NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski looks back on Thursday night's contest that saw Michigan show why it's ranked No. 2 in the nation with its victory over Northwestern.
* Reggie Hearn, the senior guard, tested his tender ankle in warmups before the 'Cats faced Michigan Thursday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena. But then, just like Drew Crawford, he spent the game as a spectator. This meant they took on the second-ranked team in the country without their leading scorers and most-experienced performers. "I really feel bad that Northwestern's been hit with so many injuries," Wolverine coach John Beilein would say after his team ran off to a 28-point win. "While they certainly have good young talent, Hearn, Crawford, those are huge losses. If we lost people like that, we'd have the same issues they have. Inexperience playing in this Big Ten."
* This affair was the Big Ten opener for both teams, and it needs little dissection. The Wolverines scored at least a point on each of their first nine possessions and rolled to a 20-4 lead with just over six minutes gone. Now, no matter the kind of defense they faced, they continued their offensive pyrotechnics, and at first half's end the numbers were these. They had shot 57.6 percent overall, had buried eight-of-their-12 three-point attempts (66.7 percent) and had put up 51 points, which were more than five teams had scored against the 'Cats in an entire game earlier in this season. Their lead here was, not surprisingly, a healthy 21, and it wouldn't slip below 17 in the half yet to come.
"We just got off to such a terrible start. . .and weren't really able to stop them the entire evening," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody later said.
"I think we're going to be OK offensively. We'll make adjustments from that standpoint," said guard Alex Marcotullio. "But defensively is where we really have to improve. We have to learn everyday. We have to compete, and in that first half I think we didn't really compete for the first 10 minutes or so. When shots aren't falling, it's kind of deflating. But there're going to be game where shots aren't falling, and we have to play a grind-it-out-battle game. So we have to get stops. That's the main thing."
* Not even their oft-stifling 1-3-1 zone could get stops for the 'Cats on Thursday. They switched into it on the Wolverines sixth possession of the evening, but here Michigan guard Trey Burke calmly dropped one three and then another. "He just creates problems," Carmody would say of him. "Even when we went to the 1-3-1, he was getting in there, which is bothersome. It didn't slow him down. Usually, that thing will slow down fast, penetrating guards. But he found guys and they were able to knock down shots. So we certainly have to work on that."
"We keep messing up on the same things," echoed 'Cat point Dave Sobolewski. "We keep harping on it in practice, and eventually we have to start doing things the coaches get on us about. We keep messing up the same things in the 1-3-1. We keep missing assignments. We keep falling asleep on defense. A lot of it will come down to heart, how bad we want it."
* Crawford, of course, is out for the season. Hearn, in turn, has not practiced since turning his ankle against Stanford on Dec. 21 and is uncertain for the 'Cats next game, which is Sunday at No. 9 Minnesota. So there, as their Big Ten grind continues, big minutes will go to true freshman forward Kale Abrahamson (28 against Michigan) and redshirt freshman guard Tre Demps (24), to true freshman center Alex Olah (18) and redshirt freshman center Mike Turner (19). "What we have to do as a staff is coach these young guys and coach them hard. Everybody," Carmody, already looking ahead, would say Thursday night. "I just think we have to improve ourselves, get better at everything. Coach 'em hard in practice, see if we can do better than we did tonight.
"I think some of the older guys, we've told them the last few days at practice, it's on the older guys. The younger guys, what they give us is going to be gravy. We've got about five young guys out there, freshmen or redshirt freshmen. It's hard. But Al and Dave and Swop (grad student Jared Swopshire), Reggie when he comes back, they're going to be the ones who make us win. Their work in practice is going to have to rub off on some of the younger guys so they can get better individually and we can improve as a team."
* It seems appropriate here to recall an observation variously attributed to a pair of legendary characters, the late Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes and the late Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire. The best thing about freshmen, both observed, is they become sophomores. But Carmody, his team physically battered, does not have the luxury of waiting for their maturation, and so now he will not only look to improve them in practice. He will also look at his team's style of play and adjust it to its current condition. "We may have to change the way we play, slow it down a little bit," he would say Thursday, hinting at what lies ahead. "The last four or five years we've been going up-and-down the court, scoring a lot. We've had a lot of drills where that's what we did, shot the ball quickly. I thought we had the team to do that. But right now, I don't know if that's the case. In fact, I know it's probably not the case. So we might have to change things a little bit."
Will it be hard for him to go back to a slowdown style?
"I don't know if I ever played slowdown. But I just know we can't go up-and-down the way we have been. Again, you have to go back to your older guys (and know) that they recognize you're playing to win. So how are we going to win? Especially tonight, it was probably my fault. We probably should have done it for this game. Being down a little bit without Reggie, we probably should have held things out a little bit more. A little more high-post stuff. I think we're going to have to go high post, bring them out a little bit, then go into low post, make guys guard us a little bit more before we take the first shot."
"I trust what he's going to do and I think that's a good option here," Sobolewski would say when asked about that. "We took a lot of quick shots that we didn't need to take. Not necessarily bad shots. But in the context of the game, they weren't good shots by any means. If the clock had been 20 or 25 seconds later, they would have been decent. But you can't just start jacking shots up if we seem to be open."
* Change, then, is both imminent and necessary for the 'Cats. For Thursday, as Carmody would finally say, was "A tough night for us."