Michigan gave Wisconsin everything it could handle on Saturday evening, but the Badgers had too much talent despite Derrick Walton’s heroics down the stretch.
“We’re learning about competing,” John Beilein said after the Wolverines lost in overtime to the No. 4 ranked Badgers. “And we’re going to get better at it.”
There’s no denying Michigan’s fight after this one. The Wolverines fell behind by seven points early before battling back to take the lead. They fell behind by 11 points in the second half, but managed to tie the game. When Wisconsin responded with another 7-0 run, Michigan didn’t pack up its bags and go home. Instead it scrapped, clawed and stayed just close enough for a Derrick Walton three to tie the game with one second to play.
A final 6-0 Wisconsin run in overtime was enough to sink the Wolverines once and for all, but Michigan deserved the round of applause it got from the home fans after a tough, but encouraging loss.
Playing in just its second game without its best player, Michigan appeared to answer once and for all that, at least at home, it is capable of playing with the league’s best. All 11 Wolverines played for the second consecutive game and nine of them made a basket in the loss.
It’s not ‘next man up’ for Michigan, it’s ‘all hands on deck’.
For Michigan, 1.10 points per trip felt like an offensive explosion when it would have been a below average outing for last year’s group, which averaged 1.17 points per trip in league play.
The Wolverines had been held under a point per possession for the last three games and finally found some scoring against a Wisconsin defense that probably deserves more criticism than it has received and has been protected by a ridiculous offense. For Michigan, it was a major victory to be able to battle the Badgers shot for shot for 40 minutes, but it took some impressive individual efforts. The Wolverines rebounded 37% of their misses, but were only able to turn 11 offensive rebounds into 16 second chance points.
The primary concern for Michigan continues to be poor passing. Michigan’s offense played well because it was able to hit some big shots, the majority of which came off of driving or contested efforts. The Wolverines still missed the roll-man countless times on the ball screen, only 8 of 23 made field goals were assisted on the night, and nobody on the roster recorded more than two assists.
It’s only one game, but I think Michigan’s lineup and rotation needs tweaking. The Wolverines got off to dreadful starts in the first and second halves with a starting lineup of Spike Albrecht, Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins and Ricky Doyle. That might have been the best group of players to surround Caris LeVert, but it’s not the best group of players to put on the floor without him.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Kameron Chatman both made positive impacts when they were on the floor. Abdur-Rahkman gives Michigan another creator and a (developing) shooter, more importantly he provides a spark defensive with his length. Beilein admitted in his post game that Abdur-Rahkman is gaining his trust and that he would consider moving him into the lineup going forward. Aubrey Dawkins has a clear role on this team, but he’s too one-dimensional at times to be on the floor at the same time as Irvin.
Going forward, juggling these combinations and combining slashers with shooters and vice-versa could help balance the offense and prevent some of the long field goal droughts that have plagued the Wolverines.
Defensively, it felt like a surprise when the Wolverines were able to get a stop. Wisconsin’s offense is elite and Michigan was facing mismatches across the frontcourt. The result was 1.18 points per trip for Wisconsin — a mark which is somehow below their conference average.
Michigan simply couldn’t play man defense against the Badgers. Wisconsin’s size inside of Kaminsky, Dekker and Hayes almost always resulted into a switch to a smaller defender. Some Wolverines battled (and some better than others), but it was generally a losing proposition. The Wolverines countered by playing different defenses, the most successful of which was the 2-3 zone.
The 2-3 zone did slightly better because it generally forced somewhat contested jumpshots or at least congested attempts around the rim. Wisconsin got a few easy looks (usually thanks to impressive baseline passing by Nigel Hayes), but by the naked eye Michigan’s zone showed some promise. I like some of the wrinkles that Beilein has worked into it by switching the guards at the top (and having them scrape down into the paint) and having the wings ‘bump’ more aggressively on passes to the wing. Wisconsin is probably the most difficult team to zone in the league, but Michigan is going to need every defensive wrinkle it can muster for the rest of the Big Ten slate.
Michigan’s game plan for surviving in a world without Caris LeVert is clear: slow the game down and fight like hell. The Wolverines are averaging just 54.5 possessions per 40 minutes since losing LeVert and don’t seem to have any plans of speeding the game up. Michigan isn’t always going to have the energy of a primetime ESPN GameDay crowd, but this loss should still provide some confidence going forward – even if players and coaches refused to take any credit for a moral victory.
Next up is a Nebraska team that might play more comfortably into Michigan’s gameplan than the Badgers. Nebraska isn’t always going to take the best shot and isn’t going to make nearly as many shots, even open ones, as Wisconsin. If the Wolverines can continue to improve offensively, they should have a chance to knock off a Nebraska team which just beat Michigan State at home.
- Derrick Walton: Walton is a fighter and he continues to emerge as a leader. His buzzer-beater, late free throws and hard drives to the basket gave Michigan a chance to win down the stretch – and he did it all on a bum toe. He’s clearly not himself athletically, but he went 39 minutes and finished with 17 points, five rebounds and two assists. Despite his grit and fight, Michigan still needs more out of Walton offensively. His five turnovers were of the maddening variety and they were mistakes that Michigan can’t have if it’s going to win games. Walton is still figuring out how to be ‘the man’ without LeVert and this was a better performance than the last outing, but I’m guessing he’ll be watching a lot of film over the next 48 hours.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin’s progress isn’t going to come easily, but he kept Michigan in the game in the second half and was the only reason it had a chance down the stretch. He made some huge shots, even driving to the rim, but the highlight for me was when he recorded two assists on three possessions in the second half. I’ve criticized his 28 career assists on Twitter, but those were two of the best half court assists that Irvin has recorded at Michigan – a pick and roll dime to Donnal and a drive and kick to Abdur-Rahkman.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: As noted above, it might be time to move Abdur-Rahkman into the starting lineup. He was +6 on the night and hit huge shots all night. He was able to drive to the hole and finish, knocked in a three and even buried a step-back three late. He’s a plus-player on defense and he’s shown the little bit of dog in him that Michigan needs from the backcourt. He’s also the closest thing that Michigan has to a LeVert-style of player offensively with his isolation ability, ball screen ability and ability to finish at the rack.
- Kameron Chatman: This was Chatman’s best game in quite some time. He finished with 2 points and three rebounds in 22 minutes and really seemed to give Michigan a lift. His body type is better suited for guarding playing like Dekker and Hayes (even if it’s not ideal) and he added a putback for good measure. His other attempt was an under-the-rim driving scoop shot, but at least it was an aggressive move that led to a putback.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins finished with 3 points, three rebounds, two assists and a block in 24 minutes in an otherwise quiet game. His biggest flaw is his tendency to not box out his man on the weak side of the zone and it hurt Michigan a few times on the evening. His stroke (1 of 3 today) and athleticism (a nice big block) are still encouraging.
- Max Bielfeldt: Max is undersized, but he can run the offense, move the ball and play physically. He was 4 of 6 from the floor for nine points, with five rebounds (three offensive) in just 13 minutes. Michigan started to go to some two big lineups with Max at the four down the stretch and I wouldn’t be against that going forward against bigger more physical teams.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle only played four minutes in the first half, but finished with 4 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes. Most impressive to me was watching him sink two free throws when Michigan was trying to come back down the stretch (although it would have been nice if he finished the gimmie). He grabbed four rebounds on a the night and his three second half defensive boards were three of the strongest rebounds he’s pulled down at Michigan.
- Mark Donnal: Over the next two months, it’s important to celebrate the little things – especially for some of Michigan’s players that have struggled early. Donnal played one of his best 12 minute stretches of the year this season, finishing with 6 points on 3 of 5 shooting and three rebounds. He had a strong offensive rebound, he knocked down a turnaround jumper and didn’t get pushed around nearly as much as you’d expect for a player facing Wisconsin for the first time.
- Spike Albrecht: Spike hit a circus shot runner when it looked like Michigan might never score early in the game, but his three-point stroke is missing in action. Beilein mentioned that he thinks he’s still under the weather a bit, but he’s now missed his last 11 three-point attempts since going 4 of 5 from deep at Purdue. Albrecht clearly isn’t right and if he can get healthy (leg, lungs, etc.) he could help play some of that facilitator role for the offense.