Michigan’s fourth Big Ten win of the year didn’t leave much to be excited about on Wednesday night.
“It’s a W,” John Beilein said after the victory. “We’ll take that W any day because it beats the alternative.”
When that’s the best that the usually upbeat head coach can come up with after a conference victory, it was a generally an underwhelming night at the Crisler Center. The Wolverines didn’t shoot the ball well, didn’t defend well and were never able to pull away from the Minnesota Golden Gophers — one of two winless teams in the conference.
An array of miscues in the closing minutes of the first half turned what appeared to be a comfortable game into a frustrating slugfest for the final 20 minutes. The Wolverines led by double-digits for a large portion of the opening period, stretching their lead to as much as 15 points, but an 8-0 Gopher run gave Minnesota life and left the Golden Gophers scrapping around through the second half.
This was Michigan’s worst offensive performance and worst shooting performance in a win this season. The Wolverines were previously 0-5 in their five worst shooting games of the season, yet are undefeated when they top an effective field goal percentage of 56%. This team still isn’t equipped to win ugly, but it probably couldn’t have gotten away with this poor of a shooting performance against many other teams.
It was the right night for a horrid shooting night, but Michigan’s offensive performance was lacking on most counts. The Wolverines shot just 44% on twos (57% at the rim, 18% in the mid-range) and 29% on threes (49% of attempts) for a 44% effective field goal percentage. Michigan is one of the best jump shooting teams in the country, but tonight they just weren’t falling.
The only real positive on the offensive end was that the Wolverines held onto the basketball, only turning it over on 8% of their possessions against Minnesota’s aggressive defense.
On the other end of the floor, Minnesota was content to fire up bad shot after bad shot for the first 15 minutes or so which allowed the Wolverines to jump out to a quick lead. The Gophers only scored 9 points in their first 21 possessions (.44 PPP), but managed 60 in their final 51 (1.17 PPP).
One culprit for Minnesota’s offensive turnaround was the free throw. The Gophers didn’t attempt a free throw until the 7:47 mark in the first half, but attempted 17 for the game. The free throw production increased as Minnesota shifted to a smaller lineup and started attacking consistently off the bounce. Minnesota shot 16-of-23 (70%) at the rim and Nate Mason (25 points, 5 assists) and Carlos Morris (14 points) seemed to live in the paint throughout the second half.
The best news of the night was that Michigan was still playing Minnesota. The Gophers made positive plays, but just didn’t have the horses to complete the upset. Minnesota was just 9-of-36 (25%) on all shot attempts outside of five feet on the evening and missed a number of open threes in the second half that could have gotten them over the hump.
So much has been made about Michigan’s ‘easier’ schedule after its tough three game stretch, but this game was a firm reminder that this team — especially without Caris LeVert — can’t just go through the motions and beat anyone. Saturday’s test in Lincoln will be much more difficult as the Wolverines face a surging Nebraska team that has won four games in a row and just knocked off Michigan State in East Lansing.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin recorded a 19 point, 11 rebound, three assist double-double on the night and had some phenomenal stretches early on. He buried his first three three-point attempts and looked really comfortable shooting the ball off of the high ball screen. The most encouraging element of his game was that he attacked the rim and found good results (making 5-of-7 shots within five feet), but his maddening tendency to settle for long twos was still evident. Irvin was 8-of-17 from the field and that includes 0-of-5 shooting on mid-range twos.
- Derrick Walton: Walton’s shooting is regressing toward the mean inside and outside. He’s made just 4 of his last 17 three-point attempts after starting the season 27-of-51 from deep. He’s also made 6 of his last 10 two-point attempts after making only 4 of 21 twos in the first four Big Ten games. His one assist was a disappointing number, but his ability to weather an otherwise poor shooting game and hit a couple clutch shots in the final seven minutes was critical. Point guards need to hit shots like that and Walton has been embracing that role over the last few games. Walton appeared to land funny and come up a bit gimpy midway through the second half, but reported after the game that it was nothing serious.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson proved that he’s human over the last two games, making only 5-of-18 three-point attempts (27%). He got much cleaner shots tonight against Minnesota, many of them in his favorite spots, but he just couldn’t get the shot to fall. Five rebounds were a nice perk and Robinson has also started to show a nice feel defensively for cheating into passing lanes and helping in the right spots.
- Aubrey Dawkins: When Robinson struggles, Dawkins has the opportunity to step up and he had a couple nice plays off the bench in the win. He hit a big three in the second half after starting the game cold and also had a beautiful floating tip-in. Dawkins was the only Wolverine to record double-digit minutes off the bench and Beilein seems to be getting more comfortable using him on the wing with Irvin at the two.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal had 5 points on a nice post-up basket and a three-pointer to break a Minnesota run along with a couple of nice assists. He also had his fair share of struggles. He only grabbed one defensive rebound and turned the ball over three times while battling foul trouble all night. Donnal still feels like Michigan’s most consistent big man by a wide margin, but this wasn’t his best game.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman didn’t make a basket but continued to attack the rim and was rewarded with 8 free throw attempts and a pair of assists. He’s developed into a solid option at the two guard, even in a quieter game like tonight.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner’s reads in the ball screen game still aren’t always the quickest, but he had a solid offensive game with 4 points in eight minutes. He’s showing more than Wilson or Doyle right now and seems like he could lock down the backup big man spot with a big performance in the next few games.
- Ricky Doyle: The musical chairs in the backup big man rotation continues and Doyle was the No. 3 option at the five tonight. Defensively, Michigan seemed to struggle when he was on the floor and he missed a put-back at the buzzer that should have been an easy hoop.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson slid down to the No. 4 spot in the big man rotation and didn’t see any minutes at the four position. He missed a dunk and then the follow up and only played three minutes in the win.
- Andrew Dakich: Dakich had a beautiful pick-and-roll assist to Moritz Wagner, but he struggled defensively late in the first half when Carlos Morris sparked a late Minnesota run.