Michigan coach John Beilein finally got his signature victory. Upsetting #4 UCLA at Madison Square Garden is a win that could directly alter a program- a win that encourages disappointing Michigan fans to start caring about hoops again, a win that brings back memories of the Steve Fisher glory days, a win that top-flight Detroit recruits will remember when considering the University of Michigan. A floundering program that muddled in mediocrity for the entire Tommy Amaker era finally got its savior in John Beilein, its superstar in Manny Harris, and a signature win to tout.
How did Michigan topple the Bruins? Most will point first to the 1-3-1 zone defense Michigan used for most of the night, befuddling UCLA and taking All-American point guard Darren Collison completely out of his game. To effectively score against a 1-3-1 like the one Beilein employs, the offense must be able to find seams in the defense, something Collison and Holiday struggled mightily with last night. It often seemed as if Michigan had seven players on the court on defense, always swarming the UCLA guard with the ball immediately and preventing them from kicking it out to an open shooter like Dragovic or Shipp. Another way to defeat a zone is feed the ball quickly to a scoring big man who can manuever in the post and finish. With the loss of Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the Bruins simply lack that type of player. None of the freshmen have emerged yet, and Aboya/Keefe will not place scoring ability at the top of their resume.
The energy and execution of the Wolverines last night was sensational. You saw it when DeShawn Sims finished a dynamite backdoor cut to ice the game under a minute. You saw it when Michigan’s Mike Gansey, freshman guard Stu Douglass, drained a quick catch-and-shoot three in the face of the UCLA defense. You saw the development of Manny Harris, a tremendous scorer who couldn’t escape defensive stud Jrue Holiday (the perfect Ben Howland player) instead find open teammates rather than force off-balance shots down the stretch. Michigan was all about three things last night: 1-3-1 zone, quality possessions and forcing turnovers. UCLA turned the ball over 17 times.
Now the Wolverines have another opportunity to play Cinderella when they face Duke in the championship game tonight in a much more difficult matchup, especially if Gerald Henderson plays with as much fire as he did in the second half of the Southern Illinois game. It may be too much to ask for this young Michigan squad to topple the Blue Devils, but they’ve certainly made quite an impact already. We could look back in January and laugh that UCLA was ever #4 in the nation. It’s possible. But for now, beware Big Ten. The Wolverines are back.
The Other Semi: I remarked to Pat midway through the first half of the Duke-Southern Illinois game last night that Gerald Henderson’s been the type of player who has failed to fully harness his talent in his Duke career, possibly associated with a lack of desire. Henderson managed just 9 PPG in three contests vs. Presbyterian, Georgia Southern and Rhode Island at home and went to the foul line just nine times in those games. Maybe he heard me. Henderson made five shots- including four from behind the arc- in a gigantic second half run for Duke, saying after the game he’s “not sure what happened.” Gerald is one of the most athletic and talented players in the country. With Kyle Singler emerging as a force and Nolan Smith an upgrade at the point, Duke could reach the Final Four if Henderson consistently plays up to his ability. Duke pulled away with a 54-35 second half, made 40 of 47 (!) free throws, and won 83-58.
San Juan Update: Every single year, Sean Miller produces a quality basketball team. They’ll try to topple another major conference foe today in San Juan when they face Virginia Tech after defeating Missouri 75-71 in the first round of the tournament. Terrell Holloway played hero for the Musketeers, sinking 10 of 10 free throws in the second half while Missouri sunk just 15 of 31 from the charity stripe in the game. DeMarre Carroll led the way with 17 points for the Tigers while Derrick Brown finished with 16 for Xavier.
Dick Vitale spent most of the Michigan-UCLA game screaming about how the Big East will be the strongest conference in his thirty years at ESPN. Um, he may have a point. The Seton Hall Pirates, predicted around 12th-14th in the loaded conference by most prognosticators, took down the consensus #3 in the Pac-10 last night in a stunning second half comeback. The halftime deficit was 43-28 and Taj Gibson was compiling easy buckets in the post against the Hall frontcourt minus Robert Mitchell. Eugene Harvey (18/5/5) and Jeremy Hazell (15/4 stl) stepped up in the second half to carry the Pirates into another tough game against Memphis later today. The Trojans have to be the most disappointing team in the nation thus far, struggling in two home games and now laying this egg against Seton Hall. DeMar DeRozan has not looked comfortable (3pts on 1/4) and Daniel Hackett was 0/7 last night. Great win for Bobby Gonzalez and his seven scholarship players.
Other Games of Note: Illinois scored a difficult road win against Vanderbilt 69-63. Super soph Demetri McCamey sunk 5/10 threes in the contest, while senior Trent Meachem chipped in with four triples of his own. Oklahoma State and new coach Travis Ford haven’t had much trouble scoring so far this year. They dropped 91 points on a quality Tulsa squad in Stillwater with Byron Eaton (7/13 FG, 11/14 FT, 26/7/5) leading the charge. #12 Memphis pulled away from Chattanooga and won 83-71 behind five Doneal Mack treys. #19 Florida has played awesome basketball so far this year, winning 64-50 over Southern Utah behind 18/7/4 from Nick Calathes, one of the best all-around players in college hoops. Florida State narrowly avoided what would have been a horrid upset for Leonard Hamilton, beating Stetson 79-77 at home.
Upset Special: What the hell happened to George Mason?? After an intensely contested road win against NCAA contender Vermont up in Burlington, Mason faltered 50-44 to Hampton last night. They made just 33% of their shots, 2/17 from deep, turned the ball over 23 times, and compiled just four assists. Four assists! A bad, bad loss on the resume of George Mason.
Craziest Score Ever: When I saw this score for the first time on ESPN’s Bottom Line last night during the Michigan-UCLA game, I honestly thought it was a mistake. East Central Oklahoma has allowed over 100 points in each of their two games this season (D2′s VMI?), so maybe we should have seen this coming: Texas Tech winning 167-115, shattering the school record for points in a game. The Red Raiders certainly built some confidence on his squad as ten, TEN!, Tech players scored in double figures. They made 67/113 FG, 13/25 3pt attempts and compiled 35 team assists. Probably should have taken the over. Your move, Graham Harrell.
NW Wins Horse Trailer Player of the Day: Marshon Brooks, Providence- 30 points, 5 steals, 11/15 FG, 5/8 3PT, 3/3 FT
On The Tube Today:
- Xavier vs. Virginia Tech, 130pm (ESPNU)
- Southern Illinois vs. UCLA, 5pm (ESPN2HD)
- Chattanooga vs. USC, 5pm (ESPNU)
- Akron @ Pittsburgh, 7pm (ESPN FC)
- Duke vs. Michigan, 730pm (ESPN2HD)
- Memphis vs. Seton Hall, 730pm (ESPNU)
- Pepperdine @ New Mexico State, 930pm (ESPN FC)
- North Carolina @ UC-Santa Barbara, 10pm (ESPNU)