Michigan’s defense isn’t fixed, but the Wolverines found their swagger in the Bahamas this week.
Michigan’s 39 effective field goal percentage against UConn was one of its six worst shooting performances since the 2012-13 season and left the Wolverines facing a crisis of confidence. Playing three games in three days, they answered with two of their six best shooting performances in the same span.
Basketball is a pretty simple game that comes down to making shots and Michigan’s shot-makers seemed to remember that they are capable of doing just that. The defense still has plenty of work to do, but the offense proved that it’s capable of being every bit as dominant as many hoped before the season.
Michigan scored over 1.2 points per possession against one high-major team last season: Rutgers. Texas has things to figure out defensively, but this was a top 35 effective field goal percentage defense and the Wolverines just torched it. Michigan’s 72 percent effective field goal percentage just surpassed its 71.4 eFG% at Charlotte and far surpassed anything that it accomplished last season shooting the ball. The Wolverines had a few turnover woes against the Texas diamond full court press, giving the ball away on 21% of their offensive possessions, but a timeout adjustment to Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert’s positioning seemed to cure some of those woes.
Derrick Walton was running the show in the first half with seven assists (all in the first 20 minutes), but eight different Wolverines scored (four in double figures) and 59% of Michigan’s made field goals were assisted. Michigan shot 65% on two-point attempts against an interior defense that was allowing just 39% shooting on shot attempts inside the three-point line.
Defensively, Michigan allowed Texas to manage a 59% effective field goal percentage — its best shooting performance of the season by a comfortable margin. But the Wolverines did a surprisingly good job on the defensive glass. Texas rebounded only 29% of its missed shots (its worst offensive rebounding game of the season) and the Wolverines matched it in second chance points at 7. Texas scored 30 of its 72 points in the paint, but Michigan managed 28 in the paint against the much bigger team. Michigan’s game plan was to force Texas to shoot threes (almost half of its field goal attempts were from long distance) to prevent giving up free throws and easy twos. The Longhorns made 11 of 12 shots at the rim, but only took 12 attempts at the basket — a win for Michigan overall.
Michigan did a good job of scraping down against Cameron Ridley in the post early on (he had three turnovers on the night), but the 6-foot-11 big man only had five shot attempts (making all five) on the night and the Longhorns seemed to go away from him for much of the middle portion of the game.
Sometimes things have a way of working themselves out. UConn beat Michigan and lost its next two games to Syracuse (the eventual Battle 4 Atlantis champs) and Gonzaga (arguably the best team in the field).
The Wolverines more than likely would have left the Bahamas with a 1-2 record if they had beaten UConn, instead they are 4-2 on the season and picked up a solid, if not spectacular neutral court win over Texas. That was a game that Michigan just had to have and it got a comprehensive effort from the top of its rotation (the original ‘big three’ combined for 44 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds and four steals) down to the bottom (Mark Donnal came in and helped ice the game).
- Derrick Walton: Walton sliced apart Texas’ defense in the first half and had a number of great assists. He led Michigan in assists, defensive rebounds and steals and scored 13 points on eight shots. He also secured the decisive defensive stop when he drew a charge on a driving Isaiah Taylor (a call that probably could have been made on the two previous possessions as well). When Walton plays that sort of game, Michigan is going to win more often than it loses.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert was Michigan’s dominant player without dominating the ball. There was no question that Walton was running the offense, but it was LeVert that hit huge shots when Michigan needed it most. He had two critical hoops late in the game to help stretch Michigan’s lead and also hit an array of tough shots late in the first half to blow the game open.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson can flat out shoot it and he demonstrated his complete offensive game on Friday night. The 4-of-5 made threes were impressive, but he also handed out four assists and grabbed four rebounds for good measure. Robinson played 31 minutes, the most he’s played in a Michigan uniform, and his four assists were also a Michigan career high. He had six assists in the last two games after failing to record an assist in Michigan’s first four games. His passing ability has been lauded by John Beilein for the last year or so and we are finally seeing why as he had at least one beautiful backdoor feed.
- Zak Irvin: This was probably the best game that Irvin has played this season. He hit the dagger three-pointer off of a double ball screen and also passed the ball very well. He should have had one or two extra assists if his big men could complete the plays and he finally started to resemble the player that we saw late last season. Irvin’s shot is starting to round into form and you can see his confidence level rising on both ends of the floor.
- Moritz Wagner: For the second game in a row, Moritz Wagner was Michigan’s best five man. He grabbed four defensive rebounds and scored 7 points on 3-of-3 shooting with a turnover in 18 minutes. He’s so smooth with the basketball around the rim and has the best hands of Michigan’s bigs along with a great feel for the pick-and-roll. He hit a huge basket late when he faked a handoff pass and drove baseline for an easy layup. Fouls have been an issue (he picked up four tonight), but it’s starting to feel like only a matter of time before Wagner is Michigan’s starting five-man.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins played only five minutes in the second half after a particularly brutal start to the final frame. He was whistled for a charge, got lost on defense, on a block out and Beilein called a timeout with 17:37 to play in the half and subbed in Robinson for Dawkins. Dawkins made two of three triples in the game, but was outplayed by his backup Duncan Robinson on the night.
- Mark Donnal: John Beilein basically declared Donnal out of the rotation after Wednesday’s game and said the Wolverine staff would revisit him in a few weeks. He stepped up huge down the stretch on Friday night with Moe Wagner battling four fouls and Ricky Doyle struggling. Donnal had four points and three rebounds in 10 critical minutes.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle stepped into the starting lineup this week and had a few bright spots, but this wasn’t his night. He struggled to catch and finish around the basket with bobbles and blocked shots. He also failed to grab a defensive rebound and struggled to deal with Cameron Ridley’s physicality.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson saw just one minute of playing and scored a basket, but he was yanked out of the game late when he blew a box out on a free throw and was replaced by Mark Donnal down the stretch.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman played six minutes and the offense really seemed to sputter whenever he was on the floor in place of Derrick Walton or Caris LeVert. Part of that is because Walton and LeVert played so well, but Michigan was outscored by five points when he was on the floor.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman saw some first half playing time and was whistled for two quick fouls and missed a pull-up jumper in the middle of the Texas 2-3 zone.