Game 25: Michigan at Minnesota Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan got a career game out of its point guard, made 56% of its threes and had valuable contributions off the bench, but still needed to sweat out a road victory over Minnesota (6-18, 0-12 Big Ten).

The Wolverines led throughout much of the first half and stretched their lead to 19 midway through the second, but took their foot off the gas late after a pair of Duncan Robinson triples seemed to put the game to bed. Minnesota responded with a 19-4 run powered by Wolverine turnovers to cut the lead to just two points in the final minutes.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman supplied the answer for the Wolverines, finishing a three-point play on a driving layup through contact and following that up with a great defensive play to turn a Gopher fast break into a turnover.

minny flow

Any win is a step in the right direction for the Wolverines (18-7, 8-4 Big Ten) after such a deflating week, but the bottom line is that this is probably as good as Michigan is without Caris LeVert. This team has an offense capable of putting up points in a hurry, but just doesn’t have the depth or talent to put teams away — especially on the road — or compete consistently with some of the league’s best. This game showed the same late comeback and scramble to hang on trend that we’ve seen consistently away from home, most recently against Penn State and Nebraska.

Michigan’s offense finally snapped out of its slump, scoring 1.21 points per possession as essentially every Wolverine other than Zak Irvin had an impressive offensive game. The Wolverines were on fire from three-point range and found more unsettled opportunities in transition than they have in weeks. The ball moved (17 assists on 28 makes), the shots fell (67 eFG%) and everything seemed to be going swimmingly until things started to fall apart on the defensive end.

miny four factors

Michigan’s defense also had some decent moments for early stretches of the game, but completely unraveled late as the Gophers started to attack the rim and get to the line. Early in the second half the Gophers gashed Michigan inside, posting the ball to Jordan Murphy, and late they started clicking off the bounce.

Nate Mason’s quickness was a major problem once again. In the first half, Mason and Joey King were able to exploit Michigan switching the ball screen action with Mason beating Irvin off the bounce and King using his size to score inside against Walton. The Wolverines cleaned up that switch in the second half and played more 2-3 zone defense, but Minnesota wore down the Michigan defense and found plenty of easy layups and free throw opportunities late.

On the night, the Gophers managed to score 1.09 points per possession despite shooting just 4-of-19 (21%) from three-point range — the first time they surpassed a point per possession in the last nine games.

This was a win that Michigan had to have because the opposite result would have been backbreaking. The Wolverines got the victory and won’t worry about style points, but they’ll need to build on it ahead of Saturday’s date with Purdue. The Boilermakers just knocked off Michigan State for their best win of the Big Ten season and will have plenty of momentum heading into Ann Arbor as Caris LeVert’s status remains a mystery.

Player Bullets:

  • Derrick Walton: Walton was playing the game at another level tonight. He shot the lights out in the first half and distributed the ball well in the second. His 7 assists don’t tell the whole story as he threw a number of great passes to the bigs around the basket that ended up in free throws. He seemed to tire a bit down the stretch, but he was the primary reason that Michigan controlled this game throughout. Walton has been the KenPom MVP in Michigan’s last five Big Ten victories. When Walton plays well, the Wolverines play well.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: When Abdur-Rahkman is shooting (and making) the corner three with confidence, it opens up Michigan’s entire offense.  He made three on three attempts tonight, snapping a 1-of-11 streak from the perimeter. The triples opened up the rest of the offense including a few strong drives, finishes and dimes. But his hustle play to break up a would-be fastbreak layup in the final minute might have just won Michigan the game.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson made his first three-point attempt, but it wasn’t until the second half that he made a few in a row to finally snap his slump. Also on the positive side of the ledger, he grabbed a season-high nine defensive rebounds. I thought that Beilein put in a few wrinkles to get Robinson more involved in the offense, including some baseline cross-screen action with Irvin that looked straight out of Michigan State’s playbook.
  • Zak Irvin: Irvin played so poorly that it’s hard not to wonder if he was fighting an injury or illness. He finished 1-of-8 from the floor and had 4 turnovers to three assists and just looked out of sorts on both ends of the floor from the get-go.
  • Mark Donnal: Donnal had 8 points in the win, but should have had more as he botched quite a few bunnies around the hoop that would have been easy twos earlier in the Big Ten season. To compound matters, Donnal struggled with foul trouble throughout and only played 19 minutes.
  • Ricky Doyle: I thought this was Doyle’s best game in a while as he scored 6 points off the bench and did a good job catching the ball in the pick-and-roll game, usually getting fouled. 4-of-8 free throw shooting is room for improvement, but the 8 FTAs show how involved Doyle was in the offense.
  • Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins came off the bench and hit a pair of threes in the first half while the majority of Michigan’s bench unit was in the game. That’s an area of the game where the Wolverines have really struggled at times and the offensive lift was critical to stretch the lead.
  • Andrew Dakich: Dakich provided some nice spot minutes in the first half to give Walton a breather and tallied a pair of assists. Overall the bench play was a net-positive and that’s major progress from how the Wolverine bench has performed lately.
  • Here’s a sobering stat:

    7 of Michigan’s 8 Big Ten wins are against the six Big Ten teams with a losing conference record. 1-4 against teams with winning record.

    Only 1 game left against team w/ losing record (NW at home).

    • robpollard

      – It is a useful stat, but it would be sobering if we weren’t already on the wagon.

      This team has, to its credit, made sure it beat the bad teams all year; unfortunately, they have gotten absolutely drilled (with rare exceptions) by good to very good teams this year. That’s who this team is.

      That’s why this game against an awful, winless Minnesota game was a must-win. And thanks to a great game by Walton, it was won.

      – You are 100% correct on Irvin. I almost hope he is injured (though not really), because he was awful. He was a very poor man’s George Irvin, trying finger rolls when authoritative dunks (or at least strong layups) were called for. Multiple times he had an edge on his man, but instead of going up strong, he went for the unnecessary “fake, pivot to the other side”, which fooled kow one.

      I think more likely is his confidence is as shattered as his post-game comments after IU and MSU indicated. He barely hit rim on this first shot of the game and it was downhill from there.

      Still, I’ll take the win and hopefully Levert gets his mind right, comes back, and Irvin can go back to being a key complimentary player, as he unfortunately can’t handle on a consistent basis — even in his junior year — being one of top two guys.

      • GTFOmycourt

        I agree that this was a very bad game for Irvin, but I suspect, because of the back surgery, he is worn down. It is never a good thing to start the season at less than 100 percent and try to work yourself into 100 percent during the season. That is a recipe for getting worn down. He needs a little less playing time and he needs for other players to carry more of a load, otherwise he is going to be a mess by tournament time, imo.

        • Mattski

          He definitely looked worn down in the close-up shot when Beilein sent him right back in on D. Worry, because we need the guy. We were all raving about his new-found ability to finish around the rim a minute ago.

          • GTFOmycourt

            Even putting his back surgery aside…. Irvin always seems to be expending insane amounts of energy because he is forced to guard very strong and relatively big power forwards. So yeah, given his defensive assignments, the guy probably needs more rests, and I don’t think we should be too surprised that he appears to not be very explosive when attacking the rim. His muscles are fatigued.

          • Carl

            Any one know if we are favored by ken pom vs Purdue?

          • rlcBlue

            1 point underdog – 46% chance of winning – which is to say, a toss-up.

          • robpollard

            If he’s worn down, he’s *really* worn down, as his very first shot — in the first minute, i.e., before he should have been tired — barely hit the rim. He almost air balled an open 15-footer.

            Then he was acting like the old guy at the Y, resorting to pump fakes when they weren’t necessary.

            I think his confidence is what is worn down, as much as anything. Hopefully he can get that back, along with getting a bit more rest if/when Caris comes back.

      • MAZS

        I know that you know, and simply mis-typed, but for those who may not appreciate the reference, it was to legendary George Gervin, not George Irvin.

  • Fab54ever

    To many easy layups at the end of the game made this interesting…….We know the scouting report Minny can’t shoot outside but we were still getting beat of the dribble time and time again. Need a shoot blocker next year or things arent going to change anytime soon. Good win though by the boys should have Chris back vs Purdue

  • Mattski

    Hit our free throws, make a few bunnies–even have Walton drop in a last two at the end (as he could have, which would have left a 10-point margin), and I think this game has a slightly different complexion. If I’m the coach I see a lot to build on here, including some stirrings from the bench. Just one game where things really hum and whir for this team against a team like Purdue down the stretch here and I think they could approach the post-season with a sense they might do damage.

    On a different note: there was a statement by mpbear last night that Beilein only gives about 15 minutes to defense in his practices. Is that your sense of things, Dylan?

  • Corperryale

    I know the cliche that “it’s hard to win on the road in the Big Ten etc” but Minnesota is hot garbage. Still glad that U-M pulled together for the win.

    MAAR is a very good basketball player. I know he was in the midst of a shooting slump but in the MSU rout he still had 4 assists to zero turnovers. Considering that his passing skills are often downplayed, I thought he should have gotten some credit for that.

    • Ethan

      I thought MAAR really was the deciding factor in this game. Yes, Walton had a career game to put them out front most of them game, but at the end there, when Minny was rallying, MAAR has the clutch drive, basket, and one, three point play. Then he forces the turnover on the following possession. I’m excited to see how his career plays out.

      Also, is it just me, or does Ricky Doyle get stuffed every time he looks to finish under the basket? He’s just living and dying by foul shots.

      • gobluemd16

        He plays like his feet are stuck in cement. He can barely dunk and he is 6’9.

      • MAZS

        I think last night would have been a perfect match up for Wagner to get meaningful minutes. No one to really post him up. And I bet he’d have finished some of those layups/dunks.

  • GTFOmycourt

    MAAR shows a lot of promise! He is chronically underrated and overlooked.

    • He’s having a very good season. Limited role at times, but he’s certainly improved. Will be interesting to see where he fits next year, seems like a lock to start at the two guard again. I’m most impressed with some of the passes he’s had lately, a lot that he would have never made last season.

      • Fab 5 Legends

        completely agree….he has progressed from last year when we had those injuries…i think his creativity off the dribble and attacking mentality will just continue to improve…i expect him to have a big year next year and his senior year…might end out being another diamond in the rough player that Beilein spotted…I think MAAR has the most upside in his recruiting class at Michigan….(Dawkins, Wilson, Chatman, Doyle)

        • gobluemd16

          I wouldn’t say he has the most upside, but he definitely has the highest floor — he has proven that. With the type of athleticism Aubrey has shown, and if DJ were able to put it all together, I would consider them to have the most “upside.”

          • GTFOmycourt

            Not a great leaper like Dawkins but compared to Dawkins MAAR seems to: be a lot faster, have a lot quicker reaction times, better agility and makes much better decisions. 3 of those 4 things really can’t be learned at this point in their lives. The fact that Dawkins is a better leaper does not translate into buckets at the rim or good defense in any way shape or form. MAAR can learn to be a better 3 point shooter. Not easy, but possible. I would take my chances with MAAR’s upside over Dawkins all day long. Just my opinion.

    • MAZS

      MAAR can play. But after a good game–here and Purdue–there is a tendency of many to really raise the ceiling on where he’s at now and his future prospects. That seems to discount the many games he almost disappears from. I do believe he is starting to see the court better and finding open players while they are still open. Given his age, I think it is very difficult to assess his upside.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    good win! lets get another one at home against NW…glad to see our rotation players all contributing 1 way or another…even though Minn at the bottom of the BigTen, these wins are confidence boosters and hopefully we continue to learn from mistakes in February so we are poised for a good BigTen championship run and NCAA showing…as long as Walton or Irvin carry the load we should do fine…the problem is when they don’t – Indiana/Michigan State happens…

  • MChem83

    Cold hard facts. This team is not going to beat any upper tier opponent in the Big Ten, even with Levert back. They will be doing well to scratch out two more wins, and finish 10-8, which puts them very definitely on the bubble, given their dearth of quality wins, their lack of impressive wins against weaker BT teams, and their consistent pattern of not even keeping things close against better teams. At this point, deep in the BT season, there is nothing to build on, and no further for confidence to be boosted by struggling wins. We are what we are.

    Probably 1-1 in the BT tourney, which will not help their NCAA prospects. If we do make the NCAA, it will be as no better than an 8th seed, and we will get one win at the most. There will be no “deep run”.

    • UMHoopsFan

      Well, the team beat MD without LeVert, and they’re as upper-tier as it gets. Also, your comment does not contain a single fact. It does contain a lot of predictions, which you may feel confident in. We shall see if they are correct.

      • MAZS

        and while there may be some truth to his opinion, there is also that “I’m (just the only one) telling it like it is” vibe.

    • Corperryale

      Grim prediction but you’re probably right. The problem with the 8/9 seed lines is that you might steal a win, but then you’re staring down a one seed and then it’s all over.

      • MChem83

        For a dicey team that will depend on getting a physically soft opponent in the second round to go any further, it would almost be better to be an 11 seed going against a 6 seed in the first. A hot shooting night could generate an upset, and the next opponent would be no better than 3, and there is a realistic chance of getting a 14. 3 seeds have been upset quite a few times in the first round, 1 seeds never. But if we were at the level of an 11 seed, the chances of getting in from the Big Ten are pretty poor.

    • A2MIKE

      I love how you present 10-8 as a stone cold fact. When they don’t finish 10-8, I will be looking for you. Statistics and probabilities show that Michigan is more likely to go 11-7 than 10-8 and have a slightly lower chance at 12-6 than 10-8. If you really think this team can’t find a way to beat NW and someone else on that schedule than you are not being objective.

  • Dan

    Before the game, we were told by JB that Caris was cleared to play and that it was “his decision” to play or not. I am trying to figure out why Caris decided to not play at least a little against the worst team in the league. This would have made for a great re-entry point for LeVert. If this was a coaches decision, then JB needs to stop sending mixed messages. If Caris decided not to play out of fear of reinjury, then he is damaged goods and will not be the same player ever again for UM. I hope it is not the latter, but at this point I suspect this to be the reason.

    • GTFOmycourt

      I think you correctly pointed out some of psychological elements that are probably at play in Levert’s mind but you are being way too extreme and unrealistic when you say: “If Caris decided not to play out of fear of reinjury, then he is damaged goods and will not be the same player ever again for UM”. NBA draft or no NBA draft, it is totally normal for a player to be tentative, at first, when they are trying to get back into the groove of going full speed after an injury. Nobody wants to re-injure themselves! Fear is a factor. Maybe Caris took note of his psychological/physical state in practice and felt he would be hurting the team by participating at Minnesota? Maybe he just needs a few more hard practices under his belt to feel good about full speed and banging around?

      • Dan

        Love your login name! We all enjoyed that game. I hope I am wrong, but I do feel there is something to the fear factor. Same foot, twice injured in less than a year and the thought of injury is going to be there. If he cannot get over this, then his NBA prospects are going to dry up and he better start learning Italian or French.

        • GTFOmycourt

          Thanks Dan I was wondering if people caught the reference… No, I agree that fear must be a factor. I feel a little scared for him just thinking about it. I hope he can overcome it. I think he will but it might take a some practices and a few games going all out. On the bright side, the fear factor might tend to sway him from trying to “take on the world” I think the team might play better if Walton, Irvin and Levert share the load in a more balanced way.

  • Will

    This team isn’t great and not a final 4 contender. They can’t seem to stay in games against very good teams. However, Irvin has improved since the new year (with except of last night), all the sophomores have nearly another season of experience and Donnal has greatly improved since Nov/Dec. The team plays sub par defense. Their best defense comes from their offense. The offense gets really stagnant and confused against good defensive teams. The problem? We don’t have anyone that can drive and create shots on their own. However, Caris can do this. If he can come back and be strong then he adds the one on one matchup that will open up the rest of the floor. I think with a more experienced (a couple months of games and practice is LOTS of experience) team and a healthy Levert and ANY inside presence, the team doesn’t look as bad last week or against other top rated teams. Not saying they will beat those teams but they should be able to hang around in games and with our shooting, have a decent chance against many teams.