Game 13: Bryant at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

With Big Ten play looming, Michigan wrapped up conference play with an easy 36-point victory over Bryant on Wednesday night.

The Wolverines shredded Bryant’s zone defense en route to an impressive 1.51 points per possession — managing to edge their 1.49 points per possession early this week against Youngstown State.

This offense can flat out play. Michigan hit a school record 17 three-pointers and it is a safe bet that zone defense will be well down the list of options when teams face the Wolverines in league play. Michigan just has too many shooters and too many good passers — 26 of 37 makes were assisted — to be stopped by a zone. Five Wolverines were in double figures and five others scored in the routine drubbing over Bryant.

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Michigan’s defense wasn’t good today, allowing .95 points per possession to a Bryant offense that entered the game ranked 322nd in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Wolverines did a great job on the glass, grabbing 86% of Bryant’s misses, but the fact was that Bryant had far too many open shots. The Bulldogs shot 15-of-25 on twos and 8-of-22 on threes — Hunter Ware hit 6-of-15, many of which were contested and off the dribble — in the game, but he two-point shooting was most concerning. Bryant had plenty of success attacking close outs off the bounce and finding the roll man off of ball screens. Those are going to be problems all year for the Wolverines and this wasn’t the most encouraging defensive showing with tough games ahead.

Michigan has scored 358 points in its last 263 possessions, 1.36 points per possession on average, and it has allowed 201 points in those same 263 possessions for .76 per possession. Extrapolating what that information means is difficult given the meager level of competition.

This team has started to forge an identity and that’s a great sign. Getting Derrick Walton healthy and moving Duncan Robinson to starting lineup were critical and Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman have both started to gain comfort in their roles off the bench.

The defense has been hit or miss, but this team now ranks 4th in the country in effective field goal percentage (60.2%) and turnover rate (13.9%) and is shooting 57.6% on twos (10th) and 42.1% on threes (11th).  Those are all critical barometers of success for a Beilein offense, but the next step is to see if they can translate to league play.

At the end of the day, the Wolverines beat four bad teams over the last two weeks and they beat them badly. You can’t ask for anything more, but all eyes will be watching a week from today when this team takes the floor in Champaign.

Player Bullets:

  • Caris LeVertLeVert scored 19 points on 14 shots, handed out eight assists and grabbed five defensive rebounds. Offensively, he’s a complete package. Michigan struggled when Bryant switched to a man-to-man look in the second half for a few possessions, but LeVert calmed things down and took over the game with his ability to find the roll man on the pass or just take his man to the hole.
  • Derrick Walton: Walton’s turnover numbers have been a bit elevated this year, but he had five dimes and no giveaways on Wednesday night. His jump shot was a bit erratic as he went just 3-of-8 from the floor, but he still managed 11 points on the evening.
  • Zak IrvinThe two most important made threes of game might have been Irvin’s two first half makes. He finished with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting (2-4 3pt) with 6 rebounds and two assists in the easy win. It was Irvin’s first multiple three-point game since November 27th against Texas (2-5). Irvin got everything started with his mid-range game, finding soft spots in the zone and shooting over Bryant defenders.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson went 4-of-8 from long range which lowers his seasonal shooting numbers, but he also handed out a career-high six assists. Robinson handed out 15 assists over the last four games after racking up just 7 over the first nine. As Big Ten opponents tighten down on his shooting ability, that passing vision is going to be critical toward keeping Michigan’s offense going.
  • Aubrey Dawkins: John Beilein spoke after the game about Dawkins embracing that sixth man role and we saw some of that today. He had 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting (2-4 3pt) and got in on the action with a few monster dunks. I think he’s improving defensively and although it feels like he hasn’t shot the ball all that well he’s still at 41% for the year.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman’s performance might have been one of the most encouraging of the night. He hit a pair of threes and had a big dunk in transition. He also handed out three assists in 18 minutes. I think he’s really starting to settle into that backup role behind LeVert and Walton and if he can hit open threes it will really open up the offense.
  • Ricky DoyleDoyle played 15 minutes and grabbed three rebounds and six points. It was a fairly routine night for him overall, but his highlight was certainly an alley-oop dunk on a beautiful after timeout set from John Beilein.
  • Moritz Wagner: Wagner was whistled for three fouls in 11 minutes and went 0-of-2 from the floor with three rebounds. He’s still coming off the bench before Michigan’s other bigs, but Beilein continues to quickly take him out of the game if he makes mistakes. I don’t have a huge problem with that because those are mistakes that will be far more costly in a meaningful Big Ten game.
  • Mark DonnalDonnal has started to put together a couple good games during the ‘guarantee’ season and it will be interesting to see if he can translate that production to Big Ten play. He’s outplaying Wagner and finished with 7 points and six rebounds in the win including a few nice offensive boards.
  • Kameron ChatmanChatman hit the buzzer-beating three that set the record for made threes, but John Beilein was trying to tell the team not to shoot it. That kind of explains his performance on the day.
  • DJ Wilson: Wilson is emerging as a garbage-time three-point extraordinaire as he knocked down another one tonight. Beilein said after the game that one of the major questions to answer is who backs up Zak Irvin when he needs a breather: Wilson or Chatman. Judging by Beilein’s rotation the last couple games I think the more accurate way might be to say Wilson, Chatman or play small with Dawkins and Robinson on the wings — which seems to be Beilein’s top choice.
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  • jakerblue

    After not cracking 50 against that zone from emu last year it’s nice to see the team torching the zone this year

  • Here’s a stat for you guys on the schedule: 6 of Michigan’s first 9 Big Ten games are against teams outside of the KenPom top 100. 8 of last 9 against top-100 teams.

    Hot start is critical.

    • Wayman Britt

      Good point. If UM wants to go to the dance they need to win at the minimum 10 games in the league and one of those wins needs to be against Maryland, Purdue or MSU.

    • Ernie Silverthorn

      I would agree that a hot start is critical, but I would also say increased development and improvement especially on the defensive end during the season are just as critical. The committee will not look favorably on a team that’s on a losing streak at the end of the year. If they could win 6 or 7 of the first nine (hot start) and over half of the final nine (5) they would definitely be a tournament team
      with no bubble involved. With that being said, I still project this team at 10-8 in the conference and a 5th or 6th place finish. One win in the B1G Tournament should get them into “The Dance” but it could be tense on Selection Sunday.

  • David Remmler

    It sounds like you’re knocking Chatman for hitting the late three. Personally, I’m very glad he took the shot and made it. It’s only natural for a player to want to shoot the ball when he has the chance after sitting on the bench most of the time. The only other option would have been a turnover. He showed good energy today and was more aggressive than usual. He was a little too energetic perhaps but again, that’s normal for a player who’s trying to make most of his few minutes on the floor. He’s been too passive and needs to show more fire when he’s in the game, fighting for rebounds and inside position. If hitting a record breaking three late in the game improves his spirits, that’s a major plus.

  • Wayman Britt

    After the last four games the offense has definitely improved, but I am not so sure about the defense. This has been discussed before, but can the offense out score Big Ten opponents? At away games where the rims are tighter and the crowd is louder, can UM’s offense still score with such efficiency to make up for the defense? At Iowa, Northwestern or Indiana, etc. can the defense get that late game stop to edge out a win?

    • David Remmler

      I do think they will get their points with so many offensive options. But I am skeptical that they can outscore teams without better interior defense and rebounding. If they don’t improve in these two areas, the best they can hope for is probably 9-10 wins in the Big Ten and being a bubble team for the tourney. They need one or two of their bigs to just be adequate in these areas.

    • gobluemd16

      I am pretty much resigned to the defense (including D rebounding) being terrible in some games and below average in others. This will never be a solid-to-good defensive team, just don’t have the personnel. There will be games where we can outscore the opponent and that will likely give us our best chance to win.

  • gobluemd16

    Zak being able to hit shots consistently like he did tonight would be absolutely massive for this team. Makes us nearly impossible to stop. I think Caris still overdribbles sometimes, even tonight, but hopefully he is gaining more and more confidence in his teammates due to recent performances. We see how this offense runs when the ball is moving side to side. I somewhat disagree in your assessment of Aubrey’s defense. I was really watching him closely last night and felt that he kept getting lost on D again. The switches were noticably worse with him in the game. He also just does not board consistently. There were two possessions I remember that he started breaking out past the three point line before we secured the rebound and it led to his man getting a second offensive board on one of the possessions. With how poor at rebounding our 5’s are, we need all forwards to help out and finish the defensive possession.

  • Champswest

    Excellent review of the game and where this team is at this point. Dylan, you nailed it.
    Over the next week, I look forward to discussing the Big Ten season and how things stack up.

  • MrLG

    I’m not buying that we have to beat MSU or Purdue or Maryland. The big 10 is divided into three groups: the big 3, second tier (UM, IA, Wisc, IN, OSU, NW) and the laggards (Rutgers, PSU, Ill, Minn, NB). The season will be defined by how well we handle the second tier. If we mostly win the home games against this group and then grab 2 or 3 on the road, we’ll be good. The RPIs in the second tier will be high enough to earn us a decent NCAA seeding.

    My current prediction is 11-7 Big 10 and a 6 seed. In John Beilein I trust.

    • AA7596

      Mostly agree, although a 6 seed is unrealistic for 11-7 with a light nonconference. Ohio State got a 10 seed last year at 11-7.

      Eleven wins should get us in, though.

      • MrLG

        You are citing a specific example, which is hard to argue with. OTOH, a 6 seed implies that you are roughly the 24th best team in the country, which is very achievable. The Xav/SMU/Conn losses were all to teams in the top 20 (more or less), so this is not a barrier either. Just win some b10 road games against the middle tier and hold serve at home, and we’re good.

        Of course, what we don’t want is the seeds of death: 7-8-9-10. These are the seeds that get a 1-seed or 2-seed in the second round, which is really tough to overcome.