Game 2: Elon at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan broke the sort of sweat that it needed to before it enters the heart of its difficult non-conference schedule.

The Wolverines always felt like they were in control on Monday evening, but for the first 15 minutes, Elon hung tough. The Phoenix even scratched their way to a lead midway through the first half and kept the deficit in single digits throughout most of the opening 20 minutes. The Wolverines stretched their lead to 10 points by halftime, and in the end the result was never in question, but John Beilein and his coaching staff had a chance to see how their team reacted to a competitive game against a well-coached team.

The biggest lesson of the night was that Michigan’s point guard woke up.

We haven’t seen the real Derrick Walton since he limped off the floor at the Barclay’s Center last November. We saw a shell of him as he battled through injuries his sophomore year, but his breakout performance tonight felt like a major step in the right direction.

For a team that’s still trying to figure out how its deep roster of wing players and scorers fits together, there’s nothing more important than a point guard to get them the ball in the right spots. Walton picked apart the Elon defense in the half court to the tune of seven assists, he created and made a handful of late shot-clock shots off the dribble and continued to be devastating in transition.

He was completely in control of the game and Michigan’s offense cruised to 88 points in 67 possessions.

elon factors final

The Wolverines shot the lights out — 51% on twos, 52% on threes for a 63 eFG% — and the offense had great flow overall. 20 of Michigan’s 31 makes were assisted and the Wolverine offense created plenty of easy looks around the basket. Walton and Robinson did the heavy lifting with 11 made threes, but six other Wolverines found their way to the score sheet. Michigan won the peripheral battles for points off of turnovers and in transition and even won the glass on the night despite some nervous moments.

While we’ve spent so much time worrying about trimming down the rotation, the beauty of this offense might be that they have too many scorers to rely on anyone. Against Northern Michigan, it was Caris LeVert and Aubrey Dawkins carrying the load. Tonight, it was Derrick Walton and Duncan Robinson. The fact that Michigan’s offense could score 1.35 points per possession in a game where Zak Irvin missed all five shots he took and Caris LeVert had just 11 points is a scary sign of what can happen when everything is clicking.

Defensively, there are holes to plug. Elon’s motion offense presented some unique challenges, but it would be more encouraging to hold a team projected near the bottom half of the CAA below a point per possession. Elon rebounded only 29% of its misses on the night, but the rebounding felt far more tenuous than that as there were too many rebounds that landed on the ground or turned into scrums. The Wolverines also seemed to struggle with the new officiating points of emphasis as they were whistled for 22 fouls and Walton, LeVert, Doyle and Wilson were all whistled for at least three, resulting in 18 free throws for the Phoenix.

It was nice to see the Michigan offense break out ahead of Friday’s challenge against Xavier. The Musketeers will be a major step up in competition for a group that won’t face many easy games in the coming weeks as they travel to the Bahamas, Raleigh, NC, and Dallas, TX in the next four weeks.

Michigan 88, Elon 68-10

Player Bullets

  • Derrick Walton: I’ve written more times than I can count that I’m waiting to see a more aggressive version of Derrick Walton. That’s about as good of a game as we can see from Walton. Dominant on both ends and in transition, shooting the ball extremely well, hitting shot clock shots, finding guys for open jumpers. Beilein made a great point in his post game about how Walton is getting his shoulders turned toward the basket in the half court and how he’s looking to attack off the bounce.
  • Caris LeVert: I thought LeVert got caught in a few old habits early in the first half, but on an off-night he finished with 11 points, seven assists, four steals and four rebounds. There are understandably high standards for LeVert (most guys can’t make the baseline drive and finish that he pulled off in the second half), but just like we’ll see for Walton and Irvin returning from injury there’s going to be a feeling out process. He moved the ball well and probably would have had a few more assists if his bigs could finish.
  • Duncan Robinson: Just keep on shooting, Duncan. If you make every shot that you take, you probably need to take more shots. Any open shot for Duncan Robinson is a great end to a possession. Five threes on five attempts is a sign of a special shooter — but there’s major work to be done defensively. Robinson struggled on the defensive end again as he struggled to get out on shooters or defend off the bounce.
  • Aubrey Dawkins: It appears that Duncan Robinson and Dawkins will be in a constant shoot out for playing time. Both guys are capable of scoring 20 points and hitting 4 or 5 threes and in 25 minutes and tonight Robinson’s hot hand limited Dawkins to 22 minutes.
  • DJ Wilson: Wilson hit a three early and finished an alley-oop on a roll to the hoop — a welcome sign in the first half with Michigan’s other bigs struggling to finish. His versatility continues to impress, but there are still times he’s too weak to play the five or a little bit too awkward at the four. Beilein said after the game that he “struggled in a few other areas” and he still has the tendency to try to do just a bit too much when he’s on the floor.
  • Zak Irvin: Irvin missed all five shots he took, but still made a positive contribution. That’s something we never would have written at the start of last year, but Irvin made an impact with his passing (3 assists) and defense. He’ll round into form as the season wears on, but it was about as encouraging as an 0-of-5 performance can be.
  • Moritz Wagner: John Beilein wants to whittle his big man rotation down to two or three and I just can’t see how Wagner doesn’t eventually find his way into that group. He plays with fire, he’s aggressive, we know he has some skill and he’s up to 231 pounds. He drew a charge (causing him to the leave the floor bloodied) and forced a turnover with active hands on a hedge in just seven minutes.
  • Ricky DoyleDoyle had a disappointing first half and an encouraging second. He finished with 8 points and three boards in 13 minutes on the night and seemed to play with a lot more aggression on both ends in the final twenty minutes, even finishing a nice post up move.
  • Kameron Chatman: Chatman scored 6 points on 3 of 8 shooting in 17 minutes and looked most comfortable around the middle of the court where he hit a mid-range jumper and had a strong take to the hoop. He shot the three with confidence, but missed all of his attempts. He’s going to need to elevate his game over the next few weeks because Zak Irvin is returning and both Robinson and Dawkins can flat out shoot it.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman had a great hesitation dribble and finish in the first half and dished out an assist to Dawkins for a monster slam to close out the game. He gives Michigan an additional element, but only saw eight minutes of playing time in the win.
  • Mark Donnal: Donnal got the start again, but he struggled to finish around the rim. He was 2 of 4 from the floor and missed a pair of bunnies en route to 6 points and two rebounds in 15 minutes. Donnal seems to do a great job of rolling open and catching the ball, but he needs to finish much better because this Elon team wasn’t particularly great at defending the paint. It’s only going to get more difficult from here.
  • Spike Albrecht: Albrecht played 10 minutes on the night and missed his only field goal attempt, a three from the wing. He handed out an assist, grabbed a steal and took a charge in an otherwise quiet evening.
  • JJ3ball

    Agree with you. Nice recap.
    How can Wagner not play. He might be limited by foul trouble as he adjusts to the physicality of the game, but he’s not backing down to anybody.
    I think Wagner’s leadership by example is rubbing off on Doyle. Doyle was much more assertive tonight. ( I only saw the second half of tonight’s game).

  • JJ3ball

    For anybody: Why did Coach Beilein make the statement pondering about what other positions Robinson could play? Does he think Robinson can play 3 and 4? Can he rebound enough to play the 4? I’m assuming Robinson will struggle defensively at 3 or 4, but feel he has no chance defensively at 2. Robinson has to play and will but I’m having a hard time visualizing him guarding anybody.

    • He’s talked about Robinson as an option at the three, four and two in the past. I think position is an offensive word honestly in terms of what combinations you can put out there and still run the offense. At this point you are basically going to have to hide him defensively against any opponent… His size at least makes that possible I think. He’s actually rebounded decently, not what I’m as worried about.

      • JJ3ball

        Offensively he’s a great fit. Doesn’t need the ball to be a threat (sorta like Jabril Peppers without the athleticism :)
        He’s a smart kid; he’s going to have to figure out the opponents tendencies and use them to his advantage to have any chance defensively. Or… Maybe we wifi see some zone when Robinson’s in the game.

        • I have generally hated the 1-3-1 zone, but with a 30 second shot clock and the amount of length that U-M has… maybe this is the year it works.

          • Kman23

            When Doyle is sitting we might want to go 1-3-1. The length of a LeVert, Robinson, Wagner, Wilson top 4 is scary long. Let Walton help out the rebounding and that might be a solid defense actually. Opponents can’t shoot over them or pass around them. Basically they’d need to drive on them and having a compact 1-3-1 cuts off those routes.

    • John miller

      There’s no way he can defend a strong 4 or a quick 2. With Irvin and Levert most likely seeing 35 minutes a night, the worst player in the opposing team at the 2,3 and 4 spot will be shadowed by Robinson. He really can’t guard much of anybody at this point. Zone may be an option while he is out there but if he gets hot like last night and demands more time, playing zone a long time isn’t what beilein likes to do. It’ll be interesting. It’s clear, whomever is hitting shots between him and Dawkins is going to play more.

      • If you play Caris, Zak and Aubrey around 30-32 minutes per game… You can start to see where Duncan could fill the majority of the minutes where one of those three is on the bench and end up around 20. That’s where the multi-positional aspect comes into play.

  • DetroitDan

    7 proven players plus Robinson. 4 players with a legitimate shot to play the 9th spot in the rotation.

    The weak spot last year was that we had only 2 guards for most of the B1G season. We fell behind when MAAR got in foul trouble. This year we have Walton, LeVert, Albrecht, and MAAR. That is a huge difference. Plus adding Robinson to the wings will prove enormous, as it did tonight. We would have been losing at halftime without Robinson.

    With the addition of Wilson and Wagner, our depth at center will be improved.

  • MGoTweeter

    Was slightly concerned going into this game but pleasantly surprised leaving the game. Obviously when two guys shoot like that, it’s a good start. But I thought the defense overall looked pretty good. There were definitely breakdowns (particularly closing out on shooters) and some issues on the glass, but that was a pretty good offensive team that made a lot of contested shots. the biggest adjustment Michigan probably has to make is the officials, but I cannot imagine many games being called as tight as this one was especially once big ten play starts.

    Walton looked better than I have ever seen. Even without the threes, he made several terrific passes through or above traffic and generally looked aggressive every time he got the ball. Levert probably played better than I gave him credit for in the game thread but the ball is still sticking too much with him early in the clock. I’d like to see him be more decisive early in shot clocks and save the multi dribble hesitation moves for late clock situations.

    The five spot right now is anybody’s guess. Donnal looked solid against nmu but not so much tonight. Doyle looks good in spurts but still seems to have a hard time maintaining his level of play. Wilson looks more comfortable playing as a four where he can spot up for threes or slash inside from the backside. Wagner hasn’t played enough yet to show me he is ready for starter minutes. I really think this is going to be a rotating door maybe all the way into big ten play.

    I do think the 1-3-1 which has been a disaster the last couple years needs to be dusted off and tried at some point. With the new shot clock and the overall length/athleticism on this team, it might be a real weapon.

    • gobluemd16

      Agree with all of the above, especially the Levert point. Who would you like to see start on Friday? Is Zak ready to be playing starters minutes yet? I would prefer any of the other 3 centers start over Mark, but I doubt that happens since nobody distinguished themselves.

  • Good stuff all around in this discussion guys. I’m really excited to see how the game on Friday goes. Think it’ll be a big barometer ahead of the Bahamas trip.

    This team has a lot of offensive weapons and we’re starting to see them click I think. There’s been definite improvement over the last three games.

  • MChem83

    Still very concerned about our bigs. It doesn’t seem like we have anyone capable of a good rebounding performance, nobody with sure hands and good positioning. And despite the touting of Wilson’s defense, he has so far not struck me as a natural shot blocker. Even though he’s still raw, it’s not hard for me to imagine Wagner passing everyone else up by the end of the year. He seems to have more energy and aggressiveness, and I like the way he handles the ball. Even though we’ve done well in the past with only average rebounding and defense, it puts a ton of pressure on the offense to be ultra-efficient, and on nights when our three point shooting isn’t this good, we will really struggle to beat good teams.

  • Chezaroo

    I thought Doyle showed some positive things in the second half. He is the outlier in our center by committee this year. If he can continue to make small improvements, that will be this teams best chance to reach its ceiling. I’m sorry guys, Wilson is not a 5. He’ll get ate up in the B1G, far to weak. As far as Donnal, he’s Donnal. Wagner, spot minutes of necessity will be his contribution. C’mon Ricky grab the opportunity and run with it! We NEED you.

    • MChem83

      Hard to disagree about Wilson, but we got what we got. So far Doyle has not played like a guy who’s going to pull 25-30 minutes a night, so unless Wagner breaks out much better and faster than expected, I’m not sure how you keep Wilson out of the mix at the 5, ideal or not. We’ll just have to cobble together the best rotation we can and keep our fingers crossed. Some nights it may get ugly.

  • tenz

    I would love to see a big line up! Beiline has flirted with the idea of using Caris at the 1 on the team that went to the championship game and I would love for him to use this same strategy this year. If Caris played the 1 we would have a large lineup with multiple scoring options with Robinson and Dawkins in the game! Plus it would solve one of our issues at the current time….rebounding. We could have a more aggressive Walton coming off the pench.

    • Walton is arguably one of the best rebounders on the team…

    • John miller

      Walton is the best rebounder on the team if not second. How in the world would you go forward without him out there, that’s crazy.

  • MrLG

    All good. But Dylan, it sure would be nice if you had a box score with the recap.

    • We had one in the last one… Do people like this format?

      • MrLG

        Yes, I noticed that you had a box score for NMU and I appreciated it. That format is fine, but really just about anything with minutes, rebounds, TO’s, steals and, of course, points is fine.

        • We want to include them in the Final Horn post, but had a trouble getting the minutes in there. Will hopefully get that fixed.

  • three_goggles

    Pretty good offensive game, lots of thoughts going forward:

    1) Can’t imagine there’s many teams with better play on the perimieter than us. Walton, Aubrey, Duncan, Caris, Zak are all capable of going for 20 any night, Spike and MAAR have showed positive signs and even Kam looks far better than last year, really like when he catches in the middle, he can pass anywhere and the game looks to have slowed down for him a little.
    2) That being said, our bigs are just so underwhelming. Donnal has just got to finish better, plain and simple. Doyle is the most productive but his tendency to foul & conditioning problems clearly hold him back. Wilson plays like a shooting guard, I like his talent but he has no interest in banging down low or utilizing his size and he drifts to the perimeter far too much for a 5. Liked what I saw from Moritz, hope he cracks the three-man rotation Beilein is talking about.
    3) The more I watch this team, the more I understand the Austin Davis/Teske signings back to back. With the talent coming back from the wings/guards, all we need is a productive big to be a great team. If it’s not anyone on this roster, maybe it’s Teske or Davis next year.
    4) I expect the rotation will be trimmed by Friday, and I’d love to see it shake out as follows:

    G: Walton (30) Spike (10)
    G: Caris (30) Duncan (10)
    F: Zak (25) Kam (15)
    F: Aubrey (25) Duncan (15)
    C: Doyle (20) Wilson (10) Moritz (10)

    Get Zak up to 30 when he’s fully healthy. Friday can’t come soon enough!

    • MChem83

      Frankly, I think we’re going to want 32-35 minutes each from at least two, if not three of Walton/LeVert/Dawkins/Irvin. With spotty production from our bigs, we’ll need our best guard/wing talent out there as much as possible.

      • three_goggles

        Yeah, I’d be fine with those 30s being closer to 35s. I am hoping Duncan can get close to 25/30 minutes somehow though on the wing. Him just being on the floor will create so much more space for Levert/Walton/Zak once healthy to create.