Notebook: Lack of depth takes its toll as perimeter struggles continue

Zach Shaw

When the Michigan basketball team missed its first five shots of the game, it was instantly thrust into the comeback role in Columbus. The Wolverines were momentarily up to the task, taking a lead several minutes into the first half.

But by the end of the first half, the Wolverines trailed by eight, and it could have been even worse. The dropoff came from a flat effort out of the gates and caused Michigan head coach John Beilein to question the Wolverines’ depth.

Without senior guards Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht and with a roster that was already thin to begin with, the shorthanded Michigan team showed its fatigue just three days after a physical game against Purdue.

That fatigue was especially evident in the Wolverines’ typical comeback leaders — junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. and junior forward Zak Irvin — who combined to shoot just 10 of 28 from the field.

“I think both of them — Derrick was still fatigued from the Minnesota game on Saturday, and now (he had to) go back (and play) again,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “They did almost nothing on Sunday, so we could really get some rest for them, but there’s a lot of minutes being logged out there.”

The loss in Columbus closes a three-game stretch in seven days which included trips to Minneapolis and Columbus along with a home bout against the 18th-ranked Boilermakers. Michigan went 2-1 in the stretch, but is unhappy with Tuesday’s loss, which eliminates the team’s margin for error down the stretch.

“Our week of playing at Minnesota Wednesday, an emotional week, winning that game at Purdue and the lack of depth we have right now may have affected some of our guys,” Beilein said.

Of course, LeVert’s back-and-forth status, along with sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s early foul troubles only added on to the Wolverines’ woes.

But with Michigan now in crunch time, its leaders aren’t making any excuses.

“I think every team goes through this, three games in seven days,” Irvin said. “I don’t really want to use fatigue as an excuse.”

Shooting falls off

Fatigue and a lack of depth may have played a role in it, but the defining component of Tuesday’s loss was that the Wolverines — long a team that lives and dies by its outside shooting — shot just 5 of 24 from 3-point range.

Including Saturday’s win over Purdue, Michigan is now 10 for 44 over its last two games from beyond the arc. And if you were to take away Irvin’s 6-for-14 clip in that stretch, Michigan is shooting a paltry 13.3 percent from deep in its past two contests.

“When an elite shooter like Derrick goes 2-for-something the last couple games, it’s a bad number,” Beilein said. “Duncan as well. Ohio State’s defense is really good. We’ve played four or five teams in this league (like that).”

On Tuesday, Ohio State’s defense did eliminate some high-quality shooting attempts, but the defining moment came when redshirt sophomore Duncan Robinson — considered one of the best outside shooters in the country — missed two open threes on one possession. He was only 1 for 5 from 3 on the night.

“I’m proud of how hard we battled,” Beilein said. “I just wish we could have gotten some easier shots or made the ones that we did get. We didn’t get enough. Ohio State, they got us, and that’s all there is to it.”

Donnal plays well

There weren’t many positives from Michigan’s loss to the Buckeyes, but one of them may have been forward Mark Donnal.

After disappearing early on in the season, the junior has emerged as a reliable post presence. He has gotten beat by elite forwards some contests, but led the Wolverines with 17 points and seven rebounds.

The performance brings his conference stats to 10.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, more than adequate on the guard-heavy team.

“I got some open looks. Credit to my teammates for finding me,” Donnal said.

Added Beilein: “He did a really great job leveraging his body … He actually could have had more (points).”

The performance came just a day after Beilein admitted that he was limitng Donnal’s workload during the home stretch of the season due to previous illnesses and fatigue from last season.

“I have to be careful with that because he has a propensity to get worn down in the season,” Beilein said Monday. “If we were 20 and 20, if that other 20 comes from multiple guys (Ricky Doyle, D.J. Wilson, Moe Wagner), that’s probably best for him.”

Donnal was stretched to 32 minutes of game time on Tuesday, but even in the extended role, he made the most of it.

  • gobluemd16

    The more I think about it, the less I buy fatigue as an issue. Yes, the starters have played a lot of minutes, but these are 18-21 year old kids. They sometimes played multiple games in a day, or 3 games in 3 days in AAU. They get, at minimum, two days off between games and Beilein rested all the starters during Sunday’s practice. I am sure their legs are worn down and there are some bruises, but other teams have the same issues. The lack of intensity in a rivalry game was extremely, extremely disappointing.

    • Chillax

      maybe it was just the angle we were seeing (wink).

    • mikey_mac

      The more I think about it, the more I buy it. Irvin and Walton are playing crazy minutes, and are expected to carry the team on both ends of the floor. Irvin in particular is asked to play lead playmaker on offense, then run back and cover a guy almost assuredly bigger and stronger on the block. It doesn’t take exhaustion to the point of hospitalization to throw off a jump shot. It’s not like they are air-balling threes, they just don’t have perfect form to knock them down at the high rate they were falling at earlier this season.
      The vaunted depth we were all so excited about before the season has completely fallen apart without Caris and Spike. That is 40-50 minutes of expected rotation time missing every game, out of 200 total minutes available. 20-25%!

      • dingleberries1972

        The problem is that Spike when recruited was always supposed to be a nice back up piece. Michigan deserves better than fixer uppers and project players at this point.

    • AC1997

      I posted something over at MGoBlog last week. Since Caris got hurt Walton is averaging 35.6mpg (not counting the last two contests). That is more than Burke in 2013 or Stauskas in 2014. In that same time frame, Rahk is averaging about 33mpg and has already played more minutes this year (by far) than he did all of last year. Fatigue is definitely a factor.

      However, I think that is only part of the story. When things aren’t going well on the floor, for whatever reason (fatigue, match-ups, off-night, foul trouble, etc.) and Beilein turns to his bench for a sub to try and change the flow…..who is there? Dawkins is a nice piece, but he does not create his own shot or shots for others. Then there’s Doyle. Dakich is not an answer and thus Walton, Rahk, and Irvin have to play constantly and you have to live with their highs and lows.

    • rlcBlue

      “what other teams don’t have the same issues?”

      Well, other teams with more depth, that’s who.

      Walton has played 89.6% of the team’s minutes in B1G play – 3rd in the conference. Irvin’s played 89.3% – 4th in the conference. Rahk is at 76.6% – 21st in the conference (he only played 8 minutes against Illinois in the B1G opener). There are 90 starters in the conference, yet we have half of the top 4 in minutes played.

      You know who has even less depth than us? Northwestern. McIntosh and Demps are 1st and 2nd in the league in minutes played. The Wildcats have lost 7 of their last 9 – what’s wrong with these 18-21 year olds? That they’re playing against better rested 18-21 year olds is no excuse – it must be a character flaw.

  • mikey_mac

    Dylan/Zach, I feel like we’ve seen hot starts to seasons before from 3PT%, only to see it fade as winter wears on. Is there any national correlation between playing time and decreasing 3PT%?
    A simple analysis would be 3PT% by month, nationally, perhaps excluding non-conference to remove the cupcakes. A more complicated take would be to divide players into buckets: below, at, and above average minutes per game, and really see if more minutes weighs on players’ 3PT% as the season progresses. Averages minutes is something like taking an average of the top 8 guys’ minutes on every team, to capture only real rotation guys/contributors.

  • AC1997

    Zach – I disagree with one point in your article. You said “with a roster that was thin to begin with.” While I agree with the significant effect of losing Caris and Spike (I commented on that below), the talk of this roster being thin missing the point.

    The storyline before the season was how this was the most depth that Beilein ever had. There were 12 players who could contribute. We were going to redshirt Rahk, Wagner, or even Chatman because we had so much depth. We had a true 2-deep at every position and even more bodies at wing and center!

    Yet here we are in the heart of the season with a 7-man rotation. Walton, Rahk, and Irvin essentially have to play the entire game. Dawkins and Doyle are the only subs playing meaningful minutes and neither of them create their own shots or shots for others – they are entirely dependent on the rest of the team feeding them.

    The reason you stated that the roster is “thin” is because Wilson and Chatman have been horrible disappointments to this point in their career that aren’t earning any minutes. When you combine that with the loss of Caris and Spike you end up with a thin roster. The “plan” at this point in the roster construction was to have flexibility, You can tell Beilein wants to have a true stretch-4 but can’t trust Wilson or Chatman to play real minutes. And he only has two guards left on the roster.

    • Andrew

      I think depth hurts Michigan a lot. However, part of that is on the coach who needs to give enough minutes to some ml of these guys to make them feel like they are essential. I think Wilson should be logging minutes at the four every game and in both halves. Coach b has a tendency to rely too much on his starters. It’s time to trust Wilson a bit more and give him time. It’s not as though guys were tearing it up out there and couldn’t come out. The guard spot is tough but you have to steal minutes with Irvin at the 2 and rahk at the one. That means Dawkins, Doyle and Wilson are playing in both halves in every game and know they have a role to play. It helps with team chemistry as well. Anyhow, part of it is on the coach for not developing that depth. As harbaugh says, guys get better by playing.

      • AC1997

        There was a time in the non-conference season for Chatman and Wilson to get minutes. And you do see him give one or the other about 5 minutes in a game. But I think we’ve all seen enough of them at this point to know that for every minute you take one of the top 6 guys off the floor in favor of Wilson, Chatman, or Dakich that you’re setting minutes on fire. Maybe there’s hope for them next year, but I have no problem keeping that trio glued to the bench.

  • dingleberries1972

    These games are lost on the recruiting trail. Good teams with good athletes shoot nothing but layups the entire game. They play little or no defense. I hear them talk about how players make shots during practice. The reason they make shots in practice is because they are making them against guys that play no defense. These recruiting classes are disasters. The athleticism on this team is the type you should have when building a program not the type of talent you should have after runner up and elite eight runs. Starting to believe Stauskas and Burke were accidents with unbelievable work ethics and not products of Beilien?

  • Bcrew

    I don’t buy the fatigue excuse. I played and coached Juco and Division 2 basketball. At that age you can play all day without getting tired if you’re in the shape you should be. Where depth hurts Michigan is when they have no one to bring in when they need to and have no one to provide a spark off the bench. Some Big Ten teams have subs that would start for Michigan. Obviously the loss of Caris and Spike is part of the problem but the team lacked quality depth to begin with.

  • dingleberries1972

    Donnal is the worst starting 5 in the league and Irvin would be a middle of the pack 3 if he played the 3. At a 4 he is probably the worst 4. I remember about every player since 1985 and if Donnal, Doyle and Wagner are the best 5s we can muster then UM fans are in trouble. Really outside of McGary going beast mode for three weeks, Glen Robinsons freakish athleticism and Stauskas working harder than everyone it would be hard to be a fan. Beilien either doesn’t want or can’t get college ready talent.

    • mpbear14

      Could not agree more

  • Wayman Britt

    Good comments below. Don’t think fatigue is a problem, it’s because our bench is not talented enough to play more, which is very concerning. Wilson should be ready to spell Duncan and Zak, but just isn’t good enough. Where has Wagner’s development been? I know it’s early in his career, but other teams have freshman who are contributing. Does he have the talent?

    • dingleberries1972

      Minutes in a game is over analyzing things. In order to compete with good teams you have to have players that can leave early. At least two or three have to have the talent to leave early. We’d be lucky if teams from the MAC would take these guys off our hands.

    • mpbear14

      The first think I thought of when reading this write up was the title was misleading.

      Replace the word depth with talent or at least put the word quality before depth. Don’t sugar coat it.