Five Key Plays: Armstrong State at Michigan

Dylan Burkhardt

This edition of Five Key Plays isn’t so much Five Key Plays as it is five things to focus on from Michigan’s exhibition win over Armstrong State.

Moritz Wagner attacks off the bounce

I wrote several times this offseason that Moritz Wagner’s improvement could make a significant difference for Michigan because of his high ceiling than big man Mark Donnal. Wagner appears to have taken the offseason seriously and emerged with the starting center spot out of the gate.

“Obviously it’s an accomplishment and I’m happy about it,” Wagner said of earning the starting spot. “But it’s in particular that I worked for. If you work in the summer you don’t say ‘I wanna start, I wanna start’, you say ‘I want to get better to help this team.'”

Wagner played like he intended on keeping his role, scoring a game-high 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor. What was most impressive is how many ways that Wagner put the ball in the basket.

“You see the way he runs the floor. You saw his skill level a couple of times, too,” John Beilein said. “His development is huge.”

Wagner scored against 2-3 zones, with his back to the basket, off the bounce from the top of the key, via high-low passing with DJ Wilson. He even drove and kicked to the wing.

“The big thing is we think he can take a lot of guys his size off the bounce,” Beilein explained. “That kick to the corner, we didn’t get it, and that was what he’s been working on. He can play through it. You can throw him the ball in the mid-area of the post, too, off a ball screen.”

Robinson struggles with shooting stroke

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of Friday’s exhibition was that Duncan Robinson failed to make a three-point shot. The 6-foot-8 shooter only failed to make a 3-point attempt in three games last season (Northern Michigan, MSU, Purdue) and it sounds like his shooting slump could be indicative of a prolonged drought rather than one off night.

“Right now, he’s not shooting with confidence — beyond tonight,” Beilein said after the game. “He’s just got to go and shoot it. He’s just got to get through this little thing because it’s happened a couple times in the last week. When guys come out of the summer, and I saw this with Patrick all the time, when guys practice like Duncan practices, which is excessively long, you can build bad habits. Too big of a knee bend. Too slow of a release. Bad arch. And then to break that habit is harder than you can imagine.”

Michigan needs Robinson’s shooting stroke, especially with Irvin’s inconsistency from three-point range and the transfer of Aubrey Dawkins, and he compounded his issues on Friday night by picking up several ticky-tack fouls for pushing off on rebounding opportunities.

Wilson shows versatility

As Robinson struggled with foul trouble, DJ Wilson had an opportunity. He played 24 minutes, more than any other reserve and more than Robinson’s 17, and flirted with a double-double on 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.

Wilson still had a few rough patches, but overall I thought he showed a more well-rounded and improved game. The 6-foot-10 forward only grabbed 18 rebounds all of last season, so a nine rebound night is a step in the right direction regardless of competition level. He also scored in different facets off the game including with his back to the basket, on the offensive glass, from three-point range and with a turnaround jumper in the paint.

“He just has never played minutes like that. Usually he would get in there for four to five minutes, make a good play and have some things that he needs more development in,” Beilein said. “So today it was just, ‘Go out there.’ … He’s got a long ways to go, but I just love how he’s working.”

Ibi Watson shows flashes

Freshman wing guard Ibi Watson was the first freshman off the bench on Friday night, and he chipped in 7 points, four assists and three steals in 18 minutes.

Watson scored with an early basket in transition, seconds after he got on the floor, and consistently found ways to be involved when he was on the floor.

“(Beilein) just wants me to come in and play hard, be aggressive,” Watson said of his role. “Just do little things like play defense, rebound and do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Watson seemed to pick up deflections effectively, evident by his three steals, and he showed the ability to stretch the floor as he knocked down a triple. As much promise as there was to Watson’s game, there was also room for improvement. He was just 1-of-4 from long distance and had three turnovers including a couple of ‘high school passes’ that just don’t work at the Division I level.

But the promise was there and it’ll be on Watson to learn to be more efficient and confident over the next several weeks.

Walton knocks down pull-up three

Derrick Walton didn’t score a point until there were under 6 minutes to play in the first half of Michigan’s exhibition win. He didn’t make a field goal until the second half began. He also led the team with 7 assists and grabbed six rebounds for good measure.

The question is what kind of point guard is Walton going to be? I still think that he needs to be more aggressive offensively and it’s no coincidence that after Armstrong State made a run early in the second half, Walton looked to step up offensively and knocked down this big pull-up three-pointer.


  • Lanknows

    This is obviously way premature, but I could see the Wilson/Wagner combo as a better starting group.

    Wilson’s shot-blocking and rebounding potential could complement the defensive weaknesses of Wagner nicely and I’ve always felt Robinson’s ideal role is as a bench player – where his athleticism disadvantage is mitigated and he’s more likely to find open shots. Simpson/Robinson could pair nicely off the bench.

    Wilson would clearly need to demonstrate a lot more consistency before this happened, but this game seems like getting off on the right foot.

    • If Wilson can fill the role that many want — athleticism, defense and finishing — then certainly I could see that, especially if Duncan continues to slump with his shot. But as you said, it’s still a bit early on the DJ Wilson train right now.

    • Barth Applefeld

      Yes, it’s fun to dream about such a scenario. Instant 3 point offense off the bench from Robinson where it will be needed, and Wilson playing a strong role on the starting five. This team has a real possibility to be better than last years, even if Caris hadn’t been hurt.

    • Champswest

      Why would Robinson be more likely to find open shots coming off the bench?

      • Barth Applefeld

        Often he would play against the second team, and, if he were playing against the first team, they might not have prepared for him as much because he’s not a major option. It’s not a guarantee that he would find more shots, but it’s likely, and, in any event it helps to have a scorer on the second team because they often lack this.

      • Lanknows

        Level of competition. Robinson’s performance last year seemed to indicate that he could be locked down by power conference talent. (See conference 3% vs. non-conference)

        Also, profile – bench players tend to not draw as much attention and respect as starters. He’d be coming in incognito to an extent (though I’m sure coaches would still tell their guys to respect his shot.) Coming off the bench has been a great way for guys like Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili to extend their usefulness as age has robbed them of some of their athleticism.

        • Duncan actually shot 39.4% vs ‘tier A teams’ (top 50 w/ home/road adjustment) and 40.8% vs. tier A and tier B teams. The slump in Big Ten play (35%) obviously had something to do with competition, but it was also tired legs IMO.

          • Lanknows

            Good stats! Pretty much blows up my argument about level of difficulty…though I do wonder if we sorted by top 50 defenses if the results would be different. A team like ND was pretty good overall (top 10 kenpom) but awful on D (>100 kenpom).

            What would be the explanation for tired legs – didn’t Robinson handle at least as much workload at Williams? I don’t know why fatigue would hit DR and not Irvin, Rahkman, etc. when he’s presumably been running through the same fitness program that the rest of the roster did for 2 years. Moreover, he hit 41% (11/27) to close the year when Michigan played 5 games in 8 days during tournament time.

            Maybe his second-half slump simply had more to do with heightened defensive attention as the scouting report got out.

          • I think it is probably a bit of everything. Certainly he needs to adjust to teams scouting him out, but also playing an entire D1 season is a lot different than D3. Plus, he had a similar late season slump at the D3 level. Lot’s to digest there, but I’m more worried with his early slump this year. For all of the past shooting slumps, I feel like Beilein has always been quick to say ‘he’s shooting great in practice’ about Tim Hardaway or whoever else, odd to hear him say he’s been slumping in practice as well.

          • Mattski

            It may be easier for a quicker player to adjust if teams develop an efficient way to defend them. Shooters are so darned mysterious, though; I’m still puzzling over Stauskas losing HIS shot.

  • Mattski

    Watson, Wlson, Moritz all look great here–just highlights, but heartened by what I see. How we can find Robinson’s stroke, though.

  • Wayman Britt

    I like everybody else liked Wilson’s rebounding and improved aggression, not ready to get on his train either, but he did show some nice flashes. Let’s see how he responses when a 6-9 240 pound forward bangs him a couple of times, will he revert to just staying out beyond the 3 pt line?

    • Mattski

      He’s one of the players who, for some reason, I just really want to see do well.

    • Barth Applefeld

      He’s worked so hard, I hope he turns into a forward version of Jordan Morgan (with a little more ability to score).

    • Lanknows

      I’m not “on the train” yet either. I’ve been skeptical of Wilson so I found this performance highly encouraging. Just dreaming about a best case scenario.

  • mikey_mac

    Robinson’s shooting is a huge concern — it’s easy to overlook this because he’s been slotted into the starting lineup for quite a while now, but he’s a real liability at the high D-I level if he’s not hitting AT LEAST 40% 3PT. It’s a situation that exacerbates itself as well — he can’t (or at least shouldn’t) earn playing time without shooting well, and he can’t regain his form without playing time.