First and foremost, it's pretty obvious that Pitt is not going to be a pushover this season. I know this is just one game and it's going to take a lot more than just this game for Pitt to be a serious contender, but they easily passed the eye test. They played quality defense, used their bench effectively, and did not give up until the clock hit zero, all aspects of a quality team. Michigan wasn't getting many open looks tonight. There were several times I wanted to criticize Michigan or Burke, but Pitt's defense was having a significant effect on Michigan's offense. Along with this, you have to commend a team that has 9 players with points during a game (Michigan had 6). That shows a deep team that isn't carried by one player.
I truly believe Pitt is going to make it to the NCAA Tournament and be a solid team this year. Also, one thing worth noting. I do not buy into the hype of Steven Adams at this point. He had a high tendency to foul and literally had zero game impact. Maybe he can improve during the season, but if he plays the way he played tonight against other opponents, he's certainly not worthy of his draft ratings. However, I really thought Zeigler and Woodall played well.
Moving on to Michigan, there are a lot of things to note about tonight's performance. First, I wonder how much the team's youth and inexperience on the big stage led to the team's slow start tonight. There were a lot of mental mistakes on both sides of the court and although these can be expected, many of these were corrected as the game progressed, which makes me think these mistakes had more to do with nerves than playing ability. Along with this, there is no doubt that part of the "slow" start was due to some impressive early play by Pitt. They typically aren't an outstanding shooting team, so when they started regressing to their mean, it definitely helped the Wolverines.
As far as the defense, it was really, really good late in the game. The media will make you believe it was simply the 1-3-1, but the team's entire focused changed as the game continued. Pitt was simply not getting into the paint. Yes, they got some open looks on the outside, but when you're facing a team like Pitt, you don't expect them to nail a bunch of 3-pt shots. There were some sloppy periods such as when Vogrich got beat pretty badly on the inside a couple of times, but it was fantastic by the end of the game.
One thing that I really believe helped the defense and the team's overall performance was the decision to put two big men on the floor instead of just one. The rebounding obviously improved, but the defense also seemed to get a lot better as well. I think Michigan can get by with just one big man on the floor at a time, but I think it's pretty clear now that it probably won't be that effective against teams with a lot of size like Pitt. I personally would like to see the coaching staff move a guy like McGary into the starting lineup, but if he's going to get time off the bench, it isn't that important.
On the offensive side, Michigan is really going to have to do some work. Yes, Pitt was playing some pretty good defense, but there were a lot of wasted possessions One of my preseason notes on Burke was that he really needed to work on lowering his turnovers and wasted possessions. There were several times that risky passes, poor ball-handling, or a way too long 3-pt shot wasted a solid chance at a basket. Burke still got 17 pts and 5 assists, so it's pretty hard to complain, but it's going to be tough to waste possessions in tight games like that and get away with it. Other players had some horrible turnovers as well and I understand turnovers are going to happen now and then, but Michigan needs to focus on being a little bit more careful with the basketball.
Another thing I noted about Burke in the preseason that I thought needed to be addressed was the tendency to try to "take over" games. With Michigan's lineup, this is no longer necessary. Of course, this is not all on Burke and I don't want it to seem like that, but the other guys need to get involved. I really would like to see GR3 get more than 8 field goal attempts in a game. I mean, he's incredibly effective with the basketball. Hardaway can also get a lot done. He did resort back to his tendency to disappear for long segments of games, but when he attacks, watch out. If Michigan can get him going, especially in transition, I think he can do some major damage this year.
A few minor notes. I talked about this earlier, but I don't see Vogrich holding that starting job for much longer. He was exposed pretty badly a few times. I think he can be good off the bench, but look for a change in the next couple of games. I would like to see more McGary, but he does need to work on avoiding fouls. There will definitely be a time when this costs Michigan dearly, but he certainly has to skills to be very good and be one of the Big Ten's best big men if he can work on avoiding fouls.
Overall, it was a good win for Michigan. A little bit closer than I expected, but as the game went on, Michigan's depth and talent were what separated the Wolverines and the Panthers. There are plenty of things that need work, but this could prove to be one of Michigan's better wins if Pitt goes on to do some big things, which I expected this year. Michigan will get Kansas State on Friday and I'll have a preview coming up in the next day or so.