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.
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.
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.
- 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-Rahkman: Abdur-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.