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.
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.
- 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 Doyle: Doyle 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.