Game 21: Nebraska at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

It took 20 minutes, but Michigan finally looked like Michigan again in the second half of its 14 point home victory over Nebraska. Even if the names and faces were still unfamiliar.

The Wolverines were without Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton and Mark Donnal, 60% of their opening day starting lineup this season, but were still able to knock off the Huskers comfortably with a dominant second half.

Michigan’s starting lineup featured Spike Albrecht, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins and Ricky Doyle. That’s two players who didn’t have a high-major offer when Michigan was playing in the Elite Eight last March. But the Wolverines got it done defensively – holding Nebraska to 44 points in 57 possessions – and found timely contributions from a host of unexpected players.

Zak Irvin grabbed a career high 12 rebounds and tied a career high with three assists. Aubrey Dawkins made five jumpers in the first half to keep the Wolverines afloat in an ugly half. Max Bielfeldt came off the bench to score 12 points and grab nine rebounds in 26 minutes. And Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, in just his second start, scored 9 points in the second half to jumpstart a decisive 12-0 Michigan run.

There were ugly moments – Michigan shot just 29% inside the arc in the first half – but considering the circumstances this was one of Michigan’s most complete performances of the season. The Wolverines hadn’t beaten a high-major opponent by more than eight points this season, so it was surprising to see them snap that streak with a shortened rotation.


Michigan shot almost entirely jumpshots in the first half and was lucky that Aubrey Dawkins and Zak Irvin were able to hit a few. The Wolverines shot just 29% on twos and 63% on threes in the opening frame and didn’t record a single free throw attempt. Michigan led at the half, but overall the first half offensive performance was uninspiring.

In the second half, the Wolverines started clicking. After scoring only two points in the paint in the first, the Wolverines scored 20 points in the paint in the second. Michigan shot 67% on twos in the final 20 minutes and played with a clear focus on getting to the rim.. While the first half featured jump shots, the second half was more about post ups, passes to the roll man, transition offense and even a few free throws.

Michigan also managed to navigate through a 40 minute game without missing more than four shots in a row – avoiding the cold streaks that have plagued it this season. While the offense started clicking, this game was won with defense.

This was Michigan’s best defensive performance against a high-major opponent since it held Wisconsin to .75 points per possession in a 59-41 victory in 2012. Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields combined for 21 points, six turnovers and 2 assists on 5 of 23 shooting. Some of the duo’s struggles were self-inflicted, but Petteway hadn’t been held to single figures since February 5th, 2014 – the last time he traveled to Ann Arbor.

Nebraska missed 25 of its first 32 shots, a span which stretched well into the second half, and Michigan cleaned up the defensive glass consistently against a Husker team that had little interest in crashing for extra chances.

John Beilein’s zone wizardry was in full effect and the Wolverines shuffled between man-to-man, 2-3 zone and 1-3-1 zone defenses yet again. The 2-3 zone was effective overall, but it was the 1-3-1 zone that flummoxed the Huskers.

Beilein went with the 1-3-1 zone out of the halftime break and the result was a 12-0 Michigan run fueled by Nebraska turnovers, poor decisions and easy Wolverine baskets. The zone didn’t just stop Nebraska’s offense, it got Michigan out in a great position to run and they seized the moment.  A 12-0 run is always impressive, but it’s especially decisive when the halftime score was just 23-18.

The Wolverines lead the Big Ten in points allowed per possession nine games into the conference season. twitter

Nebraska didn’t have the corner three-point shooters to make Michigan pay for gambling in the 1-3-1 and didn’t have the discipline to work the ball into good shot attempts. The Wolverine defense hasn’t always been perfect this season, but the Wolverines lead the Big Ten in points allowed per possession nine games into the conference season.

Michigan is 6-3 in league games, but it’s no secret that the Wolverines six wins are over the teams in the bottom six spots in the standings. Now the Wolverines need to go hunting for quality wins. Their first shot will be on Super Bowl Sunday in East Lansing against a Spartan team that has to play Rutgers on Thursday evening.

Michigan 58, Nebraska 44 - #20

Player Bullets:

  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: In the first half, Benny Parker got up in Abdur-Rahkman’s grill and completely took him out of his game. In the second half, he settled down, made adjustments and started to play. The 6-foot-3 freshman took the game over to start the second half with his length, athleticism and ability to finish in transition. All nine of his points came in the second half and he was very disruptive at the top of Michigan’s zone defenses. Abdur-Rahkman is easily Michigan’s best finisher at the rim right now and I suspect that’s an ability that Beilein and his staff will continue to extract as the season wears on.
  • Max Bielfeldt: 12 points and nine rebounds on 6 of 9 shooting, Bielfeldt was dominant. His ability to muscle his way to rebounds was beyond impressive, including his four offensive boards. Michigan isolated him in the post against Pitchford and he scored, he missed a pair of threes so he pump faked and made a mid-range jumper off the dribble. Nebraska isn’t the best low-post team in the conference by any means, but Max has looked very good since LeVert’s injury and gives Michigan a legitimate extra offensive option.
  • Zak Irvin: You don’t have to double check the box score, Irvin actually grabbed 12 rebounds in 38 minutes. Nebraska is not an aggressive offensive rebounding team, but that’s still an encouraging number for Zak, who also showed some improved passing and vision (3 assists) for the second straight game. He also hit a huge mid-range jumper off the dribble through contact that helped ice away in the game in the second half. This was one of Irvin’s most complete games of the season and an encouraging step in the right direction.
  • Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins was the only reason that Michigan was able to hang around in the first half, knocking down 5 of 6 jumpers for 13 points. His no-dribble jump shot is pure and he showed that he can knock down the curl jumper as well as the catch and shoot three. Scary things still tend to happen when Dawkins takes more than one or two dribbles (two turnovers), but it was nice to see him make an effort.
  • Spike Albrecht: Albrecht missed both of his field goal attempts, but finished with seven assists to one turnover as he kept the offense running. He finally started to break some of his tendencies in the second half with a nice lob pass on the high ball screen for an easy basket early and then his beautiful assist to Max Bielfeldt when he didn’t pass the ball to the corner when he drove baseline. His six free throw attempts were also a positive sign of him being more aggressive with the ball with Walton sidelined.
  • Ricky Doyle: Doyle hasn’t seemed quite the same since he went down with that sickness earlier this month. He was 2 of 5 from the floor, but he got his fair share of post up chances, and was a couple steps late on a few defensive rotations. He did draw a charge when stepping in front of a driving Walter Pitchford in the first half.
  • Kameron Chatman: After playing a solid game against Wisconsin, Chatman really struggled against the Huskers. He was 0 of 3 from the floor with 3 turnovers in eight minutes. That’s six empty possessions in eight minutes of clock time.
  • Andrew Dakich: Dakich played eight minutes and mostly held his own and although he didn’t make much of an impact on the stat sheet, playing solid minutes was a luxury with Walton sidelined.
  • rlcBlue

    Doyle didn’t have a great game, but I’d nominate the charge drawn on Pitchford as one of the key plays – did Pitchford attempt to drive again for the rest of the game?

    All in all it was very encouraging to see a bunch of guys beginning to understand what they can and can not do on the court. I just hope the same thing happens for Chatman at some point down the stretch.

    • Can we all agree that Walter Pitchford must be one of the most frustrating players to coach? He loves to jack pick and pop threes but never makes them. He doesn’t really rebound. He describes himself as a 6-foot-10 shooting guard (loved Dak’s quote ‘6-10 shooting guards get coaches fired’). He got dominated on the block by Max Bielfeldt. The dirty plays…

      The frustrating part is that I think he has talent, just can’t bring it consistently.

      • Vince

        Totally agreed. I would sometimes wonder how much is it due to the players own disposition and how much is the coach’s (in)ability to coach player like Pitchford right.

  • Nick

    Man, Kam is really struggling. I would love to see DJ get those minutes!

    • robpollard

      Yep, it’s painful to watch. Hopefully he snaps out of it, if not this season, in the next.

      Usually stars are a good indicator in basketball, but for U of M, MAAR and Dawkins are so much ahead of Chatman right now, it’s not funny.

    • Steve2081

      So would I if DJ had not missed two huge chunks of time due to injury and were actually cleared to play. Throwing away a year of eligibility for 10 games would be silly. Plus I REALLY don’t want to see him out there until he’s got another 20lbs of muscle on his frame.

      • Yep… Just impossible to say where DJ is right now. If he could make a meaningful impact, then sure. But at this point what can you really do to ramp him up when he’s barely played/practiced in A2?

      • Nick

        I’m not going to rehash the whole redshirt thing, but I have to take a stand against you saying he needs another 20 lbs before he should play. Yes, he needs to bulk up, but Levert scored a critical 8 points in a Final Four game when he was paper thin. I know DJ would play 4/5, but still, he’s no skinnier than Donnal IMO.

        • Steve2081

          Levert didn’t play the 4 and have 3 major injuries in 3 years. Levert was also more athletic and more skilled.

          Donnal has been thrown around like a ragdoll for most of the season.

        • DJ showed potential in the early games, but he also looked completely lost. Hard to imagine he caught up by leaps and bounds while sitting out on crutches.

          • Nick

            If this is the reason for not playing him, then I understand and I’m fine with it. I’m less fine if its to preserve the redshirt, and I think the whole “he’s too skinny” narrative is crap. He looks stronger than Chatman and Donnal and is taller too

  • Fresh

    If Kam you are reading this, keep your chin up and stay focused. I think this kid will be really good, that being said….

    He was noticeably pissed when he was taken out after that one particular stretch is the 2nd. This kid is going to look worlds different next year, but its just moving way to fast for him right now

    • We’ve definitely seen guys make that mental and physical leap. I look at his situation very similar to Darius Morris where he steps in and is expected to play a key role and the game is just too fast for him.

      LeVert in many ways also really struggled through his freshman year other than a few critical spots late in the season.

      • rlcBlue

        Because mentioning this after a loss only causes more strife, let me take this opportunity to point out:

        Chatman 18 y 8 m
        Doyle 18 y 9 m
        Wilson 18 y 11 m
        Donnal 19 y 9 m
        Dawkins 19 y 9 m
        Walton 19 y 10 m
        Abdur-Rahkman 20 y 5 m
        LeVert 20 y 5 m
        Irvin 20 y 5 m
        Bielfeldt 21 y 8 m
        Albrecht 22 y 5 m

        MoRock, like Albrecht before him, is the closest thing to a JuCo transfer we may ever see on a Beilein team. Dawkins is virtually a red-shirt freshman. It shouldn’t be surprising that the game would slow down a little sooner for them than for the youngest player on the team. I still have hopes for Chatman turning the corner this year. By the same token, I would have misgivings about burning WIlson’s redshirt for just a handful of games – I suspect he would still be extremely tentative by the time the season ended.

        • Vince

          Great point that most of us missed. Kam is really young and just like Wilson he could really use a red shirt year. I am just rooting for him to keep believing in himself and his coaches and work hard to improve going forward.

        • Steve2081

          I still expect good things from Kam. Just not this season. He desperately needs a summer with Sanderson. He just does not have the strength or explosion to score over defenders with any consistency.

        • Nice summary…. The fact that MAAR and LeVert are the same age is mind boggling.

      • Champswest

        Correct, but what makes it worse for Chatman is that LeVert was surrounded by great players and only needed him to play a supporting role. Kam was highly ranked and everyone was expecting him to supply a huge contribution. You can see some really good things in him that will eventually elevate his game once it all comes together.

      • ChathaM

        I understand those points, but I think you’re comparing apples to oranges. Morris and Levert are NBA caliber athletes. Chatman is not close to that level of athlete.

    • 93Grad

      I hope you are right, but I have not seen anything to suggest he will be even remotely good, let alone “really good.” Every time he touches the ball I cringe knowing that something bad is likely to happen and it usually does. He would have to make one of the biggest leaps ever for a Michigan player just to become serviceable next year.

  • MGoTweeter

    Probably the best half of basketball that Michigan has played this year considering the circumstances of the roster. The biggest thing that continues to stand out to me, is the chippiness that the team has shown the last couple games without Levert. They know they have to battle for everything and although there are still plenty of mistakes and mental errors, it is refreshing to see them taking the fight to the opponent.

    On the individual level, I think we really starting to see Zak Irvin developing into a player. His rebounding tonight obviously stands out, even though it is aided by poor Nebraska shooting. But his passing is what stands out to me over the last two games. Those are plays that we have not seen him make at all over the course of 1 1/2 seasons, and hopefully it’s something that continues to improve. I have been saying all along this year, that with this group it is all about baby steps, Zak has taken a few these last couple games.

    • Champswest

      Michigan has played it’s best games since LeVert went down. It has been a “all hands on deck” mentality. Getting everyone into the game keeps everyone involved and makes it a true team effort. They know that they are going to have to scrap and fight for everything and can’t stand around and wait for the star to bail them out.

  • robpollard

    Props to Irvin. He has really struggled this season, but he needed a productive, stat stuffing game with Levert and Walton out and he delivered. Good job.

    MAAR — big fan. With this team being so offensively challenged, his ability to go to the hoop is essential.

    Minor word-choice note: I would not say Dakich’s eight minutes were a “luxury” ; I would say they were a “necessity” or an “unexpected boost”, due to U of M’s very short, Walton-less bench.

  • MAZS

    Rahkman and Dawkins each had a very good half. And Spike played great the last 10 minutes or so–not so much beforehand. Max was a beast. But I don’t know why Zak isn’t getting his due. Besides the 12 rebounds and 3 assists, he was in control and assertive. Certainly not a cancer.

    On a different note, the attendance was embarrassing. Forget the announced attendance. There were probably 5000 open seats at tip-off and at least 3000 during the heart of the game. Game time is obviously just a “suggestion” for a Michigan basketball crowd. We don’t deserve nice things like good basketball teams unless we start doing our part by showing up. While I have season tickets, I notice that there have been no mini-packages or single game deals this year. I suspect that the tickets are sold, but people are simply not showing. Do you know, Dylan?

    • The biggest swath of empty seats was in the upper deck on the north side. Those are student tickets that were not claimed by students and went for sale to the general public only since Jan. 14. (Alternatively, they were claimed by students who just didn’t show up.)

      Was a bit empty at tipoff for sure though.

      • MAZS

        To be fair to the students though, it seems like they make a good 1/3 of the crowd. There were a good hundred seats empty in Section 105–halfcourt–as there are all games save Wisconsin and Syracuse.

    • robpollard

      UM basketball’s ticket market mystifies me. I have looked a few times at getting tickets on StubHub and very, very rarely do I see a good deal, even if the game (like today) is poorly attended. Do people just not re-sell their tickets and instead eat them? Or do they just rely on face-to-face scalpers (though those guys, too, in my experience are overpriced)?

      • MAZS

        I appreciate that not everyone can come to games for a myriad of reasons. But pricing shouldn’t be one. There are tickets available on Stubhub for Iowa starting at $9.88. Other than Wisconsin and Syracuse, I have seen very little scalping outside Crisler–even then it is usually just the professionals, not extras from season ticketholders. People must simply be eating them.

      • Champswest

        Try to buy a “best seat available” thru UM and you will likely end up in the last row or two of the upper bowl. You can get much better seats through Stub Hub, but will often have to pay high prices. I have long suspected that many season ticket holders cherry pick a few games to attend and then try to sell the rest at high prices to get their money back.

  • Mattski

    Anybody who’s still critical of John Beilein ought to listen to Tim Miles’s post-game presser. Anatomizes the game really really well, praises the crap out of John.

    • Mattski

      Playing the weak teams first may have been a great thing, what with the confidence on the rise, the awareness growing, shots starting to fall. . .

      • It’s definitely a boost… but still would have been nice to grab that SMU win just before conference season.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    I love how Dakich was commentating his son & Max calves lol haha…great win! next man up! Go BLUE!

  • Chris De Sana

    MAAR has huge upside in fact could be that dribble drive person that can not only finish but distribute to those that can shoot it fro beyond the ARC. Not saying he will ever be a Burke but he has some of the same qualities and is longer to boot.
    Dawkins continues to impress and has a high ceiling. Reminds me a lot of THjr early in his career being that he is a very streaky shooter and at times struggles with his handle. But THjr never was as athletic as Dawkins who can jump like GR3.
    The best thing about this game as that our veterans Zak and Max really showed up and true leaders. That needs to continue if we are to make either post season tourney.