The MI offense has only been stopped cold in one game this year, at OSU. It is their only loss, and OSU held their phenomenal offense to a season low 53 points. 9 points lower than their 2nd lowest output of 62 against a slow paced Nebraska team, and 14 points lower than their 3rd lowest output of 67. How did they do it? First a word about the MI offense.
The MI offense is amazing. They are 11th in the NCAA in scoring at 79.3 points per game, and they are 4th in the NCAA in field goal percentage at .510. All of this is done without a big man in the middle who gets them easy points or gets post feeds out to their prolific shooters. What's quite interesting is that MI doesn't even try to post the ball at all in their offense. The MI offense is based on having 4 players who can all shoot, drive, and get out in transition. The offense runs through Burke who is awesome at both creating for himself and for others, but the key is having all 4 guys with multiple tools. The 5th man (either Jordan Morgan or Mitch McGary) is there to play post defense, rebound, and set screens. If the center scores, it's usually because their man goes to help and they are left alone or the help leaves them with no one blocking them out on put backs.
The personnel here is what matters as MI has not had 4 players like this in the Beilein era. They all shoot the 3 -Burke .400, Hardaway .393, Stauskas .495, and Robinson .389. All are athletic and can drive and dunk in the half court or in transition. Because each can drive the ball they can beat their man and force help which allows them to pass to any other open player who can take advantage by either knocking down the 3 or driving the ball again. They transition as quick as any team in basketball off missed shots. Burke is the key in transition as he sees the floor so well and gets the ball where it needs to be. However because all 4 can handle the ball any of them can start the break and get them easy offense in transition. So how did OSU do it, and can anyone else repeat?
The answer starts with transition defense. OSU did a great job getting back in transition D and more importantly they limited the chances MI had. In the first half OSU shot 52%, grabbed 4 offensive rebounds, and had only 4 turnovers. This limited the opportunities for MI to run, and when they did OSU was great at beating them back. OSU was not as good in the 2nd half because they didn't shoot as well (34.8%), giving MI more opportunities. Still they only had 4 2nd half turnovers which helped limit the transition chances.
The second part of the equation is doubling. Since MI was forced to play a lot of half court basketball they ran a lot of their base offense which is ball screens for their numerous playmakers. Either Morgan or McGary was the screener and every time they ran the ball screen both OSU defenders left the screener and doubled the ball. This put pressure on the ball handler, and often forced them to make a pass out of the double. MI was horrible at this. Either the 5 man was in bad position or the pass was off over and over again which lead to 9 first half turnovers for MI. This was out of character as MI only averages 9.8 turnovers a game. MI again was better in the second half, and had a more normal 4 turnovers.
The final piece is that MI was just bad that day. MI has faced doubles on screens before but you wouldn't have known it the way they played them in the first half. OSU may be more able to run doubles effectively as OSU is longer and more athletic than most teams in college basketball and has some premiere perimeter defenders in Craft, Scott, and Smith Jr. However MI was also just making silly mistakes they don't normally make. MI was just off shooting the ball, which is no surprise for a big ten team playing on the road. They shot 38.3% for the game.
Can anyone repeat what OSU did? Maybe. MSU has enough athletes to do some of the same things, and MI could have another off shooting day at MSU. Outside of that game, UW may have the best chance to hold the score low with tempo, but MI will probably torture our young guards and turnovers may be a problem. I think teams that can beat MI are probably teams that will try to outscore them. In the Big Ten Indiana is probably the only team that has the horses to run with them.
Still, even with this horrible performance MI was able to get the game tied with 6 minutes left in the game after being down 20 points in the first half. OSU hit 3 shots to get back out to a 6 point lead while MI missed 5 straight 3 point attempts. MI got hosed on a horrible call when Burke stole the ball and got fouled while making a layup, but the ref incorrectly called the foul on the floor. MI got 2 free throws on the next possession and got another steal and breakaway dunk to cut the lead to 52-50. With 15 seconds left Burke missed the 6th three point attempt of the final 6 minutes on a shot that hit the inside of the rim twice before popping out, and would have given MI the lead. After 2 made OSU free throws Burke would miss another 3, before hitting one with 1 second remaining to reach the final score of 56-53. MI finished the 2nd half 3-14 from 3. This may be the most interesting fact of the game: Despite playing their worst offensive game of the year, on the road vs a top 15 big ten team, MI still had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds.
This is a good basketball team.