Game 9: Michigan at SMU Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan was blown off the floor in Dallas on Tuesday in a game that Wolverine fans probably should have seen coming.

SMU boasted a top-15 defense in the country, a top-ten offensive rebounding attack, and a point guard with incredible quickness and shooting ability. The Wolverines have proven they can deal with one or two of those things at times — NC State had the quickness, but not the shooting; Texas had the size, but not the guard play — but not all of them at once.

Michigan has played one team with as much talent in spread across all of those areas, Xavier, and the result was exactly the same: a demoralizing blowout loss.

It didn’t help that the Wolverines were without their point guard, Derrick Walton, who happens to be their best perimeter defender and defensive rebounder, but this was a humbling reminder of last season for a team that wants to prove its moved beyond.

Michigan hung with the Mustangs for the first 15 minutes, but Nic Moore broke the game open late in the first half. The 5-foot-9 guard, who was clearly the best player on the floor, sprung to life with back-to-back threes and then dished three consecutive assists to take the SMU lead from three-points to 14 in two minutes and thirty seconds.

smu four fac

The story of this game was that SMU got good shots and Michigan got bad shots. The Mustangs switched essentially every screen defensively which left Michigan treading water passing the ball around the perimeter. The Wolverines were whistled for three shot clock violations in the first half and looked befuddled trying to run offense. 

“Some of us have a habit of going to a step-back 3 when we could be driving the ball,” Beilein said after the loss. “That’s a flaw we have that we’re working on.”

It’s also a flaw that’s quite obvious in this graph of both teams’ shot selection on the night.

shot distro smu

Both teams entered the game shooting 44% from three-point range. Tonight, SMU got shots at the rim and open threes. Michigan couldn’t finish inside and attempted three dozen (mostly contested) threes.

You can’t win give up 26 easy shots at the rim — Jordan Tolbert scored 23 points on 11 dunks and layups — and let your opponent shoot 57% from three and have any hope of winning, especially if you let them rebound over half of their missed shots. This was just a clinic by SMU as it ran the ball screen game to perfection to create easy opportunity after easy opportunity and hit over half of its open threes while rebounding half of its misses. There was no positive for Michigan on defense in this one, the Wolverines were just whooped.

If there was any question how important Derrick Walton was to this team as a creator, shooter, defender and defensive rebounder, there shouldn’t be anymore. Michigan probably doesn’t beat SMU with Walton, but this game would have been far more competitive. His health is probably the most important priority leading into Big Ten play, but the Wolverines need to make sure they don’t let one bad loss turn into two. We’ve seen that this year with Xavier into a horrific shooting game against UConn and early last year with NJIT into Eastern Michigan. Delaware State, Northern Kentucky, Youngstown State and Bryant are all ranked worse than 255th in the country, but should provide an opportunity for Michigan to improve before tipping off conference play.

Player Bullets:

  • Zak Irvin: Irvin’s perimeter jumper is still so broken (his only made three was banked in), but his growth as a playmaker continues. He was the only Michigan player that could create anything for his teammates and finished with nine assists. Michigan made 21 field goals on the night and Irvin scored or assisted 13 of them. The hope is that his rebounding, defense and shooting will continue to round into form as he gets healthier, but his playmaking ability is an asset.
  • Caris LeVert: SMU’s Keith Frazier put the clamps on Caris LeVert as the Mustangs shut LeVert down again. LeVert was 1-of-13 from the floor and didn’t make a field goal until late in the second half. He looked tentative early on and couldn’t create offense all night. It was a version of Caris LeVert that we haven’t really seen since last year around this time when he went into a major tailspin against Arizona, Eastern Michigan and SMU. LeVert has now played two of the three or four worst games of his career against the Mustangs.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson can shoot it 15 points on 5-of-10 (5-9 3pt) shooting. He’s still at 60% from long range with 50 attempts, but he was also picked on defensively in the second half by SMU. His tactical fouling (4 personals) helped a bit, but he was beaten off of close outs routinely (not that he was the only one). I actually thought he passed up a few shots that he could have taken, but he’s gone for double figures in his last four games and has knocked down five triples in the last three.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanAbdur-Rahkman showed some great spurts — including three layups to open the game after Michigan looked completely shook early — but he was a streaky with his shooting. His three-point stroke (2-6) was erratic, he was just 1-of-4 at the free throw line, but he was 4-of-4 attacking the basket.
  • Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins played 18 minutes and scored 5 points. He came off the bench in the second half and never seemed like a threat offensively. For all of the talk of his improvement, he’s not showing any of that confidence that his teammates discussed this summer.
  • Ricky Doyle: Doyle had a few bright moments early playing some physical defense early on, but he was just overwhelmed by SMU’s length, size, strength and quickness. His ball screen defense was a struggle and he simply couldn’t stay with Tolbert off of pretty simple cuts and slips.
  • Moritz Wagner: After looking dominant in the Bahamas, Wagner has regressed a little bit. He’s trying to make the game changing play every time down the floor and is getting himself into trouble. He was 0-1 from the floor with three turnovers in 8 minutes and as Beilein loves to say, Wagner needs to do more by doing less.
  • Spike Albrecht: Spike only played three minutes and drained a three, but there wasn’t really anyone on the SMU roster that he could guard. I was surprised he didn’t play more minutes (and maybe go in a 2-3 zone), because Michigan’s offense looked so out of whack at times in the first half.
  • DJ Wilson & Mark Donnal: Donnal played 10 minutes and Wilson played six, but neither was able to show much although both managed to attempt a three.

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  • polisci

    I’m beginning to think that one of the most important players of the recent past was Jordan Morgan. What I wouldn’t give for some competent play by a big man.

    • Jordan Morgan was so critical to Michigan’s defense, especially his senior year. If you could put a senior Jordan Morgan on every team, you would do it in a heartbeat.

  • Chezaroo

    I challenge anyone in our fan base to name even ONE of our players who is remotely considered a B1G caliber defender? Until we upgrade that facet of our roster, it doesn’t even matter that we can’t rebound a lick. Recruiting prioritzation has got to evolve or our only hope of ever beating good teams is to exchange 3 for 2 on every possession. Good luck with that.

  • Tuff Enough

    I am glad that happen to them and now we will stop hearing the crazy talk from reporters and fans about the kids leaving early period. Beilein has is hands full with 3 coming off surgery and 1 with a toe and now ankle with 9 with now playing time except for 1 year. They will grow together and we will see how good Beilein really is.

  • MichiganBasketball

    Beilein needs to place more of an emphasis on rebounding and defense, recruiting also needs to change

    • Tuff Enough

      I agree somewhat with that. Beilein needs to bring in tougher kids with some size at the 4 and 5. But has we seen if the 3 point shot does not fall like tonight its over. Bias azz ESPN really showed tonight!!

  • GrandChamp

    I can live with the poor shooting that may have been caused by traveling the same day. What I can not live with is just getting absolutely punked on the boards and showing no signs of toughness. I’m not from a poor area by any means but it reminded my of my high school days and when we would play the rich schools. We always could see how soft most of them were and looked forward to getting into their heads and roughing them up even though they were very skilled. It seems like the three teams that we’ve lost to have looked at us that way. I don’t post much on here but I’ve been here forever, I remember being so excited for Carlton Brundidge to finally get on campus. I love Coach B. and the way he has turned the program around and has done it with such dignity. It seems like a gift and a curse recruiting high character kids that come from good families because most of them are missing that “dog” in them. We have obviously found a few exceptions to the rule which brought us a lot of success. We need to get tougher mentally this year somehow, I still believe we have a very high ceiling but I’m not sure how you just install toughness into your team. Sorry for the long post but I had to vent my feelings.

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      Carlton Brundbrige was a colossal bust.

      Thank goodness for the recruit no one else besides Penn State was even interested in. (Trey Burke).

  • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

    I get the travel delay, but the team looked the same against Xavier when there were no travel issues.

    We miss way too many WIDE open shots.

    Irvin hit the top of the backboard with a WIDE open shot (seriously?)

    MAAR and Levert bricked some badly.

    Late in the game Robinson had some open looks to make the score respectable and missed them.

    Not very enjoyable to watch.

    Its hard to be patient with the team when there is a lack of intensity and so much standing around on defense.

  • Wayman Britt

    Some posters may be offended by this. Beilein is a good coach, but he must change some of his recruiting style. Beilein brings in nice kids from good families, usually not hurting for money and good long range shooters but typically not tough. He needs to get a few, not all his recruits, but some hungry, tough, aggressive kids with a chip on their shoulder. Some players who are using basketball to better their lives and have a nasty side. Even willing to talk trash and back it up with grit. Players who aren’t afraid of messing up their hair or worrying about what nice car dad’s buying them and use the game to improve their lot.

    You cannot structure a well balanced team by just having three point shooting, soft, unathletic kids.

    • Corperryale

      This needed to be said.

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      I think Jordan Morgan came from a tough background – and he didn’t take crap from others.

      We need another Jordan Morgan as opposed to Donnal.

      I don’t disagree, but the players don’t necessarily have to be from “poor” backgrounds.

      Stauskas was a bad ass and talked.

      Burke was a bad ass and talked.

      Morris was the original bad ass.

      We need an emotional and vocal leader. Levert is too quiet, Walton is always hurt, and Irvin’s game and shot are comically far off.

      The Big 3 continues to disappoint in that regard.

      We might be best served to take a few guys that are a little more “playground tough” and might have lower grades (but still meet the school’s standard for athletes) over a choir boy with all As.

      • Fab 5 Legends

        totally agree, we are soft team unfortunately….the question is do these tough kids want to come to Michigan…Beilein recruits a bunch….sometimes we have got that tough kid, unfortunately right now we have a bunch of nice guys on the team….Levert, Walton, Irvin are great players but they need Morgan, stauskas, McGary, GRIII on the team when we went on our elite eight run…

        • polisci

          I agree with you all completely. There are three guys who I think do have the swagger (i.e., Dawg in them) but for different reasons don’t really let it out.

          MAAR has it, but still differs to upperclassman

          Wagner has it, but is still kind of lost out there

          Spike has it, but is hurt and can’t get going.

          I’m not sure anyone else has shown any signs of having that kind of fight in them.

  • JJ3ball

    Much more effort needed. SMU played as if it was game 7 of a series. Michigan did not.
    The zone defenses played were horrible. Who plays a zone with nobody at the rim?
    Only MAAR and Robinson looked like they belonged on the same court as SMU.
    M probably been better off if Kennedy hadn’t sprained his ankle, that only brought on a bigger dose of Tolbert.
    C’est la vie, Coach Beilein has his work cut out for him.

  • Mattski

    The team could afford a loss last night, but not a stomping. John is in a little bit of serious trouble now; the program is too. The problem isn’t with his style but with his players–he badly needed some combination of Doyle and Donnal to work out, and they have not. Yes, the team has suffered extensive injuries, but they eliminated all room for error. And coaches must build room for error. Unfortunately, I see no quick fix. Watching these guys get thrown to the floor each time they go up for a ball is demoralizing.

  • JJ3ball

    Silver lining which I confess may come from being dropped on my head as a kid. Last night makes me think M’s prospects are better next year than this year.
    My hypothesis: losing Caris and Spike is not nearly as critical as the development of Doyle and Wagner.
    Coach Beilein will do his thing with Pg and wings and I have little concern regarding these positions with what M will return, coupled with what is coming in.
    As others have mentioned, M really misses Jordan Morgan. I contend M will be vastly more capable at the 5 as Doyle and Wagner mature and gain experience. Unfortunately, this looks to be a season from the school of hard knocks. Next year a

  • GTFOmycourt

    I agree with most of what people are saying but I would like to put a little different spin on things:

    I am not sure I want to frame our teams issues entirely around the idea that we have “bad players” or players that are not “tough enough”. not trying to pick on particular players but take 2 of our more athletic players in Caris and Dawkins.Dawkins for example, every game, on defense, does off balance “cat-swipes” at the ball. It is almost comical because it is the sort of thing you would see from an elementary school player. Very bad habit even for a high school player…. Caris (who is also athletically gifted) gives up a ton of rebounds alongside Dawkins, not because they lack length and jumping ability but because they are both **in the habit*** of choosing to not put in a little work to fight for positioning the moment the shot is going up. It is crazy. There are traces of bad habits throughout the team…..

    • bobohle

      Beilein has been saying right along some players have bad habits that can be corrected,but they are not being corrected. Who does this fall on? I think you know.

  • Tenz

    John Beilein will never bring a National Championship to the University of Michigan. The real issues starts and ends with our coach. Johan Beilein is a good coach, not a great coach and it takes great coaches to win National Championships.

    • gobluemd16

      Wrong. I would take, X’s and O’s-wise, Coach Beilein over any coach in the country. The problem has a lot to do with recruiting. To say he isn’t a great coach is relying heavily on the recency bias.

  • bobohle

    How about bringing in a guy like Juwan Howard to help coach the bigs. He could coach toughness.

    • Slim33

      Like this idea. Show someone how to play post D with instincts and not like a robot.

    • MAZS

      Of course he already has a coaching job with the Heat.

  • MrLG

    Dylan, I didn’t notice any criticism of John Beilein in your writeup. JB needs to rework his defense to deal with teams with multiple skilled bigs. Yes, Michigan is weak in the post. But it would help a lot if we would occasionally put two of our bigger guys on the court at the same time. And keep them a little closer to the basket!

    Demoralizing loss, but not the end of the world. I just hope Caris doesn’t get down on himself. Derrick would have helped some, but I doubt he would have changed the outcome.

  • mikey_mac

    Moore actually was held pretty well in check by MAAR in the halfcourt. The breakdowns were bad switches, after which Moore could pick on Irvin, or transition/chaos opportunities.
    The team defense is just a trainwreck, the guys are soft/passive when playing an aggressive team, and my god, the zone!!!!! Stop with the zone!!!

  • Nick

    Throw the 1-3-1 in the trash and burn it. I’ve always liked Coach B, but I’m starting to wonder if he is well past his prime.

    • Harbaugh Effect

      Was thinking the same thing, bad recruiting and predictble offense starting to catch up. With that kind of offense you need 2 or 3 NBA players (first round) for it to be effective. #BADRECRUITING

  • umnyc

    Coach is at a critical juncture with his legacy at UM. I still believe in his ability as a teacher and a coach, but if he doesn’t turn things around with results on the court, I fear his legacy will very quickly resemble that of Lloyd Carr’s. Someone who took us to the top once, but then struggled to remain competitive as the game evolved a bit. For college basketball in 2015, I think its the recruiting process that has evolved past him. I’m not saying a change to Kentucky style recruiting is necessary, but an acknowledgement that a sprinkling of the “one and done” type players might be a necessary evil to remain competitive. I also think he might need to bring on an assistant couch with some expertise in defense, because last night was embarrassing.

    • camblue

      I can’t believe there are Michigan fans who still compare coaches to Lloyd Carr *unfavorably*, especially after what we’ve been through with RR and Hoke. Struggled to remain competitive? In the ten years after he won the natty, he won four Big Ten titles, took us to three Rose Bowls, had five top 10 finishes, finished the season unranked only once, and had us in a de facto national title semifinal in his penultimate year. Had the current playoff system been in place, he would have made the playoffs twice (2003 and 2006), which, in basketball terms if one tries to compare, would mean a 13 year career with three final fours and one national championship. Two of the final fours coming during the ten years when he “struggled to remain competitive as the game evolved”. Izzo has himself only had 3 final fours the last ten years, yet he is still (rightly) known as one of the best coaches in the game.

      But yeah guy, heaven forbid Beilein ends up like Lloyd Carr. Eyeroll.

      • umnyc

        Lloyd’s legacy is what it is, and I certainly don’t want to get baited into a discussion where I’m speaking negatively about him, but the facts are what they are… he had a huge amount of success, but didn’t exactly leave on his own accord, which taints the legacy a bit. If we have another bball season like we did last year I fear Coach B is headed in a similar direction, which would be unfortunate, because I think hes a great coach.

        • mpbear14

          Lloyd Carr was begged not to retire after 2006. He was never forced out.

  • Slim33

    I know the season is still somewhat young but it’s amazing to me that for the third time this year Michigan gets manhandled and no one on the team has stepped up vocally or physically during the games. Zack Novak’s head would have exploded by now. Some people accept a whooping and some people fight back. We need someone to get pissed off and take a leadership role. Also, with the new freedom of movement rules contact is going to be monitored more but the coach have got to teach defense and rebounding by being physical. I’m so tired of the years and years of our big men just loafing around with their hands straight up in the air and calling it defense or rebounding. It seems Sanderson can make a combine hero through increasing all the stats/measurements of a player physically but it doesn’t matter if nobody has any toughness or knows how to use their body the right way. Hopefully Hardaway gave the team a real talk after the game because he wasn’t soft. Cmon fellas, step it up.

  • ChathaM

    This was frustrating to watch. But, to condemn a coach or program after getting whooped by a top 20
    team on the road is wrong. Beilein does recruit potential one-and-done players.
    He often talks about wanting kids to “unpack their suitcase”, and maybe that’s
    part of the reason they tend to go elsewhere, but he does recruit them. Maybe
    he does need to embrace the idea more, but really; we have no idea what he says
    to these kids on the trail. To imply that he needs to change his priorities,
    etc. is just useless conjecture. Does anyone think that he has no interest in
    top shelf talent, kids from poorer economic backgrounds, and the like? That’s
    crazy. Does anyone truly believe that he doesn’t know how to coach defence or
    rebounding principles? That’s crazy. There’s a reason why coaches around the
    game consider Beilein to be one of the best, and it isn’t because he’s a nice
    guy. He’s an excellent coach.

    Irvin’s development is stunning, both positively and negatively. He was nothing but a
    shooter when he entered Michigan. It’s now reached the point where he’s almost
    everything but a shooter. I can’t think of another player who has developed
    that way. It’s impressive that he’s been able to develop his floor game, and
    confounding that his shot is so bad that teams can feel free to help off of him
    whenever they like.

    SMU is impressive. That team is playing for nothing (re: post-season), and that fan
    base seems pretty small. But, they play as hard as possible, and they ran us
    out of the building. They’re very good.

    Last week, the ESPN guys couldn’t pronounce Caris’ name, and this week, their graphic was spelled “Lavert”. Come on.

    • Slim33

      Agreed, although there are different coaching theories on defense and rebounding/physicality. Beilein’s teams always side towards don’t touch don’t foul. The only guys who would get into anyone defensively under Beilein teams that I can remember is Burke, Morgan, Morris and Novak. Maybe that’s just because they had the natural instincts on how to use their hands and bodies without fouling.

      • ChathaM

        That’s a good point. As maddening as it was to watch dunk after dunk, I wonder whether the players are conditioned to think that it’s just another bucket. We’re sitting at home thinking that someone needs to be sent to the floor, while perhaps the players have been taught a completely different mindset.

    • MrLG

      @chatham: “He was nothing but a shooter when he entered Michigan. It’s now reached the point where he’s almost everything but a shooter.”

      Pretty funny. And right on target.

  • MAZS

    Obviously an extremely disappointing game—particularly from a defensive and effort perspective. We miss Morgan. We miss swagger. But I am not going to be the one who extrapolates this into something more than it is. We have alot of work to do, but this isn’t Beilein’s first rodeo.