Five Key Plays: SMU at Michigan

Alejandro Zúñiga

The Michigan basketball team was bullied inside in Saturday’s 62-51 loss to Southern Methodist. For a closer look at the Wolverines’ struggles — and at the times they succeeded — check out our Five Key Plays.

1) Donnal delivers early from sets

On Saturday morning, John Beilein told Mark Donnal to enter the SMU game with a shooter’s mentality. The Wolverines got him the ball early, and the freshman took advantage.

Just 10 seconds after he checked in for the first time, a well-run set by Michigan got Donnal an open look from three, which he buried. Caris LeVert made a baseline cut and forced Yanick Moreira to clog a potential passing lane, but that gave Donnal the space needed to catch and shoot from a Derrick Walton pass.

A couple minutes later, the Wolverines targeted Markus Kennedy on the defensive end. Bringing Donnal out to the top of the key, Zak Irvin set a screen on the SMU big man, giving Donnal a lane to the basket. The center was fouled and made both free throws to round out his five-point first half.

2) Ugly second-half start a ‘telltale sign’

Michigan was down just three to start the second half, but it scored just two points over the first 5:31 as part of what Beilein called “a telltale sign in this game.”

On the Wolverines’ first offensive possession, Irvin couldn’t handle an elementary pass from LeVert, and it deflected out of bounds for an unforced turnover. After SMU missed a jumper, LeVert fired on a decent look at a three in transition instead of attacking the rim, and he missed.

When Kameron Chatman drove to the basket the next time down the court, he put up a tough layup attempt instead of finding Derrick Walton, who was wide open in the corner. Nic Moore grabbed that rebound and had space after Walton took just enough of a step toward the ball, rather than getting back on defense, and flipped a no-look pass to Moreira for a dunk in transition. Then Irvin bricked a three from the top of the key with 34 seconds left on the shot clock, and Michigan was in a deep offensive rut.

3) Michigan explodes on 12-1 run

The Wolverines were active defensively in the second half, forcing 12 turnovers in that period alone, and that helped them key a 12-1 run that turned a 10-point deficit into a lead.

LeVert started the outburst with a long two-point jumper — not a great look, but one aided by a solid screen from Donnal. After Irvin intercepted a Moore pass, he went coast-to-coast and drew a blocking foul on an attempted layup. A desperation jumper from Donnal saved the Wolverines from an empty possession, but then the center delivered his biggest play of the game: He grabbed a rebound between a trio of SMU defenders and got fouled on the putback, then made the free throw to complete a three-point play.

Finally, Walton hit a three on a well-delivered bounce pass from Albrecht to give Michigan its first lead of the half. It wasn’t a much better look than the Wolverines had gotten all game. (They were 4-for-24 from deep at that point.) But as was the key to the rest of the run, shots were finally starting to fall.

4) Donnal picks up fourth foul, Michigan ‘D’ breaks down

Michigan hasn’t scored in over two minutes before this SMU possession and the Mustangs only led by one point, but this trip down the floor ultimately sunk the Wolverines.

Michigan actually plays strong first-shot defense to start the possession, as Keith Frazier fired up an off-balance shot. But despite having good position, no Wolverines were able to grab the ball. SMU did a good job of swinging the ball to the other side of the floor after securing possession which led to Mark Donnal being whistled for a blocking foul while trying to provide Derrick Walton some help. It was Donnal’s fourth foul and he had just checked into the game 30 seconds earlier. He didn’t step back on the floor again until the Wolverines trailed by 10 with 1:51 to play.

The defense following the foul was an brutal example of some of Michigan’s defensive mistakes this season. There was no help, no communication and Nic Moore ended up with an unguarded layup.

When Moore has the ball on the wing, there are three Wolverines that could be in position to provide baseline help: Ricky Doyle, Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert. When Moore starts to drive baseline, all three players either don’t see him or simply run away.

The primary job on defense is to see man-and-ball and these screen grabs are a brutal indictment of a defense that just isn’t accomplishing that fundamental job.

5) Brutal offense helps SMU to run

At the 7:39 mark of the second half, Michigan led the Mustangs, 48-47. The Wolverines scored just three more points the rest of the way.

On the first possession of the sequence, LeVert tried a jumper over Ryan Manuel and missed — certainly a shot he has hit before, but a tough look nonetheless. Upon grabbing the rebound, the Mustangs pushed the pace. A nice backcut from Manuel got him into the paint, where he dropped a pass to Moreira for a dunk when neither LeVert, Albrecht or Walton got a body on the big man in time.

Michigan responded with more empty offensive possessions, like a bricked Bielfeldt three from the top of the key, a travel call when Walton tried to cut through two SMU defenders, a badly missed corner three from Walton and an off-target Irvin three with the shot clock expiring.

After the second TV timeout of the second half, the Wolverines tried 13 three-pointers and just three two-pointers. Beilein admitted after the game that the Mustangs were packing the paint, and, when the long ball didn’t fall, Michigan couldn’t create other looks.

  • Mattski

    We’ve been spoiled by so much inspired hooping the last few years; love my team, but this is a little painful to watch.

    • ChathaM

      Plenty of good looks within the offence, but guys just…..can’t…..shoot. It will get better.

      • John

        I don’t know if that one particular element of this, poor shooting, is something that is going to get that much better. They started out the season hot from long range, that is one of the issues of perception that is making this hard for everybody to figure out. We assumed their early season shooting to be the norm, but I think it was actually an abberation for this team. Levert is not a pure shooter, neither is Walton. Irvin was when he was the fourth option on the floor and most of his looks were kind of wide open. He does not shoot well when contested, and he is not just missing, but missing badly. This is not a Michigan team that is going to shoot teams out of games. They are going to have fight, scrap and claw, they are going to have to Novak their way to wins. I actually saw a little of that on Saturday, that is why the loss was particuarly dissapointing. I think they are learning, but I don’t really think they can climb their way out of this thing this season in time for it to matter.

  • Vince

    Rewatched the game and the looks we get from outside aren’t half-bad. It’s pretty much SMU daring us to beat them with the long ball – a strategy many other opponents tried against us in previous years that backfired. But it worked brilliantly against our team whose lack the confidence (I typed “leadership” but realized it is more about confidence) of their leading players. Walton has the best confidence level of our big three but seems to be the worst shooter of them. Irvin and Levert are taking turn to sulk and being very hesitant to shoot. To make it worst Spike is clearly hurt and can’t provide the spark of energy when things are sinking.