Game 21: Rutgers at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt
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A little over a year ago, Michigan went on the road to Piscataway and won an ugly 54-50 game over Rutgers. The Wolverines played two walk-ons and failed to surpass a point per possession of offensive output, but it was a feel good story. They had proven they could win a game without Caris LeVert.

Michigan is playing without Caris LeVert once again this season, but the expectations have changed. Despite playing their seventh game without their star guard, the Wolverines matched their 2014-15 season win total with Wednesday night’s win over the Scarlet Knights. An ugly home win over Rutgers is nothing close to a moment of pride, it was a letdown.

For the second straight week, Michigan faced an overmatched team on its home court and slept walk through 40 minutes. Rutgers led for the first 15 minutes before allowing the Wolverines to pull away with an somewhat safe, but never decisive 68-57 victory.

Michigan has played brilliant basketball at times this season, but it has also lacked consistency without Caris LeVert in the lineup. A Big Ten win is a Big Ten win, even if its over Rutgers, but the Wolverines continue to play with fire by sleepwalking through conference games against over-matched opponents.

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We know that this Michigan team can score the basketball, but this was a disappointing offensive showing. The Wolverines finished the game shooting 43% on twos and 39% on threes for a 52 eFG% — all well below their season averages.

Michigan took significantly more threes (28) than twos (21), but also attempted 20 free throws in the win. The cold early shooting seemed to rattle the Wolverines a bit and it wasn’t until Aubrey Dawkins provided a spark that the confidence returned. Rutgers played a packed in defense that dared the Wolverines to shoot and took away many of the easy opportunities in the lane. When Michigan’s offense is at its best, it makes those early threes and then spaces the defense to open cutting lanes to the rim. That didn’t happen early on which caused the majority of Michigan’s offensive consternation.

Defensively, it’s tough to decipher much from holding Rutgers to .88 points per possession. Michigan went back to the 2-3 zone that it utilized against Nebraska and it continued to be very effective and helped mask some of the Wolverines’ concerns defending dribble penetration. Mark Donnal has settled in really nicely in the middle of that zone and stepping up to stop drivers while the wings and guards also are bumping and recovering more effectively. I’m not convinced the zone will work against teams with multiple perimeter shooters, but it’s a nice weapon to have in the arsenal.

There’s not much to get excited about with another ugly win against a winless conference foe — it’s hard to pat yourself on the back after beating a team that gave the ball back to the ref after a missed front-end of a 1-and-1 — but you can’t argue with Michigan’s record as we near the halfway point of the conference season.

The Wolverines are tied for third place in the conference at 6-2, despite playing without Caris LeVert for the last seven games, and travel to New York City this weekend to face Penn State before starting a marquee home stretch of their season at home against Indiana and Michigan State.

Player Bullets:

  • Derrick Walton: If Saturday was a great Derrick Walton game, this was the typical ‘average’ Derrick Walton game. He knocked down half of his threes, made his free throws and handed out four assists, but was 0-of-4 inside the arc and never seemed to dominate the action until it was necessary with some big threes in the second half. In one of the most-bizarre stats on a bizarre night, Walton had 2 offensive rebounds to just 1 defensive board.
  • Aubrey Dawkins: I wrote in the preview that Aubrey Dawkins could be in for a big night after he tore apart the Scarlet Knights last season and he answered the bell. Dawkins is a perfect answer off the bench because he’s so comfortable getting shots up in a hurry. He buried a couple threes and picked up a dunk on a backcut and suddenly there was a bit of life across the roster. His struggles defensively are still a problem, but his offensive spark is a real weapon off the bench.
  • Zak IrvinIrvin the distributor and rebounder stuck around — notching 12 rebounds and 8 assists — but his jump shot was left in Nebraska. He was just 2-of-8 from the floor and just 1-of-6 from long distance, in one of his worst shooting performances of the Big Ten season.
  • Duncan Robinson: Michigan’s leading scorer for the second consecutive game, Robinson has been more aggressive searching for his offense since the Maryland game. He hit 4-of-9 threes (44%) en route to 18 points, but struggled a bit in the in-between game. I’m all for him being aggressive, especially in a game like this but he shot two airballs in the pull-up game and also had a few sloppy passes leading to a pair of turnovers.
  • Mark Donnal: Donnal scored 10 points and grabbed four boards in the win, but it was his defensive stretch in the first half that impressed me. The junior big man had a monster block and followed it up with a pair of charges in the critical sequence that gave Michigan the momentum in the first half. In the middle of that stretch he managed to kick the ball out to Aubrey Dawkins for a triple.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanAbdur-Rahkman didn’t attempt a two-pointer in the win and finished with three points, all on free throws. He’s emerged as a serviceable three-point shooter in LeVert’s absence, but he’s not immune from 0-of-3 performances like tonight.
  • Moritz WagnerWagner lost track of his man after showing on a pick-and-roll and then didn’t see the floor in the second half, giving way to Ricky Doyle.
  • Ricky Doyle: Doyle made the most of his opportunity and finished back-to-back pick-and-rolls that included a few fairly difficult catches. The sophomore has played single digit minutes in every Big Ten game this season and his 4 points were a Big Ten season-high.
  • Kameron ChatmanChatman saw the floor in the second half and promptly turned the ball over almost immediately for the second game in a row. He’ll need to show something quickly to hold onto a chance of seeing the floor in meaningful minutes.
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  • bobohle

    Even though he played only 7 min in the game Ricky Doyle was a positive and he didn’t fumble the ball.

    • AC1997

      I agree. He made a couple of plays where I fully expected him to dribble into a turnover, fumble the ball out of bounds, or miss a layup…..but he looked good. It would be nice to have him safely in the rotation because of his size. Still stunned by Donnal turning his season/career around.

      I am a little surprised that Wilson has been glued to the bench lately. I have never felt like he has a clue on offense, but he seemed to earn himself a few minutes last week. I suspect that Wilson, Doyle, Wagner, and Chatman all get to play based on their effort in practice and matchups. Chatman once again looked horrific in his brief appearance. Right after the turnover he threw another dangerous pass that was nearly stolen. Why put him in the game? He must be working hard and/or the coaches are trying to find a spark for his career.

  • Indiana_Matt

    Got the W. To have such a bad night and win… I will take it. We move on and focus on the next one. We matched last season’s win total tonight and there is a bunch of games to play. Progress. We’ll be looking good if we win 2 of 3 over the next week and a half.

  • robpollard

    Well, Purdue only beat Minnesota by four points tonight. So, per usual, a win is a win.

    Can’t wait until we get Levert back.

  • Bigrange

    Beat the teams you are supposed to beat and hold down the home court. This team needs to come out ready to play against PSU, and show they belong in the conversation of contenders with a win over IU.
    No one is talking about the Wolverines so they can quietly stay in contention.

  • Mattski

    Completely miserable game that looks pretty okay the day after. Got a second big man rolling, got Dawkins further into the mix, saw Robinson get some great in-game experience with driving and shooting, saw Donnal get still more firmly entrenched as a–ha?–defensive enforcer. Least exciting M game I can remember, but here the team sits with more wins at the 2/3 mark than it had all last year. Really hoping we see Levert play Saturday so that he’s working back into the mix for the upcoming, very winnable big games against IU and MSU.

  • ChathaM

    I liked Rutgers’ game plan of preventing Michigan from getting out in transition. It sometimes seemed like a NBA style of play, where they would often send nobody to the offensive glass, just to ensure that they couldn’t be burned in transition. I wonder whether we’ll start to see more of that throughout the college game, given the shorter shot clock. Had Rutgers made a few more shots, that game plan would have resulted in a win.

    The team has gotten away with playing its worst basketball against the league’s worst teams. It certainly is tough to watch, but as others have said, a win is a win. There isn’t much you can do about the poor first half shooting, but I also think Beilein made a great point about players not being willing to drive all the way to the basket. I can recall several possessions where it looked like players had a lane all the way to the rim, but decided to settle for probing the defence. That usually resulted in a late shot clock possession, and a missed shot. I don’t think that’s normal for this team, so I don’t expect to see the same level of settling in the future.

  • urbanachiever

    Not sure I agree with the tone of this game being a letdown. Michigan missed a boatload of WIDE open shots. They must have missed half a dozen uncontested threes before the under 16 timeout. I was more interested in seeing if the offense could generate shots against that defense and they did with ease.

    The Minnesota game was much more concerning because I don’t remember the offense getting nearly as many good looks. If last night’s game is played again and even some of the open looks fall, Michigan scores 80+ and wins by 20+

    • A2MIKE

      agree. And Rutgers hit some ridiculously low percentage shots. Michigan played well defensively, they cleaned up the glass and had less turnovers. Shots just didn’t fall.

      • GTFOmycourt

        I agree with a2mike and urbanahiever about the Rutgers game. I judge the offense by the quality of the looks not whether or not the shots actually go in. We had great looks! Bombs away!

        I differ from urban achiever a bit and what seems to be most of the board in that I was not too concerned by our play against Minnesota–I think Minnesota is not that terrible–not terrible like Rutgers.

  • JustSayen

    I hate these type of games. Playing a lowly squad at home, crowd was absolutely non-existent, and the team was lethargic. In any case, I’ll take 6-2 in conference play all day long. Mich seems to shoot much better from the perimeter when contested rather than wide open, especially Robinson. Bottom ine, I’d rather learn from an ugly win than an ugly loss. Big stretch ahead – Go Blue!

  • gobluemd16

    Beyond just this game, there are two things I am worried about moving forward, to varying degrees. Derrick’s two-point shooting has been pretty bad, especially in Big Ten play. I feel like he was more comfortable and shot a lot better from inside the paint earlier in his career. Games against Nebraska, MSU, and OSU his freshman year I particularly remember for spectacular finishes. That seems to be lacking this season.

    Also, Duncan is now shooting 39% from three in conference play, with only one game above 50%. I am not worried about his shooting, per se, as I still think every shot he takes is going in, but I thought this should be noted. There is a definite downward trend, whether that is more related to fatigue and his legs weakening or better/longer opponents, I am not sure.

    • Chris De Sana

      MAAR finishes better in the paint than Walton and Duncan was bound to come to earth a little as teams pay more attention to him especially in a line up without Caris or a true low post threat.

  • Corperryale

    I hope Michigan can protect the home court against some of the stronger squads coming to Crisler (starting with IU, then MSU, PU and Iowa) and maybe steal a road win here or there, to pull themselves back solidly into the top 25 and a 6 seed or better. I imagine they’ll get better crowds for those home games than they did against lowly Rutgers. Looks like the KenPom/RPI numbers are holding steady steady and I think they’ll need to make a move — rather than just meeting current expectations — to avoid an 8/9 or 7/10 game and a likely early exit from the tournament.