Five Key Plays: Bucknell at Michigan

Alejandro Zúñiga

Michigan had no difficulties dispatching Bucknell on Monday, jumping out to a quick 10-0 lead en route to a 77-53 win. Zak Irvin paced the Wolverines with 23 points, while Max Bielfeldt scored 18, a career-high. Here are five key plays from the win.

1) Michigan opens game with five defensive stops

After falling into an early nine-point hole in Saturday’s season opener against Hillsdale, the Wolverines looked more energetic on and off the ball defensively from the opening tip-off.

On the game’s first possession, Kameron Chatman and Derrick Walton trapped Steven Kaspar near the baseline, forcing a long pass to the top of the key. Despite a Caris LeVert foul, Bucknell eventually missed a jumper. On the next defensive opportunity, Mark Donnal got into position to draw a charge on Dom Hoffman, but the play was called as a travel.

Donnal and Zak Irvin both contested a Chris Hass three-pointer, helping force a miss, and then LeVert showed off his lateral quickness to help induce a turnover.

Following an inbounds play that had the 6-foot-5 Hass shooting over Irvin and Walton, the Wolverines’ defense had recorded five straight stops to begin the game, and, in turn, they had scored 10 points of their own.

2) Max Bielfeldt shows off his range in the first half

The three-pointer has always been a part of Max Bielfeldt’s arsenal, but not to the extent he showed Monday. Checking into the game as the first big man off the bench three minutes in, the senior hit his first trey of the night just 16 seconds later.

Surprised? So was Nana Foulland, who left Bielfeldt alone for the wide open jumper from the top of the arc.

Bielfeldt hit from the same spot with 14:15 left in the first half, but he was solid inside, too. He was the beneficiary of an over-the-shoulder assist from Albrecht, finishing the play with a two-handed dunk. And with 3:20 left in the first half, he grabbed an offensive board and put up a nifty reverse layup. He capped off his 13-point scoring barrage with a short-range jumper, more than tripling his previous career-high point total in just 20 minutes.

3) Caris LeVert connects with Zak Irvin

Caris LeVert had an off night shooting, finishing 2-for-11 from the floor and 0-for-3 from three-point range. But he dished out six assists in the first half to keep the offense running smoothly.

The junior had assists on each of Michigan’s first three scores, mostly from pushing the pace in transition. Later in the half, LeVert appeared to come to the realization that racking up assists was as easy as making a simple pass to Zak Irvin.

With 11:21 left in the first half, he fed Irvin, who sank an open three as his defender fought through a Bielfeldt screen. Four minutes later, following an off-balance miss by Walton, Donnal tipped the ball to LeVert, who dished to the top of the key for another clean Irvin look. And with five minutes left before halftime, Irvin’s defender again got caught in a screen, and LeVert hit him in stride for his third and final three-pointer of the half.

LeVert finished the night with just six points, but added six rebounds and the six assists. Irvin continued to show terrific off ball movement and shot readiness as Bucknell simply couldn’t prevent him from getting open.

4) Elbow pin-downs pace Wolverines

This sequence of plays looks more like something off of an instructional video or a practice drill than a live game. Michigan ran almost identical pin-down action to three different players and the result was the same every time.

Pin-down screens are a mainstay in NBA offenses, but they are nothing too fancy or complex. Here you can see Michigan’s five man sets a simple down screen for Irvin, Chatman or LeVert, who curls off the screen to the elbow for an easy basket.

Bucknell was never able to adjust to this fairly simple set, but as the season wears on you’ll see Michigan start to add wrinkles and complexities to its pin-down arsenal. This was a set that Michigan ran quite a bit to Glenn Robinson III, who excelled with his elbow jumper, and it would be a boost if Irvin, Chatman and LeVert can hit the same shot with regularity.

5) Walton grabs eight rebounds

Walton might be 6-foot-0, but he was a force on the glass Monday, leading all players with eight rebounds. The reason, John Beilein explained, is that the Wolverines prefer to send their guards to the backboard on shots instead of getting them in position for outlet passes.

With a weak frontcourt and a dynamic backcourt, the strategy has worked. The Wolverines have only play Bucknell and Hillsdale, but they’ve rebounded a ridiculous 85% of their opponents misses this season, they’ve also done a great job of grabbing the board and pushing the tempo for a easy offense.

We saw that plenty in the first half, as Walton grabbed easy boards while Michigan’s frontcourt players boxed out Bucknell. But the sophomore guard made plenty of athletic plays of his own, fighting for an offensive board for an easy layup late in the first half and grabbing a defensive rebound over a taller player with eight minutes left in the game.

“You’re going to see him reel in rebounds many times when the other guys are just blocking out people,” Beilein said.

  • NorthernBlue

    Love the adjustment by Beilein sending the guards to the backboards. Derrick and Caris are very good rebounding guards, Zak is improving as well. This team needs them there.

    • jihadist john™

      no doubt!…even spike had at least a couple boards which i recall…walton is the pound-for-pound king of the glass though