Five Key Plays: Xavier at Michigan

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan suffered its first loss of the season on Friday evening as Xavier marched into the Crisler Center and left with a double-digit victory. Here are Five Key Plays plays from the loss, which was a tight game until the final 10 minutes.

1. Xavier closes the first half strong

The final four minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second half are a fixture in Five Key Plays. These stretches can swing the game dramatically and we saw a great example of that on Friday night against Xavier. Both teams played a fairly even game for the first 17 or 18 minutes of play, featuring seven ties and six lead changes, but somehow the Musketeers went to the locker room with a nine point lead.

The sequence of events was especially backbreaking for the Wolverines. First Jalen Reynolds hit a desperation turnaround jumper at the shot clock buzzer. The play was reviewed and upheld, but it’s tough to understand what the officials saw as the ball clearly looks to still be in Reynolds’ hand with the shot clock at zero.


But dealt one bad break, Michigan turned it into a few more. The Wolverines sent Xavier to the free throw line five times in the final minute of the game including a backbreaking foul by Caris LeVert when he bit on Myles Davis’ pump fake with three seconds to play.

“(Xavier) had a really experienced team that knows how to win. A perfect example is the end of the first half,” Beilein said after the loss. “That’s just classic incredibly smart basketball where you shot fake a three and get three (free throws) when the only thing we want to do is make sure that we contest a three. Caris very rarely makes those mistakes, but that’s who they are.”

2. Duncan Robinson brings Michigan within two

Caris LeVert was 5-of-8 from three-point range on Friday night while his teammates were a combined 5-of-14 as only Duncan Robinson was able to make more than one triple on the night. Robinson provided an instant spark of offense with this three-point barrage and he should have had one more sandwiched in the middle.

We’ve talked about how effective of a weapon Robinson can be coming off the bench and he’s already made seven of ten three-point attempts through three games. He’ll continue to become more of a shot hunter, but his shooting ability will undoubtedly be critical in more games this year.

The backbreaking play in this sequence was perhaps the illegal screen by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. That broke up a great offensive set and delivery from Caris LeVert and cost Michigan three-points on the scoreboard. The moving screen is a point of emphasis this season and Abdur-Rahkman certainly appears to be shuffling his feet.

The shot wouldn’t have tied the game as Beilein remarked afterward, but it could have led to the Wolverines holding the lead after Robinson’s next make.

“We hit the three that there was an illegal screen on that maybe would have tied the game,” Beilein said afterward. “Who knows if that changes things, but then we’re back to six and it’s immediately nine after some stuff maybe we couldn’t control.”

3. Remy Abell answers

Once it had a solid lead, Xavier seemed to have every answer when Michigan would draw close. Whether it was experience, toughness or just a good game, the Musketeers made the winning plays on Friday night and Michigan didn’t. After Duncan Robinson’s hot shooting brought Michigan within two points, former Indiana Hoosier Remy Abell answered quickly with a deep three-pointer.

This defensive breakdown falls on Caris LeVert, who falls asleep just long enough to get caught in a (moving) screen by Xavier big man James Farr. LeVert can’t break through the screen and Abell buries the deep three against Michigan’s 2-3 zone to stretch the lead back to five points.

“The play that specifically sticks out is I think they cut it to (two) and they went back into a 2-3 (zone). We ran a little zone set and freed up our fifth-year senior who has been in this building, he’s been in Big Ten games,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack explained. “For Remy Abell to knock down that three from the wing it just sort of told our team that hey we’re here to stay all the way through the end and I think it told Michigan that too.”

4. LeVert cuts lead, Xavier answers agains

Michigan managed to cut the game to two-points a few plays later when Caris LeVert buried a three-pointer against Xavier’s rendition of the 1-3-1 zone. LeVert freed himself up with some nice two-man passing action with Derrick Walton before using a subtle ball fake — a killer against the 1-3-1 zone — to look off Edmond Sumner and shoot the three over Jalen Reynolds. LeVert buried the shot, bringing life into the Crisler Center once again.

But once again, Xavier had the answer. Michigan also opts to play 1-3-1 zone on the ensuing defensive possession and the gamble doesn’t pay off. Duncan Robinson bites on a pass fake near midcourt which allows Edmond Sumner to penetrate the left wing of the Wolverine 1-3-1 zone (a common occurrence all night). Sumner draws three Wolverines and finds JP Macura open on the wing where he’s able to knock down the three-pointer over Derrick Walton.

5.  Xavier ices the game with hustle

Xavier would start to pull away after Macura’s three, but it was this possession that seemed to do Michigan in once and for all. The Musketeers appeared to be the tougher and hungrier team for most of the night and this multiple offensive rebound possession was symbolic of that trend. JP Macura starts this possession out with a questionable miss over Zak Irvin, who thinks that he’s going to grab an easy rebound.

Irvin doesn’t chase the ball and appears content to let it bounce right to him while Macura had other intentions. Macura out-hustles Irvin to the ball and then dishes off to Trevon Bluiett who plays volleyball on the backboard a few times before finally drawing a foul and knocking in two free throws.

“Some balls bounced their way, but it was a fair share of equal opportunity balls out there,” junior point guard Derrick Walton said after the loss. “We knew it coming  in, it’s just we have to be a lot more nasty and tougher when the ball is out there in the air and is anybody’s ball, we’ve gotta make sure we are those guys that come up with it.”

  • JJ3ball

    Ugh that was ugly.
    What did Coach Beilein say was issue number one?
    “We have to get stops, We have to get stops, We have to get stops”. I think he was including rebounds in his definition of stops.
    Xavier game was a rude awakening in terms of what it takes to win against good teams. We shall see Wednesday how M responds to this beat down.

    • A stop definitely includes a rebound!

      • JJ3ball

        Yeah I guess that’s pretty self evident. Lol.
        How about not letting guys consistently get to the rim on dribble drives?
        Would be nice to see Wilson block a few shots with help side D; I don’t see anybody else on the roster capable of it. Maybe Teske next year can provide some intimidation with his length?

        • I think you look at Teske as a guy that can help with his length and lateral ability and Davis as a guy that can provide some muscle. Are either of them instant impact guys? Maybe by necessity, but probably not by skillset as things stand now.

          • Mark Worthley

            That’s a rather damning assessment of the center position.

  • bobohle

    It’s hard to tell sometimes on tv but does Beilein still have the philosophy of sending 4 men back on defense after the shot goes up leaving one to rebound?

    • Michigan certainly isn’t going to crash the offensive glass against a team like Xavier that was killing it in transition.

      • bobohle

        That was kind of my point if they were getting back defensively.

  • Wayman Britt

    Not much fun watching the 5th key of the game. Key 2: even though MAAR had a moving screen, love the design by Beilein to get Robinson open for a three. I have a feeling we will see a lot more of that play.

  • Corperryale

    Is it a moving screen if the defensive player simply bullies you backwards with sheer strength? I thought the screener had to be the one initiating movement, rather than “being moved” by a bigger, stronger defender. Regardless, not going to lay the blame on MAAR there. Team screwed up so much that this questionable call is minor in comparison. Also, the refs should be disciplined for the no-call on the Xavier shot-clock violation.

    • Mark Worthley

      MAAR should have fallen down.