Game 13: Illinois at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

On Monday afternoon, John Beilein spoke about how five or six possessions can change a season.

Flip five or six plays in each Michigan’s past three seasons and the Wolverines are probably a program that was almost good enough rather than one that won two Big Ten titles and made a Final Four. There are moments in a season that don’t always make the most sense, but they have a lasting impact.

Today it was six possessions from Aubrey Dawkins that seemed to change everything. Dawkins — the same player that had made just 6-of-18 shots all season — came off the bench and made six of seven three-point attempts for a career-high 20 points. The Wolverines needed every single one of them as they came back from a 13 point deficit in the final 11 minutes of the second half to escape with an overtime win over Illinois.

Dawkins’ scoring barrage was reminiscent of the way the Wolverines started last year’s Big Ten season, when Zak Irvin knocked in five threes off the bench in a win at Minnesota.

It’s too early to say if Dawkins’ three-point barrage will alter the course of Michigan’s season, or even whether Dawkins can emerge as a consistent rotation player. But they won this game for Michigan and they definitely earned him a chance to make a bigger impact going forward.


Michigan’s offense still has major issues to figure out. The Wolverines continue to fall into long, painful scoring droughts where they can’t figure out what shots are too early, too difficult or just plain bad. This isn’t last year’s offense and it’s not going to be close. The Wolverines entered this game with an adjusted offensive efficiency rank of 100 and while they scraped and clawed their way to a win – points are going to come at a premium for this team.

Michigan scored only 35 points in its first 45 possessions – a meager .78 points per trip – and found itself trailing by 13 with 11 minutes to play. The first 29 minutes of the game should have felt like an unthinkably bad outing on offense, but they were about on pace with Michigan’s last three offensive games.

Then over the game’s final 16 minutes, everything clicked.

Michigan exploded for a ridiculous 38 points in the final 22 possessions of regulation and overtime, equivalent to 1.73 points per possession.

During that stretch, 11 of the Wolverines’ final 12 baskets were assisted after only four of its first 15 makes were assisted. The ball screen game started clicking as Ricky Doyle continuously found himself open rolling around the hoop, there were transition threes, drive-and-kicks and for 15 minutes it was the Michigan offense that we know and love.

Is this group capable of playing that way consistently? The easy answer right now is probably not, but for 16 minutes they proved they are at least capable of clicking for short bursts.

Defensively, Michigan reached into the bag of tricks and pulled out both the 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones.

If you look solely at the result of the zone possessions, the zone probably grades out okay. But while I’m ready to buy into zone defense being necessary for Michigan’s long-term success, I’m not ready to buy that it’s a great zone defense right now. Illinois seemed to get what it wanted against both zones – ball screen penetration at the right elbow against the 2-3 and kick-out threes against the 1-3-1. Michigan deserves credit for digging in and getting some big stops, but there’s plenty of work to be done.

That’s not to say there aren’t positives to take from Michigan’s defensive performance. The Wolverines buckled down and cleaned up the defensive glass and they made some critical stops late in the game. The stop on the final shot was impressive, but there’s no doubt that Rayvonte Rice should have passed the ball to Malcolm Hill (Illinois’ best player on the day) (H/T @WorldOfIsaac).


Michigan is going to have to scratch and claw for 17 more Big Ten games, but it can do that with the confidence of having one win under its belt. This team isn’t ready to compete for a league title or even discuss the NCAA tournament, but one win is in the books and next up is a trip to West Lafayette and a chance for another.

Michigan 73, Illinois 65 (OT) -28

Player Bullets:

  • Aubrey Dawkins: Take a bow, Aubrey. In the game preview I wrote that whichever team can ‘find something else’ would win the game. Michigan found Aubrey Dawkins. His stroke has always looked pretty good and today it finally started to fall. Dawkins has bounce, he can rebound (5 today) and seems to play hard. Michigan has been badly searching for depth and the wing combination of Irvin and Dawkins looked really good today.
  • Caris LeVert: The hand brace was gone and LeVert was back. This was the best LeVert has played since he kept Michigan in the game against NJIT and there’s no doubt that the Wolverines need this from Caris in every game. He finished with 19 points and five dimes (to one turnover) and he was 8-of-14 on two-point attempts. LeVert also finally seemed to make a breakthrough in figuring out how to find Doyle in the pick-and-roll, but part of that could have been because Dawkins finally stretched out Illinois’ packed in defense. His three-point shot (1-5) was still a bit missing in action, but his confidence and swagger was back. His shot to ice the game in overtime was a great make and the sort of close five-footer that he’s really struggled to convert lately.
  • Derrick Walton: Walton simply isn’t right. He started the game with a nice little assist and then went 0-8 from the floor over the rest of the game. He was benched for long stretches in the second half and I don’t think there’s any doubt that his toe injury is affecting him more than anyone wants to admit.
  • Zak Irvin: Irvin finished 4-of-15 and (3-of-10) from the floor which was worse than I expected, but he grabbed five rebounds and hit some huge shots down the stretch. I thought he did a good job late in the game defensively against Malcolm Hill, who still made some incredible mid-range jumpers. As for that breakaway missed dunk? Just lay it in Zak, we promise we know your vertical has improved.
  • Spike Albrecht: Albrecht has been in a slump and didn’t really look for his three-point shot, but he hit a big layup early in the game and then handed out five assists, all in the second half and overtime.
  • Ricky Doyle: Doyle knows how to make himself a target and finished with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, but he should have produced even more considering he was just 3-of-6 at the stripe and missed a couple of chances for big and-one baskets. He still has some warts (trying to block shots he can’t reach and giving up second chances), but I’m not sure why he played equivalent minutes to Donnal today.
  • Mark Donnal: Donnal had a rough first half performance. He was beaten several times defensively, missed a layup in transition and gave up a brutal and-one at the tail end of the first half. Give him some credit for a little better play down the stretch, but his jumper wasn’t working and he didn’t look comfortable out there today.
  • Kameron Chatman: I thought Chatman really hung in there and battled today. He made mistakes, but he also made plays right after his mistakes that often made up for them. That being said, he’s still not ready and the possibility of Dawkins emerging could be a blessing for him as it relieves some of the pressure and gives Michigan another option.
  • Mattski

    Give me an emerging Doyle and pick n’ roll, Spike for a spark, a healthy Caris and Walton on the mend, Zak stroking them on the regular, and Dawkins and KamChat effectively spelling one another and–yes–this team might make the tourney. Halfway through the game tonight I wouldn’t have bet 50 cents that that could happen.

  • jakelam2116

    Was at Crisler. What a performance by Dawkins — really gave this team a huge lift. And Caris was back to being Caris, which is huge. Was anyone else confused as to why Beilein subbed in Donnal for Doyle midway through OT? Was Doyle gassed? Also, good work by the coaching staff on scouting Rice, who wasn’t giving that ball up. Obviously he should have passed it, but he was trying to relive that Mizzou game miracle.

    And Spike’s not even looking for his shot. Need him to shoot to help space the floor.

    • Mattski

      Spike did pass up some looks. And at this point–since Beilein is no idiot–I have to believe he’s subbing in Donnal because Doyle cannot run all day. Disagree with the poster above who says Doyle has McGary’s motor, but (usual caveats about big men notwithstanding) Doyle really does seem to be progressing quickly.

  • jemblue

    What a game (and what a day for UM sports in general)! This could be one of those pivotal games we point back to later on. Dawkins’s outburst reminded me of Irvin, as a freshman, coming through in last year’s B1G opener at Minnesota.

    Dawkins’s newfound confidence in his shot and the expanded use of Doyle on the pick and roll could be two big developments for us.

    • ChathaM

      I think the expanded success of the P&R with Doyle was much more a function of how poorly Illinois defended it than anything else. But, it was nice (and key) to get some points in the paint.

      • mikey_mac

        Agree, but the scouting report could have very well suggested overplaying the ball handler was a solid strategy, since UM had shown no ability to find the roll man to date. They risked giving up those bunnies for pressure/turnovers, thinking LeVert and Walton just weren’t able to make those passes into the bigs.

        Donnal showed no ability to have impact in this area, so that strategy would’ve been half-right …

  • Paul Jenkins

    I love Doyle and think he will be great. I just don’t understand why he tries to block shots that, even if he got a hand on, would be goaltending. And it takes him way out of position for rebounds and putbacks.

    • It’s so frustrating (and something that Jordan Morgan was really good at avoiding — know what you are) … but it is a clear remnant from high school IMO.

      • Paul Jenkins

        I’m sure Beilein will coach him up. He’s got good size and a McGary – like motor. Conditioning seems to be an issue, but that will obviously improve too. An option rolling to the hoop will go a long way towards freeing up the shooters.

      • mikey_mac

        Horford and McGary both imagined themselves great shot blockers and would do the same thing — McGary was especially frustrating, because, like Doyle, he just had no chance most of the time. Horford was at least long enough to offer some rim protection. Morgan was smart enough to understand he was best staying grounded, gaining position, and taking charges. I think we’ve seem some signs of that from Doyle, so hopefully he figures it out soon.

    • ChathaM

      I really like his potential, too. He played well straight up against the senior, Egwu, and that bodes very well. He’s already come a long way re: figuring out how to avoid fouling on the hard hedge, which is something that took JMo 2+ years to do. I actually think that JMo is a pretty good comp for Doyle. Whether he’ll choose to sculpt his body the way that JMo did is uncertain, but I do think he can be that kind of player, and possibly more (he is bigger than JMo, isn’t he?).

  • ChathaM

    For me, the biggest takeaway is that UM proved it can finish games. I was concerned that this was going to be a team that just couldn’t quite put away an opponent, but I’m much less concerned after this one.

    Even in the first 29 minutes of the game, I saw more comfort with the screening/cutting options in the offence than I’ve seen in past games. The options are many, and some of the reads and cuts are complex, so it’s great to see progress at about the point in the season where you’d hope to see progress. I think we’ll be tougher and tougher to guard as the season plays out.

    Doyle and Donnal did a good job of avoiding the silly fouls that have tested our post depth in recent games. That may not continue against teams that use their posts more than Illinois, but it was at least a key factor today. It will be a key to Saturday’s game against Haas, Hammons (who doesn’t start anymore), and Purdue.

  • A2MIKE

    big game, nice progress… need to split this road trip and then be ready for another big matchup at home v Minnesota. 3-1 start is crucial if we are going to be on the right side of the bubble.

  • robpollard

    This team fights hard, I’ll give them that. But as you said, “This team isn’t ready to compete for a league title or even discuss the NCAA tournament.” They are way too limited offensively, and are just too young (and in the case their point guards, too banged up) to be a likely tourney team.

    I hope Dawkins continues to get more play over Chatman; it was worth a short ever since NJIT. Kameron’s trying hard out there, but he’s just not ready, which is disappointing for a 5-star, but it happens. Hopefully, by the end of the year he can make more consistent and bigger contributions. I wasn’t surprised by Irvin’s box score — he missed some wide-open 3’s and also a dunk (which he probably should have laid in); that leads to a poor %.

    Hopefully, somehow, someway, UM can scrap their way to a 10 win B1G season. But for now, one game at a time — they should have a great chance against Purdue, who have their own issues.

    • Indiana_Matt

      Do you think 10 wins would put us in the dance? In other years I would say yes. But the conference seems down. If one of those wins is Wisconsin and another one is Maryland then we got a shot.

      • robpollard

        That’s a good point which I’ve considered. For example, MSU is down and beyond Wisky, the B1G doesn’t seem to have an “elite” team (and usually the B1G has 2-4).

        Still, I think 10 wins plus a 1st round win in the B1G tourney (which would be over a decent team, by definition) would do it. That would be 18 wins and with the field now being 68 teams, that is a good amount for a team from a “power” conference.

        All that said, I still think it’s unlikely, based on this team’s performance/youth/injuries/talent. But they have a chance.

  • BrianUofM

    I had the same questions about why Doyle sat for long periods it really wasn’t Donnals game tonight, there’s no question that Walton is hurting pretty bad he’s just not getting where he needs to be and i’m glad Beilin sat him down and realized it wasn’t helping. Hopefully this Dawkins things wasn’t a fluke but all year I felt he was more aggressive and rebounded better than Kam. The best point of the game for me was when the team consisted of Spike,Doyle,Caris,Dawkins, and Irvin I feel like this should be the starting 5 unless Walton is fully healthy. This team is growing tho and hopefully we can nail 1 or 2 killer recruits to help us next year because the foundation is being built and will be great years to come as they grow. Do you guys agree? Dylan?

  • Chezaroo

    Dawkins was incredible and unpredictable. To me, the return of Caris was very promising going forward. He played beautifully in that game, hitting open looks, taking it to the hole, and maybe even more importantly, executing the screen and role game and setting up shooters with open looks after penetrating. I don’t know the severity of his thumb injury previously, but it obviously affected him negatively. He made great decisions yesterday and is truly the player to provide much needed leadership going forward. He looked awesome running the half court offense in the 2nd half, quality look after quality look, all initiated by him.

  • Beatpusha

    Hey Dylan, is there any chance they start Spike and bring Walton off the bench? I know that sounds crazy, but we have got nothing from Walton this year. He is not aggressive or decisive on offense. I know his toe is hurting and im not hating but this offense needs a spark