ATLANTA — When the Michigan basketball team saw that it would face Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge this season, it had to know it would be in for a huge challenge. The Yellow Jackets lost last season’s NCAA championship game to Connecticut last season, and returned the same core from that team. This week in practice, the players wanted to try and match the intensity and quickness of Georgia Tech in hopes of keeping the score respectable.
Needless to say, last night’s 99-68 thumping at the hands of Georgia Tech showed that this team isn’t capable of playing against high-caliber teams at this point in the season. I doubt many people thought the game would be close, but it seemed the Yellow Jackets could do no wrong. They went on a 20-0 run at one point in the first half, shot 57 percent from behind the arc, forced Michigan’s guards into foul trouble and always kept momentum on their side.
No matter what Michigan coach Tommy Amaker tried to stop the seemingly endless stream of points, it backfired. When he tried to put in a big lineup, B.J. Elder and Will Bynum torched the Wolverines from behind the arc (a combined 10-for-14) and Georgia Tech’s defense went into a zone and dared Michigan’s guards to shoot. When he tried to go to the up-tempo lineup with more guards, 7-foot-1 center Luke Schenscher pounded the ball inside, totaling 10 points and nine boards.
Amaker was obviously distraught at the postgame press conference. He had a look of stunned disbelief.
“Everything we tried, they had an answer for,” Amaker said. “You have to give them credit for what they do well — pretty much everything well.”
But it wasn’t just Georgia Tech firing on all cylinders that made this game a rout, as Michigan played like a team in a three-game skid. Michigan’s starting guard duo of Daniel Horton and Dion Harris got into foul trouble early, and were practically a non factor, chipping in for a combined six second-half points.
Typically Amaker doesn’t call out his players, but he didn’t hesitate to call the play of Harris and Horton “horrendous.” That may sound a little harsh, but in an up-tempo game like this one, Michigan needed strong floor leaders, and the duo’s presence was definitely lacking at times.
“There is no question that those two starting guards have to recognize their value and their responsibility to our team,” Amaker said.
At this point in the season, the guards have clearly been the anchor of the team thus far. This was the first time either Harris or Horton didn’t finish with double figures in scoring. One of the two has led the team in scoring in all games but one this year. With the stakes as high as they were last night, and the team needing them the most, they quiet.
“We didn’t get into a good flow as a unit,” Horton said. “It seemed like every other possession, they were running down and getting layups and dunks. It was tough to keep up with them.”
With Lester Abram’s status still up in the air (he’s technically still listed as “day to day”), the pressure on both Harris and Horton won’t go down any time soon. Both players indicated that they wanted to put this game behind them as soon as possible and start to focus on this Saturday’s game against Notre Dame. But I wouldn’t write off this game yet. Yes, Georgia Tech put on a shooting clinic and dominated every aspect of last night’s contest. But it appears as if Michigan has been playing progressively worse in its past three games — and it won’t get a break this weekend, either.
Both Amaker and players indicated was fine, but last night it came down to execution on the floor. That might be the most frustrating part of the loss — knowing what Georgia Tech was going to throw at them, and being powerless to stop it.
Clearly this is a team that is searching for direction right now. This was supposed to be a chance for Michigan to prove it belongs with the elite teams in the nation and was a season of high expectations. Amaker said he’s confident his players will bounce back from this, and I think they will, too. But it may take longer than expected because when I asked both Harris and Horton if there was anything positive to take away from last night’s game, both players had the same response:
“I don’t think so.”
Brian Schick can be reached at email@example.com.