points against them. Thank goodness we made some threes to be able to do that, but they’re tough to get easy baskets (against).”

Did point guard Trey Burke cave under the pressure of playing in the first truly hostile environment of his career? Not so much. The freshman didn’t shoot as well as he usually does, but he still finished with 11 points and made some dazzling drives to the rim.

In fact, the offense stagnated when Beilein decided to give Burke a couple minutes of rest midway through the second half. That may not be the only reason Virginia went on a 15-0 run, but it does seem that the Michigan offense presents a more poised attack when Burke runs the point.

And outside of one play early in the first half when Virginia’s Jontel Evans crossed up Burke on a highlight-worthy drive to the hoop, Burke’s on-ball defense was solid.

Was the loss due to a lack of post presence? Not really. Forwards Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford didn’t play particularly well, but they didn’t get a whole lot of minutes, either. Beilein’s offensive game plan consisted of guards shooting from the perimeter and cutting into the lane, partly because Cavalier forward Mike Scott and center Assane Sene are great at limiting opposing big men.

Did Hardaway Jr.’s lack of production hurt Michigan? Sure, but it wasn’t the key factor in Michigan’s loss. It definitely hurt when Hardaway Jr. took the bench because of foul trouble just five minutes into the contest, but the Wolverines were still shooting the ball at a prolific rate.

And when Hardaway Jr. was in the game, his drives to the basket were sloppy and resulted in a couple of turnovers.

Did Michigan lose because of Virginia’s domination of the glass?

Yes — an emphatic yes.

The Cavaliers finished the game with 36 rebounds, compared to just 26 for the Wolverines. Worse yet, 10 of Virginia’s boards came on the offensive end. On a couple of possessions, the Cavaliers would get second and third chances before scoring.

And when Michigan shot the ball, it was hard to count how many times there were only white and orange jerseys crashing the boards, without even a hint of maize in the scrum. It was as if Beilein had all five guys retreating to play transition defense on every possession. And because of it, the Wolverines snatched just three offensive rebounds.

Sure, the rebounding trouble was partly because Michigan’s bigs didn’t see the floor the whole night. But there almost seemed to be a total lack of effort.

At least the team realized it. Everyone from the young Burke to senior co-captain Zack Novak, was quick to note the rebound disparity in the locker room after the game.

“I think the big thing is rebounding,” Novak said. “I’m going to guess we had fewer possessions (than usual) this game.”

Novak guessed right — and for the Wolverines, that spelled a loss.

—Pasch can be reached at lpasch@umich.edu or on Twitter @LucasPasch.


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