Michigan’s 62-57 win over Minnesota on Saturday afternoon was filled with many of the familiar, often times frustrating, storylines that have defined its season to date.
The Wolverines shot the ball poorly from three-point range, were plagued by long scoring droughts and were unable to extend an early lead despite Minnesota missing nine of its first 11 shots.
But there were also a few more encouraging trends. The Wolverines were able to come back from a significant second half deficit once again, trailing by nine points with 11 minutes to play, and the 1-3-1 zone was John Beilein’s trump card down the stretch for the third time in Big Ten play.
It’s not always pretty, but this young (and at times flawed) Michigan team appears to be learning how to win games in crunch time. The Wolverines have now won three Big Ten games in four tries after only managing to beat two high-major foes in non-conference play.
Michigan was led by Derrick Walton Jr. and Caris LeVert, who both scored 15 points, but the late-game hero was Ricky Doyle, who finished with 12 points including a decisive alley-oop finish over Minnesota big man Maurice Walker to give Michigan a four point lead with 28 seconds to play.
The last time Michigan won a Big Ten game while shooting this poorly was March 3rd, 2013 (a 58-57 win over MSU), but the Wolverines deserve credit for hanging in there despite just 22% three-point shooting. The good news offensively is that Michigan finally able to shoot 50% inside the arc and also handled Minnesota’s pressure very well. Michigan’s 15% turnover rate was the lowest forced by Minnesota all season.
I also thought that John Beilein coached a great game down the stretch. He put Caris LeVert in a position to make plays late, but also featured a few wrinkles. Running a high ball screen out of a timeout with Derrick Walton and Ricky Doyle with under a minute to play was a surprise, but both players answered the bell as LeVert stood in the corner and allowed Michigan to play four-on-four.
Michigan held the Gophers to .94 points per possession of offensive output, mostly because the Gophers kept throwing the ball to fans in the first three rows. Minnesota coughed the ball up on 28% of its offensive possessions and the Wolverines translated 17 turnovers into 22 points.
The decision to go to the 1-3-1 down the stretch was a no-brainer as Michigan couldn’t guard Minnesota off the bounce or in the post in the second half, and the Gophers were already looking ragged with the ball. Like Michigan, Minnesota was able to get to the free throw line 20 times. However the Gophers shot just 55% at the line while Michigan made 16 freebies — accounting for the differential in the final score.
Overall, Michigan’s defensive effort varied drastically between halves.
In the first half, Michigan did a great job of neutralizing Minnesota’s ability to score inside and handled the Gophers on the glass, but overaggressive trapping and doubling led to Minnesota making 5-of-11 threes. In the second half, Minnesota dominated inside, grabbing offensive rebounds on 11 of 21 opportunities, but cooled down from three-point range (27%) and had as many turnovers (11) as missed shots.
Michigan isn’t going to win many games when it shoots the ball this poorly and allows its opponent to rebound over 40% of its misses, but the Gophers gave this one away and Michigan made the plays down the stretch to seal the game.
After a 7-5 start in non-conference play, Michigan’s first four games of the Big Ten season couldn’t have played out much better. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Wolverines split on the road and won two home games. Tuesday’s trip to Ohio State is a probable loss, but Michigan is also playing with a bit of house money and a chance to gain some big momentum with a road upset.
- Derrick Walton: This was Derrick Walton’s best game in a long time. Since Michigan’s win over Oregon, he’s posted an offensive rating over 100 just twice before today (NJIT, Coppin St.). That all changed today as Walton finished with 15 points on 4-of-7 (3-4 3pt) shooting, five rebounds and three assists (including the game clincher). Walton got fouled on two three-pointers and sparked a lot of Michigan’s comeback with his shooting – something we haven’t seen in a while. Overall this was a huge step for Walton and could be a sign that he’s starting to recover from his toe injury.
- Ricky Doyle: Ricky Doyle’s importance to this team becomes clearer every day. He’s really Michigan’s only consistent finisher around the basket and he finished the game in style with an alley-oop to help ice away Michigan’s lead. He plays physically and he’s shown impressive patience when he catches the ball around the basket. Today he was 5-of-8 from the floor with six rebounds for 12 points in 26 minutes. The Wolverines outscored Minnesota by 20 points when Doyle was on the floor and were outscored by 17 when Donnal or Bielfeldt were at the five, a stat which pretty much says it all about Doyle’s importance.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert never quite heated up with his jump shot, but just like State College on Tuesday the Wolverines fed him the ball late and he produced. He had some very crafty finishes around the basket late and a huge drive and kick to Derrick Walton for a critical three. LeVert still wasn’t perfect, and I thought he forced the issue far too often in transition, but he deserves a lot of credit for Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone working due to his length up top.
- Spike Albrecht: Spike hit two big elbow jumpers coming off of ball screens and a circus scoop shot driving to the rim. Those are the shots we expect him to miss. That was encouraging, but he also missed all of the shots that we expect him to make (open jumpers). Albrecht also had 3 turnovers to two assists, a surprise for the usual reliable ball-handler.
- Zak Irvin: Michigan needs more from Irvin, who finished with 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting. He hit a three early in the second half and made most of his late free throws, but it’s going to be hard for Michigan to win games consistently when Irvin goes 1-of-5 from long range.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins is playing more minutes than Chatman at this point, but he was very quiet on the floor. He missed his only shot attempt and grabbed two rebounds in an otherwise nondescript 10 minutes of playing time.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman is the opposite of Dawkins, if he’s on the floor then things are happening around him – for better or worse. Chatman scored a nice transition layup, handed out an assist, but also committed two fouls on three-point attempts. Freshmen will be freshmen, but Chatman has to start cutting down on some of those freshman mistakes.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal had two open jumpers early and missed them both and by the second half he wasn’t even considering shooting them. He struggled with Minnesota’s physical bigs inside a bit, but did manage to grab four defensive rebounds. The key for Donnal is hitting that pick-and-pop jumper because if it isn’t falling, it throws off Michigan’s spacing when he’s on the floor.
- Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt grabbed two offensive rebounds in three minutes, but he was on the floor with a lot of other bench players and the team struggled during that first half stretch.