Game 20: Michigan at Nebraska Recap

Dylan Burkhardt
on

Michigan’s win at Nebraska was the sort of beautiful mess that’s required to win on the road. The Wolverines were far from flawless on the night, but they were perfect for long enough.

Michigan scored 18 points in its first nine possessions of the first half, then managed to out-do itself and score 21 points in the first nine possessions of the second half — on 9-of-9 shooting. There’s probably no such thing as perfect basketball, but in those 18 possessions of the game the Wolverines scored 2.17 points per possession. That’s about as close to perfection as it gets.

While the Wolverines outscored the Huskers by 1.49 points per trip during those two 18 possession spans, they lost the other 46 possessions of the game by a 42-56 margin. The beautiful basketball to start each half was good enough for Michigan to hold on, but there’s still work to be done for a Wolverine team that has bigger aspirations.

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This was Michigan’s best offensive performance against a major-conference team and the heavy-lifting was done in the previously mentioned half-opening runs. The threes were falling in both halves for the Wolverines, but the ball screen chess match that was going on was fascinating.

Early on, Michigan was aggressive looking for its bigs near the rim, but they were struggling to finish inside. The Wolverines made just 4-of-14 two-point attempts in the first half, but turned it around in the second as their guards managed to find the roll man even when Nebraska blitzed and doubled the screen. Michigan made 10-of-12 twos in the second half, the majority of which were rolls or slips to the hoops or backdoor cuts.

Turnovers were nearly Michigan’s undoing. The Wolverines gave the ball away on 22% of their possessions and now find themselves ranked 7th in the Big Ten — behind Rutgers — in turnover rate. Michigan’s turnovers against Nebraska were primarily live ball giveaways and steals that led to easy baskets on the other end of the floor. The Wolverines were outscored 20-7 in points off of turnovers on the night and need to figure out a way to handle the soft press defenses that teams are throwing at them and still be able to run their offense effectively.

Michigan made up for its sloppiness with the ball both at the free throw line — where it outscored Nebraska 20-6 — and behind the three-point line — where it had a 15 point margin. The Wolverines also continued to do a good job on the glass, holding Nebraska to a 25% offensive rebounding rate while grabbing 33% of their own misses.

Defensively, Michigan held the Huskers to 1.06 points per trip, their lowest output since a January 5th loss at Iowa. The defensive effort wasn’t always perfect, but I was impressed with Michigan’s 2-3 zone which neutralized Shavon Shields in the middle of the court and dared Nebraska to win the game from the outside. Shields and White had more shot attempts and turnovers combined than points, but the Wolverines also struggled to keep Nebraska’s smaller, quicker guards out of the lane — a growing fear after the Minnesota game.

This was a critical win for Michigan both to build its confidence on the road, but also to stay in the Big Ten hunt. The Wolverines should be favored against Rutgers and Penn State this coming week and have a chance of moving to 7-2 before hosting the Indiana Hoosiers in early February.

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Player Bullets:

  • Derrick Walton: Walton went through a legitimate struggle early in the Big Ten, but he played a complete, dominant game in Lincoln. He shot the three (4-6), he distributed (6 assists), he rebounded (12 rebounds), he defended (2 steals), he pushed the pace and he hit late free throws. Early in this year there were doubts, but now the 6-foot-1 point guard is proving that he’s capable of putting Michigan on his back and leading them to wins. Walton also must love playing at Pinnacle Bank Arena as some of the best moments of his career have come in Lincoln.
  • Zak IrvinIrvin is developing a sort of spurtability that’s reminiscent of Tim Hardaway Jr. He had an extremely quiet first half, but then just erupted in the second half in a stretch where he literally did it all offensively. He was hitting ball screen threes, ripping off pick-and-roll passes to the rim, and driving and kicking to shooters. In Michigan’s 21-6 run to open the second half, Irvin scored or assists 6 of the 9 made baskets. He also deserves credit defensively for battling against Shavon Shields, who was held to 11 points, 3 assists and 5 turnovers on 4-of-11 shooting.
  • Mark DonnalDonnal had 14 points and four rebounds in another stellar Big Ten performance. His resurgence was unexpected by just about everyone, but it appears to be the real deal. It wasn’t just pick-and-roll finishes that we saw from Donnal, he also had two big blocks and routinely did a good job of going straight up and using his body to defend drivers and made 6-of-8 free throws in the win.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson shot (only) 3-of-7 from long distance — we’re at a point where 43% three-point shooting feels like an off night — but led Michigan in scoring with 21 points and three assists. His backdoor cut and slam late in the game was the highlight, but he showed the most confidence offensively in cutting backdoor, finishing and passing the ball that we’ve seen in a while.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanAbdur-Rahkman had a few moments of trying to do too much with the ball, but he also had some brilliant moments where he just flat out made plays. He handed out three assists and probably could have had a few more and also knocked down a triple. He battled foul trouble — side note: the late first half fouling with any starter is maddening as the burned foul on MAAR cost him playing time in the second — which limited him to 25 minutes, but it was a solid overall performance from the freshman who had one of the most critical passes of the game to Robinson on the backdoor cut.
  • Aubrey DawkinsThe good news for Dawkins is that Michigan went with Zak Irvin at the two whenever it had to rest Walton or MAAR, which meant that Dawkins could play on the wing rather than Dakich in the backcourt. He made the most of his 19 minutes and hit a critical three-pointer and a desperation shot clock buzzer beating heave in the second half to mute a Huskers’ run.
  • Moritz WagnerA couple smooth finishes and two turnovers trying to do way too much with the basketball. The potential was all there, but the risk-reward of playing Wagner was also evident.
  • Ricky Doyle: Doyle got some run as the third big man off the bench and scored on a nice post-up, but Michigan struggled overall when he was on the floor with Kameron Chatman.
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  • Mattski

    Give us a starting five of Zak, Derek, Mark Donnal, Caris, and Robinson, and. . . I like our chances as we move into the latter third of the season.

  • bleedblue

    Great call, in the preview, saying that we need to attack, force them to foul, and make our free throws. The FT numbers are padded by garbage time, but throughout the game, our edge in the freebies department left us with a cushion to absorb the sloppy turnovers and transition defense woes. Also just generally nice to see, since getting to the charity stripe is far from a staple in Beilein’s offense. I think you called Rahk a freshman?

  • Slim33

    I think ball reversal is slow at times when breaking the press and also on offense. If we whip it around a little quicker I think we can have more open lane or shot opportunities. Nice way to hold onto that road win. Could be looking at 7-2 in the B1G with Caris back heading into Indy and MSU both at home. Love it, Go blue.

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      10-2 heading into home game against Purdue.

    • Wayman Britt

      I agree about slow lofting passes trying to beat the soft press. I would like to see more fast reversaling passes and drives that may open up wide open threes. UM takes their time trying to break press, then setting up the offense. Just attach and your three point shooter will be open.

    • Mattski

      May loom as a good teaching experience; I do think there may be more pressing with the shorter shot clock–you force a team to taqke 3-5 seconds to get across midcourt, then they have to set up, you can definitely cut into their margin.

  • Drae

    Good win… nice to see Robinson have a good game after a few rough ones…could Chatman be looking at transfer ? Kid was a top recruit but has never lived up to that at of m.

    • Fab 5 Legends

      I can definitely see Chatman transferring…he is stuck in a bad situation…he has not developed so far / and he was overrated prospect…i just don’t see him playing in a big conference at the moment…he will have an opportunity as a junior/senior to get more playing time…hopefully develop but right now Levert, Robinson, Dawkins, Irvin are playing at a much higher level

      • Mattski

        Last year at this time we were speculating about a Donnal transfer.

        • jemblue

          Yes, after the experiences of Bielfeldt last year and Donnal this year – two guys who seemed like busts who ended up panning out – we should be cautious about writing underclassmen off.

  • bobohle

    I hope Caris can play some against Rutgers and PSU so he can be full go for IU and Sparty.

    • Wayman Britt

      Should Caris play against Rutgers? Don’t really need him at all for that game, maybe rest him for one more game just to make sure he is 100% healthy. However, it will take him 2 – 3 games to get his timing and conditioning back, so maybe play him 10 – 15 minutes against Rutgers if 100% healthy.

      • Fab 5 Legends

        would love to have him back for the Indiana / Michigan state game…they way our team is playing right now is great…hopefully with Levert in the mix it continues

    • ReegsShannon

      Agreed. I’m not comfortable with his first action being in a big game.

  • Vince

    Just rewatch the game and am impressed with the progress Donnal made on the Defensive end more so than his offensive contribution. The drop off on defense with other bigs are just too big and we need Mark to continue to play smart and stay on the court as much as possible.

    • Mattski

      Yeah, I felt pretty critical of Donnal as I watched the game, was much more re-assured later re-watching. I still see our bigs watching a lot of offensive rebounds falling around them and wonder whether they’re more intent on positioning than the ball sometimes, but Donnal has just become a reliable force on O.

      Curious how people with more hoop acumen than I tend to view this.

  • Chris De Sana

    I do not see Walton’s play in this game the way you do, Yes had some good numbers but also once again had stretches where he really struggles with turn overs and running the offense. He also has the tendency of giving up the ball late in the shot clock to those that struggle to create their own shot. As a junior and with Caris out he has to be more consistent.

    • Mattski

      So how critical would you like us to be? We’re talking about a 19-year-old. And you are a grown man. Do you see any of the country’s greatest guards–any human being–NOT struggling as they do what they do day to day? MSU’s Valentine, for example? Not just asking you, Chris, but at what point do we step out of the hyper-critical mindset and just be happy for what unfolds? Because from the point of view of a very keen observer like Dakich, Walton is marvelous, probably–for one thing–the nation’s best rebounding PG. And to my mind that is how he played yesterday.

      • Chris De Sana

        First of all he will be 21 by the end of this years tourney, a 4 star recruit by ESPN who had him as the # 2 recruit in the state and in the top 10 for PG’s. And don’t mistaken my comments for being anything other than realizing that he is the key to our success especially without Caris. And IMO a guy who was supposedly on the Cousy Award watch list to struggle like he has at times is worthy of note.

        As for the rebounds, do I feel he excels for his position absolutely but also realize it may be partially a result Michigan’s defensive set where the bigs block out and barely leave their feet to rebound.

        • Mattski

          I think that a narrative has developed that says Walton is a great rebounder but not quite up to scratch otherwise. And I don’t accept it. To my mind he’s one of the two or three best guards in the B1G and rapidly becoming a great leader, middle of his junior year. I accept your opinion, but I think he’s doing great. Still maybe the tiniest bit hesitant to put it on the floor on drives–I think he could sneak in a few more layups, still putting it all back together after last year’s injury. But he will do it. By next year he’ll be the complete package for Michigan.

    • Slim33

      Some may say Walton’s strengths in the top three categories are: 1. Rebounds 2. Points 3. Assists. He’s an interesting PG. I personally prefer and assist first PG who doesn’t turn it over and commands the offense. Walton gives us something different and that’s the way it is. I think Walton still has a lot of room to grow as a true PG and it will be fun to watch.

      • Chris De Sana

        This offense clicks best when they have multiple ball handlers who can finish at the rim or distribute if the defense collapses. For example yesterday Robinson’s most open 3 balls came by way of the driver kicking it out when help came. If Walton could do that without getting too deep with no where to go it would help erase many of the long droughts we have experienced.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    great game by Walton/Irvin…i definitely was unimpressed by their performance throughout the year and finally they are leading our team as they are suppose to as upperclassman…I hope Levert can get into the rotation the next couple games…we have a nice stretch of home games coming up…would love to get a Ws against Rutgers, Penn State, Minnesota..hopefully both Indiana, Michigan State but ill be fine with 1 :) …..Robinson has been a crucial player for us all year…im glad Donnal is improving and becoming our #1 option at the forward position

  • Foul_Trouble

    Good game. In the world of hypotheticals, I could see this squad give the 11-12 team a run for its money by the end of the season.

  • NbobBis

    The chemistry is definitely different without Caris in there. I just hope things don’t go downhill as we try to work him back into the rotation. Remember, last year with Caris we were losing to Eastern and NJIT.

    I’m just saying no rush to get him back. His high dribbling can cause turnovers also. Just my 2 cents.

    • MAZS

      Michigan is better with Caris than without him. Period.

      • NbobBis

        No insult intended. Hopefully Caris proves me wrong. And I do not have a good eye on me as to what a player does defensively. So he’s probably our best defender. Just wish he could have blocked that shot by Kentucy 2 years back lol.