Game 5: Michigan at South Carolina Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Last week we saw how well Michigan can play on its best days, tonight we saw how poorly it can play on its worst as it dropped its first game of the season in a woeful 15 point loss at South Carolina.

The Gamecocks had the best player on the floor — 6-foot-6 senior Sindarius Thornwell finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds —  and were just too athletic, too long and too aggressive for Michigan’s offense to adjust.

South Carolina extended its defense to play ‘no-catch’ on the perimeter — a move that John Beilein said the Wolverines didn’t expect — pressured the ball, and never allowed Michigan to get comfortable and into its offense.

The Wolverines turned the ball over 16 times and only made 10 field goals in 40 minutes. Forget about a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, Michigan had a negative basket-to-turnover ratio. That’s almost unheard of for a Beilein coached team (or any team) and the Wolverines had only two assists in a historically poor shooting performance.

Michigan has only posted an eFG% under 30% four times in the KenPom era (2002+) and 21.2% is by far the lowest mark in that time. You can’t beat anyone shooting 2-of-26 from three-point range and turning the ball over on a quarter of your possessions and the Wolverines learned that the hard way.


The Wolverine offense managed just .74 points per possession, a low water mark that it hasn’t seen since 2014-15 when it scored .76 points per trip against SMU and .70 points per trip against Eastern Michigan at home — bad memories to say the least. The only thing that Michigan was able to do well on offense was get to the free throw line, but that was more a product of just how aggressive South Carolina played.

The Gamecock performance was basically by the scouting report, although Beilein reported that the Gamecocks hadn’t shown any ‘no catch’ defense this season: great eFG% defense inside and outside, great offensive rebounding and the tendency to foul way too often.

The Wolverines didn’t lose the game with their defense. Michigan was 22-1 last year when it held opponents below 1.10 points per possession, and it held South Carolina to just .98 points per trip tonight — that should be good enough to win. This game was lost almost entirely on the offensive side of the ball. That’s not to say that there weren’t trouble spots on defense. South Carolina’s bigs were effective down low and rebounded 46% of their missed shots. The Wolverines also had no answer for Thornwell, who scored at ease against Walton, Irvin, Wilson and whoever else U-M threw at him.

Michigan has played a game like this in almost every non-conference season, but the question will be how does this group bounce back? The Wolverines clearly aren’t as quite good as they looked in New York, but they also aren’t as bad as they looked in South Carolina. At this point where they fall in between those two extremes is anyone’s guess. The good news is that Michigan’s next two high-major tests come at home which will provide a bit of a chance to regroup and gain some confidence.

Player Bullets

  • Zak IrvinIt’s no secret that Michigan goes as Zak Irvin goes so this stat line explains plenty: 5 points, 2-of-13 (0-4 3pt), 1 assists, 8 turnovers, 5 fouls. Irvin used 22 possessions and created 8 points — that’s not going to get it done. His teammates weren’t much better, but Irvin was the one that got everything going in New York City and could do nothing tonight. He lacked confidence in the ball screen game (throwing passes where other players weren’t), settled for bad jumpers, and just couldn’t get anything going.
  • Derrick WaltonWalton didn’t turn the ball over and got to the line 8 times, but he couldn’t buy a shot and didn’t record an assist. He was just 3-of-14 from the floor and the majority of his shots were rushed, no-pass threes or tough shots attacking the basket (1-of-5 inside the arc).
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanAbdur-Rahkman had a couple of key drives that felt like run-stoppers and I thought it would make sense to get him more involved, but when Michigan did in the second half he settled for a couple of step-back threes despite being in the bonus. I still would have liked to see more possessions for Abdur-Rahkman, but he seemed to struggle against the USC pressure as much as anyone else.
  • DJ WilsonWilson scored just 2 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, failing to record a block or a steal in 29 minutes. Wilson actually seemed to struggle more defensive when he got switched onto Thornwell, who he just couldn’t keep in front of him, but USC’s other bigs were also able to match his athleticism. We discussed the statement plays in NYC quite a bit, but the statement in this game was Wilson catching a backdoor cut and getting stuffed at the rim when going up for a dunk.
  • Mark DonnalDonnal has been Michigan’s most consistent big man, but he was also pushed around a little bit around the hoop. There were too many rebounds that seemed to slip out of his hands or get tipped away, but he’s still the most consistent defender and grabbed 4 offensive rebounds while attempting 9 free throws.
  • Moritz WagnerWagner’s defensive woes were glaring early on as South Carolina went with some high-low offense early on and Wagner was never able to make up for it on the offensive end, scoring 2 points on 2-of-4 free throw shooting and giving up a costly early turnover.
  • Duncan Robinson: Duncan Robinson missed his first two (wide open) three-point attempts and then his game started to spiral. Once he misses a shot or two he starts to try to force the issue and try to make plays beyond hitting open threes. That’s not really his skillset or what Michigan needs from him, but they need Robinson to find his stroke to make up for his defensive struggles.
  • Ibi WatsonWatson didn’t check in until late in the game and promptly had a three-point shot blocked — a sign that he’s not ready to provide an instant spark of offense off the bench quite yet.
  • Jon TeskeTeske looked solid earning a couple of first half minutes and grabbing 3 rebounds and a steal in 4 minutes.
  • Xavier SimpsonSimpson played 8 minutes and record an assist and a pair of free throws that he earned off of a late shot clock drive.
  • No post game from us tonight, but here’s most of the presser from Mark Snyder.

  • Chezaroo

    When was the last time a Michigan team had 10 fgs in a game? Unbelievable. Seriously, when?

  • jlustig22

    Why wouldn’t more teams play “no catch” defense against Michigan? It seems pretty clear Michigan doesn’t handle ball denial and pressure defense well. Why let them start their offense with an easy entry pass. Tonight, we were so stagnant. So many possessions with one guy dribbling and the other four standing and watching. There were no hard cuts and minimal effort to get open.

    Wagner has a long way to go. I think Donnal is the better player right now. Wagner’s defense is really bad. Wilson at the 4 can be a very good thing as we saw in NYC but he struggled defensively tonight and he may be a liability on the offensive end of the court. If he’s standing in the right corner, what threat does he provide. I don’t have a good feeling about Robinson this year. I hope it’s not a season long struggle but I fear his shooting slump carrying over from last year. Not to mention, he’s still dreadful in a lot of other areas.

    Walton is clearly a good 3 pt shooter, tonight not withstanding, but isn’t it a bit troubling that he’s 2/13 on 2 pt FG’s thru 5 games?

    Shouldn’t we have expected Simpson to be further along than he’s shown so far? I thought he was going to be good enough to be a definite factor right away but he’s far from that. He really doesn’t seem confident in doing anything offensively. He’s really small so he’s going to have to overcome that somehow.

    • The main reason teams wouldn’t play ‘no catch’ defense all of the time is that it usually results in back cuts and easy baskets. Michigan has to (and probably will) get a lot better attacking that sort of look.

      Walton’s 2 pt struggles are nothing new and are still a concern.

      I don’t know on X, he just hasn’t played that much and it’s hard to judge freshman PGs. Takes different guys longer or shorter than others.

      • One thing I’ll add to this is that when people play over-aggressive defense like this you have to attack — period. Michigan was in the bonus and just didn’t attack for long stretches. Even MAAR, who is by far the best attacker. Honestly Walton was probably the only one who did, but he just can’t make a two.

        Irvin had some great drives against SMU on any PNR switch, tonight he got the switch and shot a contested 19 footer. I don’t get it.

  • Wayman Britt

    I know it’s early in the season, this is just one lost and the season is not over, but this looks like another year where we are sitting in late February worrying about getting into the tourney on this site, when we should be arguing about what seed. I don’t mind the lost, but SC is not a good team and old weaknesses flared up again.

    I hope I am wrong and UM takes two out of three from VaTech, Texas and UCLA, then we can talk about fighting for the top three in the Big Ten.

    • What did it look like on Thursday or Friday? We have five data points and it’s hard to really jump to any conclusions. Win the games against Va Tech and Texas and then you are headed to UCLA with some newfound momentum. That Va Tech game really seems pivotal, need to defend homecourt.

      In a lot of ways this just confirmed what we already knew: Michigan needs Walton and Irvin to play well to win. They did in NYC, they didn’t tonight.

  • bobohle

    Is it just me? But to me John Beilein refuses to sit an upper class starter when they are having a bad game (ie,Irvin and Robinson) hoping they will work out of it until its too late. The ultimate was when Irvin caught that pass standing still and didn’t realize he was out of bounds. I still say the coaches have a lot of responsibility for team effort, focus and intensity when it becomes a team wide problem. Actually defense wasn’t that bad except for rebounding.

    • I think it is pretty clear they don’t trust Ibi in that spot (his three-point attempt was easily swatted). Duncan wasn’t getting it done (that’s putting it gently).

      The balance is — is good Irvin capable of digging you out of the hole more than anyone else? Answer was obviously no.

  • Andy

    Good recap. I don’t see it as a good thing that as Irvin goes so goes Michigan. Long 2’s and trying to create off the dribble doesn’t add up to W’s.

    But the team D has been encouraging.

    • Not sure it is a good thing, but at this point it is pretty much a fact. When Irvin plays poorly, this team is going to struggle. In this case, he played beyond terrible and everyone else was just very bad.

  • bobohle

    Just about every team has one of these games each year. Maybe they were looking ahead to Thanksgiving dinner. Anyway its good to get it now instead of later. Let’s just hope there is no repeat. It was the lowest shooting % by a B1G team since 2000 according to ESPN.

  • Coltrane

    We’ve seen Beilein make early season offensive adjustments to great effect but I don’t see where he goes with this group. There isn’t a Stauskas/Caris option or a Morris to adjust around. I don’t want to overreact because the shooting tonight was flat out abysmal and that isn’t all because of the defense. Still, I’ve never felt Walton had full command of a traditional Beilein offense, he just doesn’t seem to recognize or look for the second or third options. Wagner and Robinson are really behind where I thought they’d be which only compounds problems.

    Im not writing them off over one bad game but after last season I hated to see the offense with no answer tonight.

    • I can buy worry about the offense, lack of a go-to guy, consistency, etc. But if Beilein is going to coach Michigan through something… isn’t it more encouraging that UM’s defense has been pretty good early on than one bad offensive game?

      Long ways to go this season, and a lot still to learn.

      • Coltrane

        It was just tough to watch so many trips down the floor result in a sort of aimlessness. Maybe I’m not over last season when I often couldn’t believe I was watching a Beilein offense. You’re right though, it’s one game.

  • Wayman Britt

    UM has offensively played dismal against teams that play “no catch”, over play the wings, “deny the entry pass”, and “lock the rails”. Conventional wisdom would be that the wings back door cut, but historically our wings have not been quick or strong enough to get open on the back door cut.

    What if you put MAAR at the point, clear everybody else out and just let him drive to the hoop. He would either go to the line or use his “Philly/Eastern style” play get pounded, but put the ball through the bucket anyhow. We have seen Beilein do this before with Caris and Morris in a limited capacity. Thoughts?

    • Fab 5 Legends

      i completely agree with MAAR, he needs the ball in his hands as much as possible…he drives the ball to the hoop more than anyone else on our team and creates opportunities for our jump shooters and has creative finishes down by the rim…i would Walton do more of that but im happy with MAAR having the ball in his hands…

      Irvin is so 1 dimensional that it really annoys me that Beilein gives him the green light…i know that he is a senior and the offense works around him and Walton but if he cant drive the ball when hes shooting is terrible we need to bench him….

      • I get the MAAR thing, but after he had his great and-one layup, Michigan called his number twice pretty soon after in the second half. These were the results:

        If you are going to dial up MAAR, you want him to go down hill not settle for step-back threes.

        • Fab 5 Legends

          Agreed, those are great examples of him settling yesterday…from what ive seen of him these last couple years he tends to be a create off the dribble, which allows for open looks or hard drives to the basket; especially since he is creative at the rim…

          when comparing Irvin/MAAR – just gets annoying how Irvin settles for jump shot after jump shot when MAAR does actually drive more often in my opinion – maybe stats say otherwise

          • I agree with you, just thought it was disappointing in those spots that he didn’t. That’s kind of been his role on this team over the last two years.

    • MAZS

      MAAR ain’t Morris and certainly not Caris. You want MAAR as the 3rd or 4th option in an offense (or a spark off the bench)–not option #1—and certainly not the lead guard with his limited ball and passing skills. [Now that doesn’t mean that there are better scoring options on this particular team]

  • Fab 5 Legends

    I think it was SHOCKING how good we looked against Marquette/SMU that this game was a huge letdown…i forgot that we live and die by the 3 unfortunately…and have no confidence in our bigs…Donnal played well imo, i love to see them feed the post to our bigs just to give defence a different look or keep the ball in MAAR hands for a drive/dish or for him to create…

    Our offense was very stagnet yesterday as we did the same thing over and over – move the ball around, cut and run to your spot and take a jumper if you are open…I know that if we hit half those 3s we would be in the game…im just tired of losing games like this against more athletic, tough teams that we are have more skill…

    Its 1 game but im sure it will be a repeating trend in losses we have this year…when our shot is on our offense is rolling when its not we are in for a long game…give Wagner/Donnal more touches, let MAAR create more…Irvin needs to try to drive if his shot is not going in….hes too 1 dimensional of a player to be our go to guy who has the most FGA…

  • Fab 5 Legends

    What do you guys think of our bigs? i think we should give them more looks…im confident that Wagner/Donnal can give defenses different looks in the post…we worked the ball around the 3 point line yesterday too much, instead of feeding the post and giving them more FGA…i know its not our strong suit but Wagner/Donnal need to be involved in our offense when jump shots are not going in…even if they make defensive mistakes

    • Wagner still tries to do too much offensively on the road, reminded me of the game at NC State last year.

      I don’t think you are going to try to post Donnal, you try to get him the ball on the PNR, but USC did a great job of taking that away and Irvin was throwing the ball everywhere but to Donnal on the roll.

      • Fab 5 Legends

        True, it would be nice if Donnal had some sort of post move, but he typically does get his easy buckets from pick and roll…

        i would love to see Wagner/Donnal get to the free throw lone more often, they looked good there yesterday that’s why i would like to get them more involved…bigs that are comfortable at the free throw line

        we were in the bonus early in the 1st and like you mentioned in the article we went away from that in the 2nd half

    • GTFOmycourt

      I don’t understand why we don’t, at times, just feed the post, wilson especially, seems like he could be a great passer out of the post. It will give our 3 point shooters the chance to step straight into their shots. Walton, Irvinand Robinson have abysmal percentages when they are off balance and shooting threes which is often the case when receiving a pass from a fellow perimeter player.

      • Wilson did a lot of high-low stuff early on this year (against cupcakes) and looked pretty good in the middle of the zone. Would have liked to see him get a few touches in there last night when SC zoned up on BLOBs.

  • GTFOmycourt

    Regarding MAAR versus Irvin being used as the lead guard. Zak seems to be the more sophisticated player against below average defense. He just can’t seem to get anything done against good defenses.

  • Chris De Sana

    This team is only as good as Irvin and Walton are and that’s not very good. Neither is able to adequately guard their position on defense or beat their man on offense in order to create match up problems when others defenders have to help.

    Without some real improvement on both we are looking for some tough nights ahead.

  • Chris De Sana

    BTW their top 3 big men are 2 freshman and a sophomore and we are no able to take advantage due to our line up void of a seriously skilled low post big man.

    This is coaches legacy, a failure to recruit and land low post talent.