Game 27: Michigan at Ohio State Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan has won without defense before, but it took it 26 games for it to win a game without offense. That was Saturday’s win over Purdue, a victory that left players and coaches talking about a newfound toughness, energy and intensity on the defensive end of the floor.

72 hours later the Wolverines were on the road trying to win without offense once again, but the defense wasn’t there either. The result wasn’t all that surprising: a double-digit road loss.

From the opening jump, Michigan seemed to lack the energy that would be required to win in Columbus. Ohio State jumped out to an early lead, Michigan crept back in and took a modest lead of its own and then the Buckeyes took the lead back once and for all with 10:02 to play.

Ohio State hadn’t beaten a team above it in the Big Ten standings before tonight — it had only played one at home to this point — and it wasn’t going to let a chance to beat Michigan slip away. The Buckeyes held onto the lead and were able to comfortably stretch it to double digits for most of the second half.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this performance from a Michigan perspective is that Ohio State didn’t play some incredible game and put the Wolverines away, the game was always right there for the taking. The Wolverines cut the lead to single digits on four or five difference occasions but they could never string together five or six positive possessions in a row to string together any momentum.

four factors osu

Michigan’s offense just couldn’t make a shot. The Wolverines had plenty of open threes and took plenty of ill-advised three — very few of them went in. The Wolverines were the better team on the offensive glass (outscoring Ohio State 11-3 in second chance points) and didn’t have many turnover issues, but just couldn’t make baskets. Michigan shot 51% on twos and 21% on threes for a 43 eFG%.

There are some scary signs that Michigan’s three-point shooters are just running out of gas. Duncan Robinson, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin continue to struggle from three and Michigan has now had five of its eight worst three-point shooting performances in the last six games. Better defense plays a part, but shooters that usually make shots are missing open shots. The Wolverines don’t have a margin for error in any other department when the three-point shot isn’t falling.


The Buckeyes scored 1.14 points per possession on the night, their third-best offensive performance of the Big Ten season trailing only Rutgers and Northwestern at home. While the offense struggled, there was no question that Michigan let its offensive woes affect its defense.

Ohio State overwhelmed the Wolverines by posting them up across the board. While Zak Irvin was able to exploit a mismatch against Caleb Swanigan against Purdue, Tate is the perfect type of player to overpower Irvin but still have the quickness to defend him. Tate was critical, but other Ohio State wings were also able to exploit smaller Michigan players on the block and their bigs joined in the party as well. The Buckeyes made 16-of-20 shots at the rim in the win and Michigan just couldn’t find any defensive answers. The two times that John Beilein experimented with zone looks (1-3-1 and 2-3), both resulted in dunks.

Foul trouble caught up to Michigan in the second half as the Buckeyes were in the bonus with over 10 minutes to play. On the game, Ohio State shot 23 free throws to 50 field goal attempts and its efficiency at the stripe (73%) kept the Wolverines at bay down the stretch.

This Michigan team just continues to teeter up and down along the bubble. This was Michigan’s first loss against a team outside of the top-50, but coming on the road it wasn’t really a surprise for a team that’s rarely accomplished the unexpected.

Frankly, it’s hard to say where this team goes from here. The feel good story of working Caris LeVert back into the rotation appears to be closer to a pipe dream as he was unable to practice over the last few days despite playing on Saturday and holding a press conference about his recovery on Monday.

Beilein reported after the game that the main rotation will basically have two days off this week to try to recover their legs a bit, but a trip to College Park looms large on Sunday before what has become a must-win against Northwestern at home. The Wolverines need wins and there aren’t many straightforward chances left on the schedule to get them.

Player Bullets:

  • Derrick Walton: Walton shot 1-of-7 on threes and 4-of-7 inside the arc and finished with 13 points and five assists in the loss. He took way too many early clock, ill-advised threes before even running much offense for my liking which was a problem exasperated by the fact that none of them went in.
  • Zak Irvin: Teams are overplaying Irvin more than anyone on the drive-and-kick and he continues to telegraph that pass which was a big reason for his four turnovers. He was the only Michigan player to hit more than one three (2-of-6) and did have some bright moments, but the turnovers have become a troubling trend of late. Irvin has given the ball away 13 times  in the last four games.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanAbdur-Rahkman had some great takes to the rim early in each half, but was really thrown off of his game by foul trouble in both halves. He sat for a significant portion of the first half with two fouls — a stretch that didn’t really seem to kill Michigan as much as plain poor execution in the final minute — and then picked up his third before the first media timeout in the second.
  • Duncan Robinson: Michigan came into the game and got Robinson a bunch of open looks, he only made one. He was never able to shake that cold start and had another disappointing offensive game with 3 points on 1-of-6 shooting. Robinson seems to have pretty clearly hit a wall with his jump shot and on the defensive end he was an even bigger liability as he struggled with Ohio State’s quickness on the wings.
  • Mark DonnalDonnal deserved some credit for creating offense with some hustle inside and finished with 17 points and seven boards (3 offensive). He could have had more though as he still missed several bunnies around the rim that he was finishing earlier on this conference season. After doing such a good job of forcing Purdue’s bigs to catch the ball further away from the basket, Donnal really struggled against Trevor Thompson on the night.
  • Ricky Doyle: Doyle scored four points and recorded a turnover in 7 minutes and perhaps the most surprising element of his performance was that he went 2-for-2 at the free throw line.
  • Aubrey DawkinsDawkins played 19 minutes in the loss and hit a big three in the first half that cut the deficit to 2, but struggled in other elements of the game. He was whistled for four fouls, including two on the same possession that helped Ohio State get to the bonus in the second half. He also had a couple bobbles around the rim that resulted in missed opportunities which could have been dunks or layups.
  • Andrew DakichDakich was back in the rotation with LeVert sidelined and as it always seems to go when Michigan steals minutes from him in the first half — he was on the floor for just one possession too long. Much of the positive momentum that Michigan gained with him in the game was wiped away when Lyle drove on him to setup an open three moments before Walton could check back in.
  • DJ WilsonWilson earned some minutes at the four with Duncan Robinson and Aubrey Dawkins struggling and knocked in a nice hook shot around the rim.
  • gobluemd16

    The team appears to have hit a wall, Duncan especially. This was his worst game of the season, in my view (which wasn’t a great one :)). The game started bad with Caris’ absence, grew worse with the camera angle, and ended terribly. This team needs a shot in the arm because I think we will need to beat another team outside of N’Western to feel comfortable making the dance.

    • bobohle

      Also could use Wisc and OSU to lose multiple games.

  • bobohle

    I like your 3pt shooting by game graphic. They sure live and die by the three don’t they.

  • malcolm bolt

    Dylan, keep up the splendid work. I think it would be great to assess the coach and/or coaching staff in addition to the player bullets as post game analysis. I think it would help understand how game time situations are handled and to better understand what decisions/choices/gambles/adaptations helped to win or lose a game.

  • robpollard

    “Perhaps the most frustrating part of this performance(is) the game was always right there for the taking.” True that. I was not impressed by OSU,; U of M missed tons of open shots.

    If the team is running out of gas, well then it’s time to clear the benches in College Park where our chances of winning are (frankly) close to zero — let’s see Chapmann and Wagner get some play, and more time from DJ Wilson. We need to be rest & ready to beat Northwestern.

  • AC1997

    The simple story is that we have become a three point shooting team that can’t hit threes. This is another example of how losing Spike and Caris hurts since those are two guys who can shoot, drive, and set up teammates.

    But the other thing that frustrated me is the fact that Donnal and Doyle combined to miss 3-4 layups. These weren’t even difficult layups thru contact either. That was six free points and totally changes the end of the game. Even as someone who will always defend Beilein, his inability to recruit a center who can dunk those instead of trying layups is very frustrating. I applaud Donnal for having a sneaky good game on offense, but the bunnies he missed haunt this game.

    • Chris De Sana

      To your point I think we miss Spike darn near as much as Caris. He was a leader on and off the court not only with his skills but emotion.

  • GTFOmycourt

    I judge our 3point oriented offense based upon the quality of shots, not whether or not we are making shots. We do not get good looks. We have good shooters but they are forced into garbage shots because something is not flowing with the offense. Any ideas?

    • AC1997

      Here’s my uneducated theory. OSU told their players that only the C would help on any drives to the hoop – everyone else had to stay home. We know that Irvin and Walton already struggle to finish/drive against good athletes, but the point here was that the only outlet given would be the center. And our centers did combine for 23 points, but OSU was willing to take that risk as long as they didn’t give up outlet passes to the perimeter.

      So how did Beilein plan to defeat that? Well, to me it comes down to finishing. Doyle and Donnal missed three AUTOMATIC layups. Even if you ignore the more difficult post finishes, those were 6 free points. If they make those, now it is a close game and OSU has to decide whether to continue their strategy or not. Even if they don’t, Michigan just needs 1-2 three-point shots to go down and they’re in position to win on the road. While the outside shots were difficult, it is pretty safe to say that Beilein expects his five wing players to make 1-2 of those shots and his post players to make routine bunny layups.

      It was ugly, but it was also there for the taking.

      • GTFOmycourt

        Thanks, that made a lot of sense.

    • UMHoopsFan

      Some looks were tough but a bunch were good ones, and very few were really bad shots. It’s also not a static thing — make a couple shots and the offense opens up looks inside and out. Never happened though.

    • Chris De Sana

      Having a real threat to finish at the rim like Burke could would help; or true big man that could demand attention in the paint. But our offense in the pain also starts with the quality of our PG penetration so back to square one.

  • gobluemd16

    This post may come off as very pessimistic, but it is also realistic in my view. If you take it as fact that Caris will never return to 100% or full integration in the lineup, which I think is what you have to assume at this point, we have reached a ceiling. He cannot be counted on consistently, which is highly unfortunate for both him and the team. Being “sore” for three days after 11 minutes of play is not a good sign at all. With Caris in a limited capacity, whatever that is, we are who we are as a team at this point. If we hit our threes, which has become increasingly difficult, we can compete with the upper echelon teams, but will remain weak on the defensive end. The Purdue and Maryland games were aberrations, in my opinion. Trimble had a terrible game shooting against us and Purdue missed a ton of bunnies around the rim. At best, we make the tournament as a 7-11 seed and win a round. I don’t think we have the horses to beat a top 2 seed, even with the high amount of parity this season. I just don’t see any real upside. I would really like to hear what others think about this. Maybe I should put this post in the forums as well.

    • Tony DeMaria

      I’d have to agree. Without Caris, the offense has a difficult time creating shots and getting shooters open without significant effort. The team just doesn’t have enough talent without Caris. We’ve benefited from an easy Big Ten schedule thus far (3 road games against the other top 7 teams in the conference and only 7 total games against those teams) to get us in tourney contention, but at a time when we should we hitting our stride to survive a difficult last 5 games we are stagnant or even regressing. I’m sure this is the pessimist in my talking, but I don’t see how we do better than 1-3 in our last 4 (NW being the win). That would put us at 20-11 (10-8) with 3 Top 100 wins and finishing the season 3-6. I think if that is the case, they will need to play until Saturday to have a realistic shot at the tourney, but again to get to Saturday we need to beat a top Big Ten team.

      I think an NIT selection is likely, which is a disappointment but I think fitting of their talent level without Caris. I am looking forward to getting more talent on this team and hopefully avoid injuries in the coming years.

  • Chris De Sana

    Same ole same ole other than the fact that in this game we were out coached as well. OSU was simply more prepared on both ends of the court and made far better in game adjustments. OSU had an answer to the 2/3 zone and the 1/3/1 zone both leading to dunks.

    Hate to say it but do not expect much to change in this guard orientated offense; if our guards can not beat someone off the dribble on a regular basis creating opportunities at the 3 point line will be limited. If we can’t guard the ball we will give up opportunities. And our interior defense is just not good, why not go big at some point?

  • umnyc

    Anyone else getting the sense that B1G defenses have figured us out? Matta has always been a good defensive coach so last night was somewhat expected, but in the last few games I feel like opposing defenders have camped out on the baseline waiting to defend the corner 3s or even worse intercept the passes. Part of this is not having a guard who is a real threat to finish at the rim, but I also think the coaches haven’t been quick enough to make an adjustment.

    • mikey_mac

      UM’s offense is a known entity at this point within the B1G, but it’s still complex enough to have counters to defenses, given enough weapons. Having only one or two playmakers running that offense is taking its toll this year as good scouting can take away those playmakers’ tendencies (see Irvin’s turnovers).

      • Chris De Sana

        Have we ever had more than 2 play makers on a Coach B roster?

        • mikey_mac

          No, but having 2 on the floor is a necessity for the offense to hum. We are running with just Irvin (fully qualified) and MAAR (low usage, low assist rate — only qualifies because he’s at least a nominal threat inside and out, but doesn’t really fit the description) right now. Doesn’t really compare to Burke/THJ, Stauskas/LeVert, when UM was top-5 nationally on offense.

        • UMHoopsFan

          Yes. Trey, Timmy, and Nik were all playing at the same time – Caris was on the roster but not playing much, GRIII and Mitch are arguable too.

          • Chris De Sana

            Not sure Nik would have been an offensive facilitator in his freshman year.

    • Chris De Sana

      In a word yes

    • UMHoopsFan

      Sure, to some extent, but everyone’s offense and defense gets “figured out” to some extent. Success depends on the talent/skill/experience level of players. You’d have that sense a lot less if Caris hadn’t been injured and Jaylen Brown had signed up. And we still have a top 3rd offense in B1G play after losing our two seniors and captains, who included our best offensive player and another of our best offensive players. So it’s not like our offense is terrible, especially considering how cold our 3 point shooting has been lately.

  • NIck

    I’m a little surprise on how down everyone is. I thought Michigan was clearly gassed but nonetheless showed a tremendous amount of heart. Every time it looked like OSU was going to be run away with it Michigan bounced back and made it interesting again. They refused to quit and didn’t concede victory until the very end. If they continue to play with this toughness, the shots will start to fall and they will be fine.

    • Chris De Sana

      Not sure everyone is down just realize that this this team has some real short comings that will not be fixed with the current roster. So unless they shoot lights out they will struggle even against teams with less talent.

    • rlcBlue

      Before the game – when I expected LeVert to play – I told myself I would be happy if we won but not disappointed if we lost. I ended up being more disappointed than I expected. The game was there for the taking, and we didn’t take it.

      In the later stages of the first half, when we were in the bonus and it was clear that OSU was not helping off of shooters, it was obvious that we needed to drive the ball to the basket and either make layups or get fouled. It was very frustrating to instead see a parade of contested jumpers. That was when the game was lost – instead of going into halftime with a lead and several Bucknuts in foul trouble, we went in behind; after Matta made his halftime adjustments, they quickly pushed the lead out to 10 and we could never overtake them. Phooey.

  • Mattbuckets

    I for one cannot stand to watch Duncan pass the ball within the offense and jog over to the corner anymore. It just simply is not good enough. He needs to be working for his offense plain and simple.