Quick programming update: The first few recaps of info on individual players from the press conference are up on MGoBlog. Subsequent notes will be here throughout the day and maybe a bit tomorrow.
For a lot of games in the Big Ten season I’ve found myself repeating the same things over and over again. Indiana/Purdue/Penn St./Illinois can’t keep hitting those shots. They invariably kept hitting them. Michigan can’t keep shooting this poorly all game. They sure could. The refs will actually start calling those hacks on Manny. They never really did. Finally, against Penn St. last night, I was actually right.
In the first half Battle made some ridiculous shots that no one has any business making. But Michigan kept playing mostly good aggressive defense and eventually it payed off. They held Battle to 3/16 shooting and only 9 points. This is the guy who has to be the odds on favorite for Big Ten player of the year and he was pretty much stymied.
On the other side, Manny blew up. He got his 3pt shot to fall early, which seemed to give him a bunch of confidence. He also, for probably the first time in conference, got to the line like he should. 14 free throw attempts! That has to be the record for him in Big Ten games this year. He didn’t just score either. His final line was 28pts/6reb/7ast/2blks/2stl and only 2 turnovers. This was easily his best game of the conference season and definitely top 3 on the year.
I’m not sure if Penn St. was doing something different from the first time the two teams met, but it really seemed that Michigan was able to get a lot of cuts moving toward the basket for easy lay ups and dunks. Like I said, I was certainly enjoying myself during this game, so my analysis is lacking, but I feel the big difference was Michigan finally started hitting some outside shots. This stretched out the defense, which allowed for the cuts and for Manny to get into the lane and make things happen. On top of that, when Michigan is hitting their shots, all the players seem to be much more energetic in the 1-3-1 and force a lot of action.
When Michigan gets going like they did last night, they can hang with most teams in the league, especially at home. I’m not going to say there’s a chance against UConn, but the performance of Manny and the defense of the entire team gives me hope that Michigan could steal a game down the stretch and maybe win a couple of tournament games. Every time I think this team in done, they go and play well.