Game 20: Wisconsin at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt
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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’.

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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.

Wisconsin 69, Michigan 64 - #20

Player Bullets:

  • 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.
  • Tom

    Dylan, I am curious what Chatman’s plus minus was on the day as we always seemed to catch up when he was in (besides OT). He didn’t do a lot offensively but defensively he seemed to be in the right position all day and not responsible for many points besides a foul on Kaminsky in OT. All in all an encouraging performance for him and the majority of the guys on the team.

  • Richmond_Eric

    Really enjoyed watching the team compete in this game. Got me thinking that by B1G tourney time perhaps they will have a run in them? Max was a huge difference maker in the first half with his effort on the offensive glass. I wasam concerned that I thought I saw DWjr limping at the end of the game.

  • arsenal926

    I had a blast at this game. Thought the crowd was really into it and just seemed like an all around better atmosphere (lack of negativity) than the rest of the home games this year. That being said, I could say the same thing about the Michigan-Penn State football game this year. For one night everything was all good, and I’m really glad the players got to play in such a hyped up game. Difference with this team is there is a noticeable gain in player development over the course of the season.

  • Chris De Sana

    Great points on Walton and have little doubt he has a very high ceiling in running this team; the one downside of Walton is that he continues to struggle in delivering an accurate and timely pass on the PNR (other than of course the one he delivered to Doyle). As he gets healthier he will trend towards Trey Burke’s ability to get to the rim.
    – Irvin has made progress in expanding his game, more work needs to be done for sure on his handle but I like the fact that he is putting the ball on the floor more often and is willing to take the mid range jumper. Also unlike Walton he seems to deliver a pretty good pass coming off of the curl cut PNR.
    – MAAR continues to make huge improvements that mirror his expanded playing time. Just my opinion but he should take over many of Spike’s minutes as he is an actual threat to drive to the basket or hit the open jumper.
    – Max just seems to have a nose for the ball and had a great game; hard to ignore his physical limitations and how much he seems to get out of what he has to offer.
    – Doyle and Donnal continue to gain confidence as well as understanding of what their roles should be; agree with the broadcast that the BIGS are often open on the PNR but the ball often seems late or never comes at all leading to turnovers or circus shots. If the PNR is going to be a main stay of this offense the delivery of the pass has to get better. As mentioned above maybe the action should come from the wing and a taller player to go over the top rather than a bounce pass through traffic?
    – Spike needs to realize that over penetration along the baseline is now well scouted and he gets in more trouble doing it. Also if he is no threat to shoot the open jumper MAAR needs to take some of those minutes.
    All in all a great effort but the game was one that could have been won.

  • Justin

    In other news jaylen brown did not visit yesterday. He had another prior commitment and had to reschedule. This hurts because the atmosphere was great and team played so hard. Would have been nice to get brown to see it in person. He reminds me of the Devin booker situation with family here and we know how that ended.

  • Justin

    Also it would be great if someone looked this up. When was the last time that neither michigan school ( um and msu) failed to make the tourney in the same year?

    The decline in hs talent across michigan hasn’t helped especially izzo. This state used to have some of the best basketball talent. Then the recession hit and several families moved south. Hurt msu more than um it appears. Now Chicago and Indiana are best spots for talent for these two teams even though both are getting the occasional michigan player.

    • MAZS

      I agree that there seems to be a dip in the talent pool in Michigan in recent years. But I question that the recession has anything to do with it. Indiana’s economy is markedly worse than Michigan’s—33rd to Michigan’s 17th–per Business Insider. That said, both Indiana and Chicago have stronger basketball heritages than Michigan.

      • Justin

        I’m not saying today. I lived in michigan all my life up until the last two years and the economy was awful from like 2006 to 2010. I think lots of families left during that time to Nashville, carolinas, atl and other southern spots for good reason because the state didn’t have jobs. I think we are now feeling it. Hopefully in 5 to ten years it comes back. The last time we had a lot of top level talent in the state seems to be Malik Hairston joe Crawford days

        • MAZS

          Michigan’s population in 2000 and 2010 and 2013 are almost exactly the same. There was a slight bubble in 2006. Even then, the difference is 1 1/2%—not really enough to account for much. Look I agree that the Michigan high school basketball pool has dipped of late, I just don’t see population loss being a factor.

  • Nick

    Can someone explain to me why DJ Wilson isn’t playing if he’s healthy? A redshirt only makes sense if you think he’s going to stay for 4 more years. Does anyone really think that with DJ’s size/skill set and the way they develop players that he’s not going to be ready for some type of professional ball (NBA/ D league/ Europe) in 3 years ? I’m beyond confused. I love the coaching staff but I’m worried this is the second red shirt decision they’ve bungled in the past two years (should have red shirted Dakich last year).

    • He was just cleared to practice full court this week. Tough to even guess how far behind he is given how much practice time he has missed.

      • Nick

        That’s fine but I thought Beiein said he wouldn’t play him unless he would play at least 10 minutes a game or something. And that makes no sense to me.

        • Why doesn’t it make sense? If there’s no role that he’s ready to play, then why burn the redshirt.

          • Nick

            It doesn’t make any sense because:
            1. As stated above, he’ll most likely not come back for a 5th year
            2. Just because you’re not averaging 10 minutes a game doesn’t mean you can’t contribute or there isn’t a role to play
            3. Any playing time will help his development.

          • MAZS

            Dylan presents numerous explanations. I’ll just emphasize that your assumption the DJ won’t be staying 4 years is flightful.. I love the kid’s attitude on the sidelines and his upside as a player, but he remains a project in many ways. Wasting a possible 4th year for a few minutes this year would be crazy. And the reason Dakich wasn’t red-shirted his freshman year is obvious–he was never expected to be a contributor–he’s a walk-on. He (not Beilein) initially asked to red-shirt this year because he wants the option of playing a 5th year at another (much smaller–very likely Division II) school. Beilein is trying to accommodate Dakich. There was no bungling whatsoever.

          • Nick

            Recent history with Michigan Top 100 Recruits suggests that he will not stay for 4 more years. DJ wasn’t a two star recruit. Barring injuries, the thought of him staying him 4 years seems unrealistic.

            I also really like Dakich and think the coaches will be kicking themselves for not red shirting him his freshmen year. If you watched Dakich’s interview on Friday, he says his goal is to play basketball at Michigan, not transfer to a small school his 5th year. With that type of pedigree, it seems haphazard to think he will not develop into a nice player by his 5th year. Of course, they could still red shirt him next year or the year after, but his freshmen year would have been ideal.

            Perhaps I’m too high on these players. Time will tell.

  • gobluemd16

    So much effort, so much fight out of the team last night. Maybe it was just because of the atmosphere, gameday, etc. but that was about as well as we could have reasonably expected Michigan to play against a top 5 Wisconsin. Of course we could have shot better, had certain players play a bit better, but overall it was extremely encouraging moving forward for the rest of the season. Hopefully we continue to see growth in MAAR, Donnal, and Kam, who I thought all played well tonight. Zak was about the only one I was disappointed with. As Dylan has mentioned numerous times, he has very low assist numbers. It always seems like he either looks to see if he has a shot, or just pass it back to one of the guards. I hope he can improve and learn to set up some of his teammates. All in all, a great day and exciting game for Michigan.

  • mikey_mac

    I’m very impressed with MAAR’s development, and I think he needs to take most of Spike’s minutes. Spike can be a calming veteran presence or a spark in short stints, but his limitations, especially defensively, can’t be covered up by the rest of the team. MAAR can finish at the rim, is hitting open shots, and has such an advantage athletically over Spike.