Game 3: Detroit at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Learning on the job is good, but sometimes it’s better to sit and watch.

Michigan’s freshmen are all promising players, but trailing Detroit early in the second half, John Beilein had no choice. He went with his veterans.

Much has been made about the fact that Beilein only has five scholarship players on his roster that aren’t freshmen, but that doesn’t mean he can’t put them all on the floor at once. Spike Albrecht was inserted into the game just 67 seconds into the second half and he was followed shortly after by Max Bielfeldt, who didn’t even play in Michigan’s season opener.

. Derrick Walton played all 40 minutes while Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin both registered 38. Michigan’s freshmen combined for just 34 minutes of playing time, just eight in the second half, while Spike Albrecht and Max Bielfeldt tallied 32 and 20 minutes respectively off the bench.

There’s a message in there and it’s not hard to figure out. This is how we play and this is how we win.

But beyond the message, there’s a problem. Michigan’s freshmen are going to be critical to this team’s eventual success or failure, but they just aren’t ready yet. A win is a win, but it’s a troubling red flag that Michigan’s big three played 116 minutes and scored 55 of 71 points in a home game against Detroit. It’s troubling that Max Bielfeldt, who has led Michigan’s big men in points and minutes the last two games, still has to play on the scout team in practice because he’s the only player that can run the team.


Michigan hadn’t been held below 1.10 points per possession in a non-conference game at home since December 13th, 2011 against Arkansas Pine-Bluff (If you were wondering, Evan Smotrycz led the Wolverines that day with 16 points). There’s nothing magical about 1.10 points per possession, but it just goes to show how spoiled the Wolverines have been offensively over the last two seasons. There’s a very real chance that this team won’t be the best offense in the country this season.

Thinking back through the years, there’s always an adjustment period for Beilein’s offenses when they face their first dosage of pressure defense. Sometimes it results in a loss (UTEP 2010) other times it results in an awful half and requires a torrid comeback (Florida State 2013). But by season’s end, almost every Michigan team learns to deal pretty well with pressure defense.

Michigan continues to be lethal in transition, especially off of defensive rebounds, and the trio of Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin combined for 18 rebounds and a number of transition finishes at the rim or in the corner. The halfcourt offense, is much more of a work in progress. Walton and LeVert have only had the keys for a few games, but there were a few more stretches of confusion and over-dribbling than we’ve seen in a while.

Defensively, Michigan showed some signs that it can be a very good team. The Wolverines won this game on the defensive side of the ball – something I can rarely remember writing in game recaps last season. Ten consecutive stops – spanning 18:53 to 13:02  – were enough to turn the game and eventually let the Wolverines get back into control of the game in the second half.

The Wolverines held the Titans to just .95 points per possession overall and their only vulnerability defensively was the three-point shot. Detroit didn’t appear to be a good shooting team on paper, which probably explains why Michigan’s defense was focused on stopping the drive and might have given up a few extra looks. Michigan was also dominant on the defensive glass once again, rebounding 93.3% of Detroit’s misses on the game despite the fact that the guards continued to do the heavy lifting in that department. The Wolverines did a good job on the glass, but it seemed at times as if the Titans had so much respect for Michigan’s transition game that they conceded offensive rebounding opportunities to get back on defense.

Michigan can’t ride its five upper-classmen all season. The Wolverines need to get something out of their freshmen. While much will be made of the big men – DJ Wilson struggled and Ricky Doyle barely played – they were forced off the floor by Detroit playing what amounted to a five-guard offense. It’s not an easy adjustment to blow up all of the traditional switches and rotations against such a unique offense, especially on the fly (Beilein admitted he didn’t expect to see it in the post-game). The bigger concern in my eyes is that Michigan doesn’t have another guard off the bench and Kameron Chatman continues to struggle. If Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins didn’t get on the floor in this game, they clearly aren’t ready yet and that’s a concern because by the end of the year Michigan is going to need one of them.

This wasn’t a great Detroit team and this certainly wasn’t a great performance for Michigan, but it’s still November. It’s only the third game of the season and just one of many steps in the process. This team has a long ways to grow and it’s just too early to rush to any snap judgments.

Next up for the Wolverines is Oregon at the Barclays Center. New York City has been something of a home away from home for the Wolverines of late (4-0 in the last two years), but Oregon just beat Detroit by 17 and will provide a similar test with great guard and wing play without much inside presence.

Michigan 71, Detroit 62 -#10
llison Farrand

Player Bullets

  • Derrick Walton: There’s a lot to like about how Walton has been playing in the early season. He’s making his keep by pushing the ball in transition, using his strength to finish at the basket, rebounding and knocking down corner threes with regularity. Walton had a really strong take to the basket in the first half when Michigan was really sputtering. I’d like to see his assist numbers continue to rise, but he’s really starting to settle into a role after drifting a bit in exhibition play.
  • Caris LeVert:  LeVert had a poor first half (4 pts, 2-6, 1 ast, 2 TO), but he took things into his own hands in the second, finishing with 21 points and nine rebounds for the game after going 5-7 (and 6-7 at the FT line) in the final 20 minutes. LeVert took a few eye brow raising shots, but he seems to hit them at the same rate as open shots so at this point Michigan just needs to create space and let him go to work.
  • Spike Albrecht: Albrecht started to become a bit passive in the first half. He was over-dribbling and couldn’t really seem to find a groove. Albrecht really sparked Michigan’s run in the second half to take the lead and after several nice passes, he finally got a three-pointer to fall. Albrecht needs that shot and he buried another one right in Juwan Howard Jr.’s face late in the game, a sign that his confidence is coming back.
  • Zak Irvin: Just keep shooting, Zak. Irvin let his confidence falter later in the first half – he passed up a three (only to step out of bounds) and then drifted to the basket on a fast break rather than waiting for a patented corner three (LeVert’s pass sailed out of bounds to the Detroit bench). But after a timeout, Michigan went right to Irvin twice – in the corner – and he buried two threes. 18 points on 6-of-16 (4-10 3pt) shooting isn’t a record game for offensive efficiency (and 3 turnovers are a no-no), but Irvin has to just keep shooting. On the other end of the floor, his defensive improvement continues to impress.
  • Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt didn’t have another surprise scoring outburst, but he did whatever Michigan needed. He was +22 during his 20 minutes on the floor. Wilson (-11) and Donnal (-12) didn’t fare nearly as well. He made the correct rotations on defense, moved his feet well and used his strength to contain smaller Detroit forwards, made 2-of-3 field goal attempts (his lone post-up attempt ended up in a big block) and even handed out two assists. The two assists were a nice treat as Bielfeldt showed some nice passing moves out of the high-post.
  • Kameron Chatman: Chatman is now 4-of-19 from the floor in three games. He’s struggling to find consistency with his jumper, but he’s also struggling to go up strong and finish at the basket. Chatman can do a lot of great things — he made a really nice rebound, push and dish to Irvin late in the first half — but he’ll need to find consistency with his shot.
  • DJ Wilson: Wilson is the Michigan big man with the skillset to play in a game like this when the opposition goes with a glorified forward at the five position. He can move his feet and do ridiculous things like block a three-pointer while hedging a ball screen, but he’s just not ready yet mentally. Wilson really struggled to keep up defensively when he was on the floor and he usually overcompensated for it by trying to do too much on the offensive end. The skillset is there, but Michigan needs to get him up to speed quickly.
  • Mark Donnal: Donnal had a couple of nice tap outs and defensive plays, but after he missed a bunny early in the second half he got pulled out of the game and never came back in.
  • Ricky Doyle: Doyle wasn’t really a feasible option against a Detroit lineup that was playing a four/five combination of 6-7 Paris Bass and 6-5 Juwan Howard. He just doesn’t have the foot speed to hang defensively against a perimeter offense.
  • Wayman Britt

    I see Wilson getting more time and Chapman less. It’s very early but I worry about Chapman on the road in a hostile Big Ten environment. He seems very unsure and nervous.

    I am not worried about playing two six footers. Walton is crazy on the boards.

    • mikey_mac

      Chapman has struggled, no doubt. Almost to the point where it’s hard to understand why he was pegged as rotation-ready immediately, ahead of the other freshman. But Wilson has also consistently been two seconds behind the play, especially on offense. They both have a lot of athleticism, though, so it’s just a matter of when things start clicking mentally.

  • Okemos56

    As advertised, this team is a work in progress. LeVert, Walton, and Irvin appear to be high level players adjusting fairly well to new responsibilities based on a small sample size. Albrecht had a good second half (his first this year imho) except for a couple of over dribbling, but two small guards will be challenged defensively and if he can’t hit a 3 pointer then he’s a liability. Bielfeldt has been a pleasant surprise. After that, we don’t have anybody like Duke’s Okafor ready to play yet. .. but that’s the nature of the game today. Beilein and the other coaches have consistently developed a few freshman into reasonable Big 10 players during the year and then helped them make a big leap the next year or a year after. Let’s hope it happens this year, but, if not, it will still fun to watch most nights (Wisconsin at Wisconsin may require a few beers to make it fun to watch).

  • Quick Darshan

    Wilson missing out on Italy is noticeable.

  • Michigan4

    I still wish Walton would look for his shot a bit more. He is so quick; there just aren’t many guards that can stay in front of him. The backcourt of Walton, Irvin and LeVert is the best in the conference and might be the best in the country, in my opinion. I think Chatman and Wilson will both be respectable players by the time we get to Big Ten play but right now they really do look lost. It is not hard to see the potential in both, though.

    The Oregon/Detroit game was actually very similar to the UM/Detroit game. They were tied at the half and it took a late second half run by Oregon to put the game out of reach. I agree that it should be a good test but I believe UM has the better top end talent. Oh, and did anyone see the Bucknell vs. Villanova game last night? Bucknell should have won that game and might have if not for blown calls in the final minutes.

    • NC Blue

      I agree with you on Walton. Without seeing his shot chart, I would guess most of his attempts are either 3’s or lay-ins…would love for him try some mid-range looks. There is a fine line between being aggressive and not forcing things, but he’s so quick and strong that he is a tough cover. He already draws quite a few fouls and could increase that.

    • rlcBlue

      Bucknell and Detroit both played much better in their “close to home” game than in their game that required more travel. Maybe just a coincidence.

  • Tim

    I’m enjoying watching this team this year, knowing how different the final product will be and the growth that we will see. Clearly the frosh have a ways to go, but the big 3 might be the best 3 guard combo in the country. Watching other teams can be very reassuring for
    comparison’s sake. Myles Turner didn’t contribute much to Texas tonight, Syracuse looked like a mess, and Nova really struggled with Bucknell. I’m ok
    where we are at and am very confident our coaches will develop this group into a very strong college hoops team this year.

    • Michigan4

      Hell, even the mighty Kentucky Wildcats struggled at home with SUNY Buffalo. Kentucky ended up winning by 15+ but Buffalo was ahead by 5 at halftime. It really is not abnormal for great, young teams to struggle at the early stages of the season. But like you said, with our coaches I am extremely confident we will be a serious threat to make another deep run come tourney time.

  • jakelam2116

    A bit concerning, yes. But it’s still very, very early. On a side note, Bucknell nearly won at Villanova.

  • Chris De Sana

    When Detroit went 5 guards wondering why we did not try and post up some of the mis-matches? Caris at 6ft7 and Zak at 6ft6 had height and physical advantages that could have paid dividends in buckets and trips to the line, The same could be said for Kam as well.

    Have versatile players is great but only if you take advantage of them.

    • Not sure posting up is really something that Zak or Caris are best suited for. The big problem with five guards was on the other end where UD would just ISO the five man.

      • MAZS

        Agree. No matter how he tweaks his offense, Beilein almost never isolates anyone–including our centers. He cherishes fluidity. Irvin has too many other things to work on this year—like getting to the basket, using the high pick-and-roll–to spend time posting. That said, I think we might install some post situations for Caris as he will often have a sizeable height advantage and his game already includes some post-like moves.

    • The mismatches were there and paid off anyway as a result of creating space via just simply doing our thing. We did a little slashing along with a little shooting as there was no real help from their standpoint coming from inside and it all came out the way it was supposed to. As soon as some shots started dropping, they went away.

      I don’t think I want to see Caris Levert banging in the post under any set of circumstances.

      I think we got the best game U of D is capable of playing which is as it should be.

  • Steve Lund

    Beilein has proven he will have the team ready come March. It will be an up and down few months before Big Ten season, but I am not even remotely worried about the freshmen.

  • jkuofm27

    Not looking for excuses, just answers…it seems that the 3 games in six days finally overwhelmed the freshman. Probably not physically, but mentally. All these guys are used to playing a ton of basketball, but AAU and the like is largely pick up ball. I can imagine the amount of information thrown at them by the staff the last six days, in combination with college classes and college life all sort of came to a head. That is probably the reason for going to the juniors and sophomores. Game preparation is as much mental as it is physical and the mental from the freshman seemed to be lacking last night.

    • mikey_mac

      Definitely. Very important point here. This is the deep end of the pool right now. The next game, away from Crisler, against a talented team, may be the deepest point of the season.

      • Mattski

        Some jittery freshmen out there. Fortunately, we’ve all seen flashes of their ability, and know that it’s a matter of climbing Beilein’s learning curve. I’m a little more disappointed about Donnal, though; thought he’d be ready to provide solid minutes at the five.

  • Champswest

    With only 5 experienced returning players, we will rely heavily on the freshmen. Since none of them are 5 star McDonald’s All Americans, this may take some time and there will be some bumps along the way. Wouldn’t it be nice to still have the fifth year Morgan out there to help the youngsters along?

  • geoffclarke

    I’m having a hard time keeping up with all the great content here. Still have to go back more than a week to try to catch up. But a quick glance at the Four Factors was eye-opening. Our normal two biggest advantages – eFG% and TO% – were a wash, and where we’ve normally struggled – OR% and FTrate – we dominated. Sorry…that’s all I got now.

    • geoffclarke

      Also, I know it’s still really early in the season, small sample size, etc., but why are AdjO’s so much down this year nationally? Will it trend up?

    • rlcBlue

      I haven’t watched the game yet, but I’m guessing the unusually high TO% and OR% are a result of Detroit playing five guard. The FT% looks to be LeVert and Walton being studs.

      • geoffclarke

        Spot on.

  • Amaizeman

    Good learning experience for the team. It’s fortunate that the non-conference schedule is predominantly home games. Looking forward to watching the team improve as they get ready for big ten play.

  • Mattski

    Hats off to NJIT.

  • jakerblue

    It’s too bad being an independent they really have no shot at making the tourney