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Michigan, K-State survive their first tests

11/22/2012

NEW YORK -- Michigan threw a couple of sloppy inbounds passes at the end, giving Pittsburgh hope. Kansas State couldn’t find a stop, keeping Delaware hanging around.

Early-season tournaments are always a juggling act for teams: the chance to receive a good gauge on where a team is early -- but a chance that comes with the potential for late-game issues that will be less likely to show up as the season progresses.

Neither No. 4 Michigan nor Kansas State played close to its best Wednesday night. In the Wolverines’ case, a week-plus layoff and an elevation in competition led to sloppy play. But for both teams, it was good enough -- barely -- to win.

Michigan beat Pitt 67-62, and Kansas State knocked off Delaware 66-63, a pair of games that were similar in their closeness and their final-minute questions.

“We did just enough to win the game,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.

Just enough was the key at Madison Square Garden. Just enough to advance. Just enough in November could equate to just enough in March, when just enough could separate the continuation of a season from the end of one.

Michigan reached its just-enough moment by making a switch, going from the mixing of man-to-man defense with a couple of different zones to an old reliable for the Wolverines, the 1-3-1 zone. This 1-3-1, though, looks different from versions played by Beilein’s prior teams.

He has more length up top, with 6-foot-6 Nik Stauskas, and then 6-6 Tim Hardaway Jr. and 6-6 Glenn Robinson III on the wings. The three can form a suffocating trio, which they did to force Pittsburgh into turnovers and to turn a seven-point deficit into a one-point deficit, allowing the Wolverines to climb back into the game.

“Absolutely,” Beilein said. “We began practicing it a little bit ago and we just keep working at it. It has a lot of things to it. It has some merit to look at it in the future, especially the way they played it.

“That length, with our wings at the 3, the 2 and the 4 spot, it has a chance to work.”

It was enough to overcome a 3-of-17 3-point shooting night for the Wolverines, a night that would have doomed them last season. Enough to overcome a night when Michigan turned the ball over more times (nine) than it had assists (eight), with a coaching staff that places high value on ball security.

Like everything else with Kansas State and Michigan, it is definitely a work in progress.

K-State shot less than 40 percent for the second consecutive game, and while it had good presence in the post, only three players -- Shane Southwell, Adrian Diaz and Thomas Gipson -- shot 50 percent or better from the field. The Wildcats struggled with Delaware’s Jamelle Hagins, who had 12 points and 15 rebounds in 27 minutes.

“We did not play pretty,” KSU coach Bruce Weber said. “I mean, that was pretty obvious. It had been so good for us at home and we had defended so well, made shots and the game came easy.

“Now, it didn’t come quite as easy. We missed a lot of shots, made some mistakes defensively.”

But both teams received the same lesson. For the first time this season, after beating all their previous opponents by at least 19 points, they saw teams of at least somewhat similar caliber. Both teams were pushed -- almost to the brink of their first losses of the season.

Instead, Kansas State and Michigan did just enough to play for a championship Friday.