Five Key Plays: Michigan at Illinois

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan picked up its first conference road win of the 2015-16 season on Wednesday at Illinois. Here are Five Key Plays from the action.

1. First half turnovers and transition defense

Michigan’s offense consistently put its defense in a bad spot in the first half in Champaign. The Wolverines turned the ball over on an uncharacteristic 27% of their first half possessions and many of them were live ball turnovers that led to easy offense on the other end. Illinois outscored Michigan 14-4 in points off of turnovers in the first half and this video shows a smattering of offensive mistakes and lackluster transition defense that resulted in easy offense.

“A couple of (the turnovers) they really did a great job at getting the ball out of our hands,” Beilein explained after the win. “The double-dribble by Aubrey happens, I think we had another where he fell to the ground and walked, it happens. It doesn’t lead to a run-out basket.

“Every time we picked it up and they jammed down on us and it was all-ball, it was a basket or a three at the other end. It’s one thing turning it over in a deadball, but you turn it over in a live ball… We paid for that in the first half.”

2. Caris LeVert dominates, feeds Donnal

Caris LeVert scored or assisted 11 of Michigan’s 14 made field goals in the first half. When the Wolverine offense sputtered out of the gate it was LeVert that settled things down and took the game into his own hands. First with a NBA-caliber turnaround jumper, then a pull-up three and then an array of dribble-drives and ball screen drives that opened up the Illini offense.

Michigan kept giving the ball to LeVert and eventually he started to find Donnal. One subtle adjustment that Michigan went to as the game wore on was to run fewer ball screens for LeVert and more clear-out isolations.

In this clip you can see the progression of LeVert’s offensive dominance. The Illini — one of the worst isolation defensive teams in the country — had no answer for LeVert and he picked them apart.

“It came early from Caris giving me a few assists to get some easy baskets early in the game,” Donnal said after the win. “And I kind of got rolling off of that.”

3. Michigan answers late in the first half

This was about the spot where Michigan crumbled in its last road defeat at SMU. The Wolverines and Illini had gone back and forth for much of the first half with both teams playing fairly average basketball, trading jabs, and failing to take command of the game. But Illinois came alive first. A quick 8-2 run gave Illinois a 7 point lead, its biggest of the night, and brought the State Farm Center to life and John Beilein was forced to call timeout after yet another Michigan turnover.

Rather than allow Illinois to extend its lead and take control of the game, Michigan answered with a 9-0 run of its own to take back the lead.

There’s was nothing fancy about the way Michigan scored during its run — LeVert beat everyone down the floor for a layup, Walton grabbed his first offensive rebound of the season and Duncan Robinson found an open look in the right corner — but the Wolverines finally strung together the four stops in a row they needed to build some momentum.

“I thought at the beginning of the game we were back on our heels and it did not look good,” Beilein said after the win. “But credit these guys for how hard they worked defensively to get it. We had to get stops, we just had to get stops and we were able to do that.”

4. Donnal takes over to start second half

In the first half Mark Donnal was a solid, in the second half he was terrific. A couple layups can do wonders for someone’s confidence and with a second half start under his belt, Donnal took the next step.

Trailing by three out of the break, Zak Irvin found Donnal for yet another drop-off layup. Then the junior big man picked up another block, one of his career-high three swats, and ran the floor to find an opportunistic layup from Duncan Robinson. With the confidence flowing, Donnal buried a pick-and-pop three from the corner and then added another monster block on the defensive end. Donnal also grabbed six offensive rebounds in the win and we see him close out this stretch with his most impressive rebound of the night before scoring with a little hook shot.

“We’ve been seeing him make progress, for some reason when people get on that scout team they just play,” Beilein said. “He was Finke all week and we couldn’t stop him. He was picking-and-popping, knocking them down, going after the backboard. I just told him before the game, ‘you’ve had four hours to prove that you can play in this game and you did.’”

Donnal scored 9 of Michigan’s first 11 points in the second half and helped the Wolverines regain the lead by the first media timeout.

5. Michigan heats up

Michigan managed to quickly regain the lead in the second half thanks to strong play from Mark Donnal, but it couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines are as proficient and dependent on the three-point shot as anyone in the country and that’s what makes this team equally dangerous as frustrating. There are times when the shots aren’t falling and the offense starts to sputter, but then there are times when a few fall in a row and the game changes in an instant.

“People are going to load up on Caris,” Beilein explained. “They are going to load up and make other people beat them, you can’t load up too much off Duncan and Zak can shoot, we all know he’s been a dagger shooter for a while.”

Caris LeVert starts the barrage and Zak Irvin, Duncan Robinson and Aubrey Dawkins all follow suit with threes of their own. Three minutes later a one point lead has grown to 11 and the game is in hand.

  • bobohle

    It’s just crazy when this team gets hot. The game goes back in forth,then boom it’s a double digit lead. It seems to spark defensive intensity also.

  • umnyc

    This team is at its best when the offense is working through Caris and Zak. Walton is a great ball handler, but he can’t see over the defense like the 6’6″/6’7″ guys can. It also frees up Walton to battle around the boards which he’s surprisingly adept at.

    • Let’s not proclaim Walton as a good offensive rebounder now that he got *one* offensive rebound :-)

      In reality, Walton is often used as more of a floor spacer in the corner than the PG is traditionally in this offense. Walton is a capable playmaker at times, but it seems to come and go depending on the matchup.

      • umnyc

        LOL. Yes, perhaps I’m optimistic that his prowess on the defensive boards can transfer to the offensive side.

        • It’s not really even something you generally want considering the PG should be one of the first guys back on defense to stop transition.

          Walton’s defensive rebounding continues to be incredible for a guard of his size.

  • Wayman Britt

    I sure hope this wasn’t just a one game wonder for Donnal. Each of the three big men have had good games, but nobody has done it consistently. Plenty of tough games ahead for Donnal to show this wasn’t a quondam occurence.

  • I finally got to sit with this game and to his credit, Donnal was both honest and correct. It was Caris that got him off …. so to speak.

    I’m thinking that it’s likely very unreasonable to expect a lot more of this type of performance from Donnal going forward. But I also think that he can certainly could and should be a contributor at a level beyond what he has shown prior to this game. I think we’re gonna have to come to grips with having a three headed center and will struggle at times finding the guy who has it going on any given night.