Exhibition: Armstrong State at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan’s exhibition win over Armstrong State was about routine as expected, but the Wolverines looked like a team with plenty of preseason kinks left to iron out.

The Wolverines coasted to an early lead and led 40-23 at halftime, despite junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman missing the contest due to a minor ankle injury suffered on Thursday night. But the Pirates put a mild scare into the Wolverines early in the second half, cutting the Michigan lead to 11 points in less than 4 minutes and forcing John Beilein to call a timeout.

His message during the stoppage seemed to resonate and the Michigan defense buckled down and held their Division II foes scoreless for the next 7 minutes and coasted away with a 28 point win.

The Wolverines were led by four double-digit scorers — Zak Irvin (15), Moritz Wagner (15), Derrick Walton Jr. (12) and DJ Wilson (10) — in the routine victory.


Offensively, Michigan never quite seemed to get in sync. The Wolverines scored 1.05 points per possession which isn’t an impressive total and speaks to the helter-skelter, up-tempo and turnover plagued flow of the game. While Michigan had some good moments and stretches, there were too many giveaway plays that the coaching staff and players will want back when they watch film on Saturday.

Michigan only made 6-of-19 threes and didn’t hit a triple until late in the first half, scoring more points on post entries than on threes for the early stretch of the game. I’m not ready to say that the fast pace (73 possessions) is a product of some stylistic change by the Wolverines as much as it may just be the nature of the game.

Defensively, I thought there were some notable shifts. Early on I noticed Michigan guards, specifically Derrick Walton, icing more ball screens (preventing the ball handler from using the pick) than I ever remember Michigan doing in the past. It will be interesting to follow if that trend continues into the regular season and how effective it is.

Overall the defense held Armstrong State to 33% two-point shooting and 19% three-point shooting. Both of those are obviously good numbers, but it’s almost impossible to adjust for the level of play. One thing worth pointing out is that the Wolverines allowed Le Moyne to score 1.06 points per possession and a 47.1 eFG% in last year’s exhibition game. The turnovers stand out as the Pirates gave the ball away once every four possessions, but I would say there were as many live ball turnovers as careless giveaways.

When Michigan struggled defensively, the problems started on the glass. The run that Armstrong State put together early in the second half featured several second chance baskets on rebounds that Michigan needs to get against inferior competition. To the Wolverines’ credit, they answered the run and held the Pirates scoreless for over 7 minutes after a Beilein timeout.


Player Bullets

  • Derrick Walton: Walton didn’t look confident or assertive with his shot in the first half, but he made 2-of-3 shot attempts in the second. He also did all of the things we expect Walton to do with 6 rebounds (all in the first half) and 7 assists — all impressive, but almost taken for granted at this point. I’d like to see him continue to be more aggressive and hunt his shots, because there were times that the offense seemed to bog down a bit where the senior point guard just needs to make a play.
  • Zak Irvin: This was kind of a vintage Irvin game where you take some of the good with the bad. He had 4 assist to 1 turnover, two steals and scored 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting. He also missed a breakaway dunk, shot 2-of-5 at the free throw line and didn’t look all that confident on this three-point shot. The inconsistent shooting is a bit troubling as there are times that Irvin’s shot looks great — like a mid-range curling jumper in the first half — and others that it just looks off.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson struggled with foul trouble, picking up a few cheap ones for boxing out with his hands, but the far bigger concern is that his shot isn’t falling. He was 3-of-7 form the floor, but missed most of the jumpers he took. Per Beilein, this is a struggle that he’s been battling in practice over the last couple of weeks. Beilein attributed it to some bad habits he picked up from over practicing this summer and while he was confident that Robinson would shoot his way out of it, it would have been more reassuring to say that hear that Robinson had been shooting the ball great in practice.
  • Moritz Wagner: Wagner got the start and played 25 minutes with just two fouls. I don’t see him losing the job any time soon. His offensive skill can create some real opportunities for Michigan and he was very aggressive putting the ball on the floor and taking it to the rim — even against a team that had mostly smaller players. The key will be Wagner utilizing this playmaking ability without getting sloppy, but he scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and only had one turnover in 25 minutes.
  • DJ Wilson: Robinson’s struggles gave Wilson plenty of opportunity and he scored 10 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in 24 minutes. Wilson had a couple nice moves down low, but still seems to settle for a turnaround jumper rather than going strong to the hoop. He knocked in a three, picked up a pair of blocks and was pretty active overall. He grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and that’s promising as well.
  • Ibi WatsonWatson made plenty of plays in his debut and appeared to be the first freshman in the rotation. He played his minutes at the three and Zak Irvin would slide to the two (offensively) for stretches when they were both on the floor. Watson was very involved scoring 7 points on 8 shots, grabbing two rebounds, handing out four assists to two turnovers. It was great to see him make an impact, but he also has some kinks to work out in his game. Like Simpson, I was impressed with his length and ability to get deflections and steals (3) defensively.
  • Sean Lonergan: Lonergan got the start in Abdur-Rahkman’s absence (sprained ankle last night in practice, but sounds like he’ll be okay) because he was able to play every possession on the floor — something that Beilein wasn’t confident that either of the freshmen could do. He had some bright moments early on with an assist and a basket, but his stint early in the second half wasn’t as productive.
  • Mark DonnalThe No. 2 big man off the bench, Donnal grabbed 4 boards to Wagner’s 2 despite playing fewer minutes. He also had a block and a steal in an otherwise quiet showing.
  • Xavier SimpsonSimpson played 14 minutes and scored 2 points to go along with five boards. He didn’t quite seem comfortable in the offensive flow of the game, but his ability defensively was obvious. He played good defense on the ball and used his length and timing to pick up deflections.
  • Jon TeskeTeske appears to have the No. 3 big man spot locked up, playing in both halves. He scored on a turnaround jumper on the baseline and a putback dunk in four minutes.
  • Austin Davis: Davis didn’t see the floor until late in the game, but he picked up a basket as Beilein continues to laud his hands and rebounding.

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  • Champswest

    3 stars of the game: Wagner, Watson and Wilson. Irvin and Walton, as expected, were also fine.
    Wagner: Active, athletic and can shoot. Hit a 3, drove to the hoop from the top of the key and was always looking to score.
    Wilson: Played aggressively at both ends of the court. Nice scoring touch. Didn’t just hang out in the corner. Had a nice feed to Wagner. Out played Robinson tonight.
    Watson: Quick and athletic. Played like a seasoned vet. Can score and assist. He will help us this year.

    Team defense looked more active and better.
    Early season games usually look a little ragged.
    I wonder if the faster pace was throwing off the shooting a little. May need some time to adjust.

  • GTFOmycourt

    The good:

    Wagner: Appeared to be the best player on the floor by a wide margin. I think he will perform extremely well offensively this year. I hope low rebounding numbers was just unlucky.

    Wilson: He had some very strong rebounds. He blocked 2 3 point shots and he was very close to blocking 4 or 5 other shots. He seems capable as a perimeter defender. His first few steps/ shuffles are not that great but he recovers nicely riding the side of the of perimeter players (threatening to block their shots). His shot looks solid and he did not take a lot of shots.

    Ibi: Everyone who said he was underrated was right. He has a high basketball IQ. He anticipates very very well. He is going to play. But I do hope, moving forward, he does not try to do too much offensively, as he seems very trigger happy.

    X: The young dude is apparently elite at defensive shuffle drills. Very shifty. I have no doubt he is driving Walton crazy in practices. At 5’10”, pound for pound the best athlete we have.

    The not so good:

    Walton and Irvin: Despite their solid box scores I was disappointed. Walton does not look aggressive. Irvin looks less explosive than he did the beginning of his sophomore year. Irvin missed easy and obvious passes for lay ins to Wilson and he just looked pretty slow defensively. Neither did much with their pick and roll opportunities. Can we find the big man, please? Neither appeared to be stars of the team. Which is ok as long as they/ JB adjusts their play and roles.

    Donnal: 4 rebounds in 7 minutes was impressive from Donnal but alongside Wilson, Wagner and Teske he looks short, weak, immobile ,and not athletic and a bit out of shape. Does he like to play basketball?

    Robinson: even if he made a few of his missed shots I think Ibi and Wilson looked significantly better all around. If he can’t shoot 3’s at a very high level he might see a drastic reduction in minutes from last year.

    • Merlin50

      I agree with your analysis. If this team is going to go anywhere Irvin and Walton have to play alot better. Irvin has excelled more as a complimentary player-he is not a consistent go to guy. Walton I still have hope for. There will be a big issue at crunch time finding the go to player in tight games. There is some good news in that our young players are coming along and next years team might be better than this years.

      • GTFOmycourt

        To be honest, I left the game more excited about next year, which was a bit of a bummer.

    • MrLG

      GTFO- nice writeup, thanks. But you must be mistaken about Lonergan, the guys on the forum say he’s terrible.

      I remain highly skeptical about DJ. The physical attributes are there, but the basketball IQ, not so much. He’s a cool kid, sure hope he succeeds.

    • Lanknows

      Good thoughts. I would put more stock in what we saw from the young players than the vets. We know what seniors like Walton, Irvin, Robinson, and Donnal have to offer. Teske, Simpson and Watson are going to work through some mistakes in the early season, inevitably. With them you focus on the flashes. What’s really encouraging is Wagner and Wilson appearing to make leaps.

  • Barth Applefeld

    Obviously this is all we have to go on that we’ve seen with our own eyes, but I wouldn’t be too negative (not that anyone was) or positive. Wagner and Wilson appear to have taken a step forward. Watson and Simpson appear to have real talent. Not much more can be said.

  • Amaizeman

    Dylan, who do you think made the most impressive physical transformation during this past off season? I have been impressed with past off season gains of the like of Levert and Stauskas. Physical play should certainly be an area of focus for this season, especially getting into big ten play.

  • Champswest

    The combined stat line from our four centers last night. FG 11-14, 3Pt 1-1, Reb 7, PF 4, Blk 1, Pts 23.
    Maybe a little low on rebounds, but otherwise a pretty solid night for Beilein big men.

  • Steve2081

    Looking forward to the Howard game. They are the favorites in the MEAC. Their rotation should have 7 seniors and a junior who averaged 15 ppg through 5 games last year before getting hurt. Their PG averaged 27 ppg last year.