Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Bright Finish In Maui

Tonight will wrap up Michigan's trip to Maui with a game against UCLA starting @ 7:30pm ET (preview: here). Although many, including myself, were quite disappointed with Michigan's game last night, especially a mediocre first half where Tim Hardaway, Jr. appeared non-existent, I can't help but think this game still offers Michigan some great advantages.

Yesterday before the Duke game I talked about how simply playing in the 2nd round against Duke was a "Win, Win" situation. I voiced this belief because the added experience of playing a great team like Duke would benefit the Wolverines during the course of the season and I still believe it. Michigan may have fell to Duke by 7 points, but there were long stretches during the game where Michigan was on the attack and made Duke nervous.

Now, how nervous Duke really was can be debated, as Michigan was never able to take the lead, but when a team is able to compete with Duke in Maui (where they have been 13-0) one can't help but get excited. Michigan thoroughly dominated Memphis and even though it could be argued that Duke dominated Michigan, I think the slow start and poor play of Tim Hardaway, Jr. was what put the game away, not Duke dominance.

For instance, Michigan had several drives that would cut the deficit but Duke would be able to slow down or stop due to a great 3-point shot. I even posted on Hoke's Mad Magician's Facebook page that Duke was "killing it outside the arc." When a team is able to shoot from the 3-point line like that, not many teams are going to beat them, especially if you're talking about Duke.

Bottom line, there's no reason to be upset with the loss to Duke. They are a very good team who was playing very well last night. Michigan didn't play hard at first and it cost them at the end. Along with this, Michigan still has the game against UCLA tonight for 3rd place in the Maui tournament. If I had said last season Michigan would lose Darius Morris and still finish 3rd in Maui with teams like Memphis, Duke, and Kansas being there, you might think I'm crazy.

UCLA should be an easy win tonight and unlike what I said last night. Michigan doesn't need Burke AND Hardaway to show up tonight. Last night we needed both and only Burke came with full energy the entire night. If either or both have a big night, I think we can beat the 1-3 Bruins without too much difficulty, especially if the defense keeps playing the way it has at Maui.

Remember not to get too caught up in not winning the tournament and focus on the potential for this team. If Michigan wins tonight, they leave the tournament 2-1 and finish 3rd place against tough competition. We may have lost a game the team could have won, but it's not as if the season depends on Maui. This team will continue to prove and has already shown they can play with the "Big Boys" of the nation. I say expect a very solid Big Ten season.

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