Game 7: Virginia Tech at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

College basketball games don’t win themselves. And they aren’t won in the first 20, 30 or 35 minutes.

The Wolverines controlled Wednesday night’s game against Virginia Tech for about 38 minutes, but they thought they could coast to the finish and couldn’t have been more wrong. The Hokies kept coming and kept executing while Michigan made more than enough mistakes to give them second and third chances before the whole thing unraveled in the final 120 seconds.

There were more than enough opportunities for the Wolverines to salt this game away.

Michigan had regained a double-digit lead with 7:44 to play with Derrick Walton going to the line for a one-and-one. Not only did he miss the front end, DJ Wilson committed a foul pursuing the rebound resulting in free points on the other end of the floor. The Wolverines went cold down the stretch and Wilson would commit another foul chasing a rebound with 3:03 to play, fouling out of the game and allowing Virginia Tech to cut the lead to just two.

Michigan still had a clear chance to win, down 1 with the ball and under 30 seconds to play, but resorted to Zak Irvin hero ball down the stretch and watched the game just slip away as a well-executed final second shot by Duncan Robinson rimmed out rather than tying the game.


Michigan lost this game with its defense, which was strong early and fell apart late. The Wolverines held Virginia Tech to just 8 points in its first 12 possessions. Then the Hokies scored 65 in the final 52 possessions (1.25 points per trip). The defense came unglued because of foul trouble and most of Michigan’s foul concerns were unforced.

The Wolverines committed handfuls of fouls off the ball, chasing loose balls or offensive rebounds. There aren’t many plays in basketball more costly then fouling while chasing an offensive rebound when the other team is already in the bonus — a lesson the Wolverines certainly learned today. Virginia Tech made 19-of-21 free throws, and was in the bonus early in both halves, Michigan only made 4-of-7.

Michigan’s offense was probably good enough to win if it could get a couple of extra stops down the stretch. The Wolverines scored 1.1 points per possession — they only lost once when reaching that mark offensively last season — and shot the ball well until the final 6 or 7 minutes. There were plenty of bright spots on offense across the board, but when the game was on the line there were no answers.

Make no mistake about it, this is a brutal loss and one that the Wolverines will be kicking themselves over for a while, probably until Selection Sunday. Virginia Tech is a good team, but this is a game that Michigan had in the bag on its home floor. On the other hand, one November game doesn’t make a season. Just like, as is very clear by now, the games two weeks ago in New York didn’t necessarily show us the complete picture, this loss is only one chapter. There are still 24 of these things left in the regular season, but the Wolverines have some soul searching to do.

I immediately think back to two years ago when Michigan’s season went off track with a couple of upsets after the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, and this group needs to re-focus and not let one brutal loss snowball into two or three. Kennesaw State comes to the Crisler Center on Saturday in what feels like a trap game for a team in a crisis of confidence and then the Wolverines face a slumping Texas team desperate for a win and travel to UCLA before final exams.

Player Bullets

  • Zak Irvin: “This team goes as Zak Irvin goes” has fluctuated on a game-by-game basis, but this was one of the most dramatic in-game swings on the Zak Irvin-scale. Irvin was fantastic in the first half and early in the second and he finished with 23 points. He hit mid-range jumpers, attacked the rim, hit threes and was the primary reason that Michigan got out to such a big lead. Down the stretch? Everything went wrong for Irvin as he missed his last four shots from the floor. He made some terrible decisions in the clutch and settled for hero ball contested pull-up twos time and again.
  • Duncan Robinson: Duncan drew four offensive fouls — three charges and a push off — and hit three triples, finishing with 15 points in 29 minutes. It was one of his better offensive games of the season as he also scored off of a backcut and a dribble drive. He has his problems defensively, but he made up for a lot of them with all of the drawn offensive fouls. Robinson hit a big triple to cut it to 1 point late, but he couldn’t get the game-tying three to fall despite having a pretty good look considering the circumstances.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanAbdur-Rahkman didn’t have his best moments down the stretch either. He missed a 7 footer in the lane late and had two poor defensive plays: getting beat on a drive that resulted in an easy layup and going under a dribble hand off that ended up an easy triple.
  • DJ Wilson: I wrote in the preview that Wilson could be the only player that Michigan has capable of defending LeDay. He was barely on the floor long enough to find out. Wilson fouled out in 11 minutes and four of his five fouls were pushing off chasing after offensive rebounds. That had crippling effects to Michigan’s gameplan and left Duncan Robinson to play 29 minutes.
  • Moritz WagnerWagner has so much offensive ability and he’s able to show it when he’s locked in and can stay on the floor, but he’s still all over the place defensively. No one from Michigan was great defensively, but the uncertainty of just what he’s going to do on that end of the floor poses problems. Offensively, we saw it all: post-ups, face-ups in the post, dribble drives from the perimeter. If he can put it all together and just play passable defense, the sky is the limit.
  • Derrick Walton: This was one of those vintage ‘solid Derrick Walton games’, but it was also one of those times where Michigan just needs a little more out of him. Walton had 6 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds and 1 turnover, but he had the critical missed front-end and just can’t buy a basket or create anything inside the three-point line.
  • Mark DonnalDonnal didn’t score in 17 minutes, grabbed two rebounds, committed three fouls and turned the ball over twice. He’s been the better defender this year, by a long shot, but he had more than his fair share of struggles (in an admittedly very difficult matchup against a quick, athletic big in LeDay) on the night.
  • Jon TeskeI think Teske might be giving the best minutes of Michigan’s three freshmen, especially on the defensive end. He can move his feet very well and grabbed a couple of boards in 4 minutes. Offensively, things are a bit dicier as he had a sloppy turnover at the top of the key and wasn’t very involved otherwise.
  • Xavier SimpsonTwo quick fouls in just 5 minutes, but Simpson did hand out a pair of assists.
  • Ibi Watson: Watson only played 3 minutes and missed an open triple. He still seems to have a ways to go to feature in the rotation.
  • Wayman Britt

    Utterly terrible lost at home to an average VA Tech team. Now to make up for this lost, they have to steal a game against UCLA, UW, IU or MSU, otherwise it’s tourney resume will be weak.

    It seems like every year UM, except a few limited times over the last 15 years, is right on the edge of trying to be one of the top 64 teams in the nation. Yes, can you believe we are talking about being ranked in the 60’s. With UM’s high coaches salaries, top facilities, top academic school and strong history in basketball there is no way UM should be a program that hovers around the 60 to 70th program in the nation. Expectations should be high. The basketball program is not trending up.

    • Are you just going to post this on every article? As I wrote in the other post:

      What’s the rationale for calling Virginia Tech average? Any loss at home is close to a bad loss, but it’s not like Virginia Tech is a bad team?

      • AAtoLA

        Dylan, I’m curious your thoughts on DW. Leading up to the start of the season, coach praised DW in his growth finishing at the rim and also hunting for shots. DW demonstrated that growth in NYC a couple weeks ago. But against SC and VT he just looks passive and like he’s just sleep walking. He missed a point blank lefty layup tonight. I don’t see him aggressively hunting shots like coach says. When DW does, Michigan adds another dimension to their offense and plays well typically. What do you think? What’s up?

  • lecdjs13

    Good write up and recap. I hope they can regroup. A lot to like about this team…. but then they seem to lack that put them away instinct. Go blue.

  • gobluemd16

    Saw all different sides of this Michigan team tonight. Right on Dylan, DJ has to play smarter. He was the guy who could at least stifle LeDay, who was pretty much doing it all for VT, but he couldn’t stay on the court. For as well as we played in the first half, and decently the first 10-12 mins of the 2nd half, we were up 10 with under 8 min left going to the FT line, at home, with VT coming off a long trip to (and from) California. To lose the game in those circumstances is very bad. As always, Go Blue

  • polisci

    So tired of watching Irvin’s bad choices at the end of games. He’s a really nice player, but he shouldn’t be counted on at the end of games. I think he has made one end of game shot that I can remember. That’s the same number as Kam Chatman. He never takes a quality shot in those situations. When will Beilein stop going to him?

    So frustrating.

    • ChathaM

      I agree; very frustrating. I was disappointed to hear that Beilein’s intent was to “isolate” Irvin on the play. I don’t understand the point of trying to isolate a player who can’t beat his man off the dribble. That makes no sense to me. A fadeaway 18 footer is about the best you can hope for there.

      • tom48160

        Coach did say that if the iso play wasn’t going to work, there was a Plan B. The problem is that the Plan B wasn’t taken.

  • robpollard

    Wilson may be the most important person on the team; he was a zero tonight, and it hurt. Walton actually CREATES two point opportunities, he just doesn’t TAKE them –quit passing out for the 3! You have a layup!

    Duncan and Wagner did some nice things, and Irvin had a great 1st half. The freshmen? Teskie is limited, but had some good energy; real disappointed in Simpson so far – I expected up & downs as a freshman, but not much to see everyone so far.

    A real blown opportunity

  • ChathaM

    I was at the game tonight, and was disappointed in the size of the crowd. But, I always say that, and it makes it easier to get good seats, so no big deal. I will say that the Michigan Lights app is very cool.

    I thought this was a fun, competitive game between two good, but far from great, teams that will be scrapping for a Tourney bid for the length of the season. It should be noted that the first 12 or so minutes wasn’t just about Michigan playing well. VT was terrible, especially defensively, from the tip to about the second TV timeout. They started with some zone, which was brutal, and even when they switched to man, it wasn’t good for a while. There were plenty of key plays, and I think this one came down to making shots down the stretch. VT did, and except for the banked MAAR 3 and the late Robinson 3, we didn’t. I wasn’t crazy about the last second play drawn up. Originally, Robinson looked like he was going to throw the ball in, so I figured he’d get it in, then they’d screen for him and try to get it back to him for a 3. Then, MAAR took the throw in, and attempted the very high risk pass to the opposite corner. We were fortunate to get a decent look, as it took a great play by Wagner to make it happen. I don’t know. I don’t want to be too harsh about the set, because it isn’t as though teams practice a last second set from a throw in at that spot on the floor. That is a very unusual spot.

    I was impressed by Robinson’s grit. He really battled defensively, despite VT taking it right at him every chance they got. Being able to draw the offensive foul in the final minute was huge, and will hopefully be a confidence booster. We need him.

    I was surprised at how tightly the game was called. Maybe that shouldn’t be too surprising, as officials always seem to call it tightly early in the season. Overall, I thought there were several fouls called that could/should have been passed on, as they didn’t impact the play. It certainly frustrates coaches, especially when they see something like the transition play in the second half where a VT player was clearly fouled going to the rim, with no call. Officials are going to miss calls, but you can’t spend the game calling things that don’t matter, then miss something like that.

    Finally, I thought there were several opportunities to get the ball inside and take advantage of mismatches. There were some efforts to do that, but I’d like to see more of it. Wagner and Wilson have some post scoring ability (and Teske probably does as well), and it needs to be more of a focus for this to be a more effective offensive team.

    • robpollard

      Yeah, we have one of the weaker in-crowd fan bases in the B1G (not counting non-entities like Rutgers and Penn State). It looked like barely half the seats were filled in the lower bowl; I can’t imagine how (un)filled the upper bowl was. Crowd wasn’t very into it, for most of the game, either.

      UM Athletics needs to figure out a way, like the Pistons have done, in getting those seats filled: more outreach to youth programs with cheap tickets, better secondary market for those who only use the seats against B1G opponents and top-tier non-conf.

      • Champswest

        The crowd contrast between the UM and IU games last night was striking.

        • To be fair, IU vs. UNC is a bit different deal than Michigan/Va Tech. I expect if Duke or UNC was in Ann Arbor it would be a sell out.

          That being said, comparing IU crowds at Assembly Hall to the Crisler Center is a similar kind of vast difference.

          Michigan basketball crowds can be good when there’s some enthusiasm, right now there isn’t much. There also tends to be some of the worst crowds for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

          • robpollard

            I agree — of course if we were playing UNC, it would be a sell out. But if IU was playing Virginia Tech, my strong suspicion is that there would be a heck of a lot more than 5-6,000 people there. VA Tech is an ACC school that is on the tourney bubble (at least); yet the crowd showed up like we were playing Bryant in late December (after the students have gone home).

            Just look at that picture you have of Zak & Duncan for your next post (“Anatomy of a Collapse”). There are multiple, entire sections of the upper bowl with less than 5 people in it.

            Contrast that with MSU vs FGCU a few weeks ago. FGCU is not a bigger name than VA Tech, but that MSU crowd was much fuller and, more importantly, into it. In a tight game, that helps put you over the top and get a win (well, and the refs and/or MSU time keeper screwing up the end of the game, but I digress).

            UM fans complain that we don’t recruit or win like an elite program (since Nik left). If you were a Top-50 recruit, what atmosphere would you want to play in? It’s not the most important factor, obviously (the coach and how the player will be used in a game matters more), but it makes a difference.

          • Yeah, I’m not trying to disagree with you at all really. Just kind of making some points on both sides.

          • A2MIKE

            Dylan – I will say one thing. The game experience has taken quite the tumble this year. This was the 2nd time taking the wife and kids. Both times we arrive nearly 20 minutes ahead of tip-off. The first time, the kids are screaming for pizza but every spot that sells pizza is sold out until 10 minutes in to the first half. The second time, the credit card processors have failed – stadium wide. So now I have to go to an ATM, of which there are only 2-3, get cash and get a pizza for the kids, only to find out that they are sold out again. This time they only have cheese pizza at the under 12 timeout. Very poor effort.

  • Joseph Marra

    VT mediocre acc club. forget NIT this year! Remember they take Conf reg season champion s 1st then at large team’s. I needed a pick me up after Devastating Saturday so much for that!

  • AC1997

    I know Beilein made some very critical comments about certain plays down the stretch, but it amazes me what goes through these guys’ heads in heroball time. You play the entire game by running your offense to get good shots, then when you need it most you abandon the offense for that hot garbage? If it worked, you’d be running it all game! Frankly, I didn’t like it with Burke or Stauskas and no one on this team comes close to them. If they have to do it, I want Rahk or probably Wagner running the play.

    Generally I like the big man rotation, but not on a night when Wagner is 5-for-6 and creating a lot of those himself and Donnal is putting up zip.

    • GTFOmycourt

      This team definitely needs to avoid heroball situations because we don’t have a Burke or Stauskas, but, If we are in a situation where we need to play heroball at the end of a possession then it is a no brainer to give MAAR the ball. Everyone knows it except Irvin and JB apparently. It is frustrating as a fan, I can only imagine it is frustrating for the players. In my opinion team chemistry is suffering because of it…We have some nice pieces… JB needs to use what he has in the right way…

    • polisci

      Agree 100%. We have some nice pieces, but nobody that is a “go to” guy. So it is incumbent upon Beilein to feel how the game is going and how each player is going and then adjust playing time, in-game, based on that. It’s the only way we are going to be competitive. Putting guys in because it is their turn will and has killed us.

      • A2MIKE

        This was really frustrating last night as Wagner sat during the key run when they cut it from 10 to 4 with 4 minutes to go. I understand that Donnal is marginally better on D (emphasis on marginal because he was just as awful last night as Wagner), but Wagner was a mismatch all night and that needed to be exploited.

        • bobohle

          In his press conference JB stated Wagner was ill most of the day. That maybe is why he sat so long in the second half.

  • AC1997

    Dylan – I know there’s an unwritten rule that officiating rarely gets discussed or reviewed. But it sure seems like the fouls on Wilson and Wagner were really, really light. I understand that you have to be more careful when you have a few and teams are in the bonus, but it looked like those guys barely made contact most of the time. Meanwhile I don’t think Walton could get a call near the rim if he was decapitated. Do you have any thoughts on how the games are being called this season or what Michigan can do to better adapt?

    • The pushing off going for rebounds is a point of emphasis this year I believe. As Beilein said in the post game it’s a Michigan thing not an officiating thing. It’s not like they weren’t consistent.

  • umnyc

    It was almost like the last few mins of the game were scripted. Players see the game slipping away, and then panic sets in, and the play book bursts into flames, and we start playing hero ball. I agree with others below that we need to draw up a few crunch time plays for someone other than Zak. He panics, and is sloppy with the ball. It almost looked like we were dribbling out the clock at the end of regulation, which is insane considering we were down one and at home. Its a shame tho, because Zak looked great in the first half. Where does that Mojo go? Lets go beat Texas and UCLA and put this game behind us.

  • Champswest

    Dylan, I agree with you about Teske. I have been calling for more minutes the last couple of weeks. I understand that he is behind Wagner offensively and behind Donnal defensively, but he presents real problems for the other team. With more PT, he will get better faster and could really help us later in the season.
    I think the personality of this team is controlled by the seniors and quite frankly, it is too meek. We seem to lack fire and determination, especially in critical moments. I hope next year we will see a different personality as influenced by players such as Simpson, Wagner and Poole.

    • A2MIKE

      Agree on the attitude. I have said it before and I will say it again, this team desperately needs an infusion of talent.

      • Chris De Sana

        Do you see any coming

  • BrianU

    Dylan slightly off subject, but have you noticed during games that Donlon looks annoyed or not real thrilled? Whatever you wanna call it he seems.l not overly happy I dunno maybe it’s just me

  • Chris De Sana

    I was not able to watch this game but sounds like so many others….. it just amazes me that with Michigan’s stature and history that the program is in a place where coach can not land top level recruits more years than not.

    To that point who would have thought when MAAR arrived he would be the guy most wish had the ball in a games most critical moments?

    • A2MIKE

      I do think that Jordan Poole could be an outstanding player that makes an immediate impact. The guard misses have been particularly frustrating. Derrick Walton reminds me so much of Keith Appling (on the court). Both guys were highly coveted with high expectations from Detroit. They played well as freshman on a loaded team and never seemed to be capable of being the lead guy, which became a detriment in their upperclass years.