Game 9: Texas at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan walked out of the Crisler Center with a 53-50 win over Texas on Tuesday night, but felt like a victory was only awarded because it had to be.

The Wolverines — namely Moritz Wagner — made the eventual decisive plays in the closing seconds and deserved the win, but it was one of the ugliest that we’ve seen in the John Beilein era.

But make no mistake about it, both Shaka Smart and John Beilein, will be screaming at their laptops tonight when they breakdown the game film. The mind-numbing mistakes, the missed transition layups, teammates deflecting the ball out of bounds — the game lay tantalizingly in the balance as the two teams exchanged botched opportunities.

Michigan only made 7 shots in the second half and it turned the ball over 8 times. The senior leaders and captains that are supposed to guide the Wolverines combined to score 10 points on 17 shots with 8 turnovers on the night in one of the worst games that Michigan’s guards have played in years.

Michigan only made threes baskets in the final 9 minutes of the game and still figured out a way to win. That’s because Texas only made two.

“The best way to win is to not live in fear of losing.”

That quote stuck with me when I heard it driving back to Ann Arbor for Tuesday night’s game and it couldn’t be more applicable to this Michigan team.

Early on in the game when Michigan was executing its game plan, it looked like the decidedly better team. The Wolverines were getting good shots (and making them) and Texas was forced to hit several desperation jumpers. It was no coincidence that they had multiple double-digit leads. But the moment any bit of self doubt crept in — late in the first half or the entire second — this team reverts to a shell of itself.

I’m not sure this performance is going to remove any of that doubt, but it’s clear that there’s a whole lot going on between the ears with this group right now.


Michigan has won exactly one game in the last three seasons (*) when it failed to score a point per possession: a 54-50 win at Rutgers immediately following Caris LeVert’s injury in 2015. The Wolverines just don’t play this poorly on offense and win games. To that point, the defense deserves at least some credit for holding the Longhorns to just .85 points per possession — their lowest output of the season.

About the only thing to complain about with Michigan’s defensive performance is that Tevin Mack — the only legitimate three-point shooting threat on the Texas roster — knocked in three triples and was fouled on another. Mack’s teammates scored 32 points on 42 shots, that’s pretty good even against a sub-par offense like Texas. Texas also made two or three extremely deep, late shot clock threes that have to qualify as bad breaks. On the other hand, Northwestern, Colorado and UT Arlington also held Texas below .9 points per possession — but they also managed to score the ball.

Michigan’s offense was anemic and its guard play was a nightmare. Silly turnovers, bad passes, forced shots — there wasn’t much to love other than Moritz Wagner and DJ Wilson figuring out ways to produce. Texas has played good pick-and-roll defense this season — ranked among the top 10% of Division I teams — but the Wolverine ball handlers couldn’t figure out how to contend with the UT shot blockers inside and couldn’t get open for jumpers.

One thing is for certain: Michigan isn’t holding UCLA to 50 points on Saturday. The Bruins are the best shooting team in the country and play faster and more efficiently than just about any team in the country. They’ve been held under 80 points once this season. The good news: there’s no pressure. Michigan will presumably be a double-digit underdog and might be able to play with at least a degree of freedom that it can’t seem to figure out how to cope with as a favorite.


Player Bullets:

  • Moritz Wagner: It was fitting that Wagner made all of the critical plays down the stretch because he was really the only option for the Wolverines for so long. Wagner’s offensive ability was one of the lone bright spots on that side of the ball. He led the Wolverines in scoring, hit the game-winner, had as many assists (2) as Derrick Walton, and got to the free throw line. The most impressive thing is how far he’s come defensively even in just the last week. He had active hands (two steals) and is learning to contest shots (game-clinching block) without trying to draw charges when he has no sense. At this point, run as much offense through Wagner as you can when he’s on the floor. Tonight, he used 37% of the Wolverines’ offensive possessions in his 26 minutes.
  • DJ Wilson: Wilson hit a pair of threes from the right corner, played great defense on (five-star freshman) Jarrett Allen, and finished with 13 points, 6 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals. This was much closer to his New York City effort and at this point it’s clear that the Wolverines need everything they can get from Wilson. I thought Wilson’s middle game and finishing around the hoop (on non-dunks) was improved as well.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson got up 10 shot attempts in 21 minutes and finished with 12 points and four boards. He’s clearly hunting his offense when he checks in off the bench, but the aggressiveness has led to several mistakes. Still, he hit some big shots in the second half to answer when Texas first took the lead. Beilein hinted that he wouldn’t hesitate to go with the bigger lineup (Walton, Irvin, Robinson, DJ and Wagner) if Abdur-Rahkman continues to struggle. I also thought Robinson held up surprisingly well against a Texas offense that did a lot of head down driving right at the hoop.
  • Derrick Walton: Michigan needs much, much more from Derrick Walton if its going anywhere this season. It’s not a question of wanting to make a play, but Walton just couldn’t stop turning the ball over when the game was in the balance. He would over-penetrate — rarely a threat to shoot attacking the rim — and force the issue with difficult passes. For a stretch in the first half, Walton was actually playing pretty well, but he just unraveled from the final four minutes of the first half into the second half.
  • Zak IrvinIrvin hit a big three late. He followed it up with a missed (contested) pull-up and a bad pass to Wagner. It was that kind of night. Texas took away his drives to the rim, took away his baseline kick outs, and he couldn’t get his shot off in the mid-range over UT defenders. Similar to Walton, Michigan isn’t going to win many games when Irvin plays this poorly.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman has been one of Michigan’s best ‘need a basket’ guys over the last two years, but he’s been a shell of himself since halftime of the Virginia Tech game. He’s gone back-to-back games without making a basket (he’s 1 of 11 over the last 5 halves) and looks to be searching for any confidence at all.
  • Mark DonnalDonnal played 14 minutes and Michigan was -11 when he was on the floor. Wagner has out-performed him this week by a wide margin and it appears to be growing. I did think Donnal had a few critical defensive plays later in the second half, but Michigan was better when Wagner was on the floor.
  • Xavier SimpsonSimpson played 3 minutes in the first half and didn’t get much of a chance to get going. Beilein opted to ride Derrick Walton for 20 minutes in the second.

* I’m rounding the .999 PPP Michigan scored against Purdue last year up to 1.

  • MrLG

    If you expend a lot of energy playing top notch defense, you have less energy available to play top notch offense. We shouldn’t forget that.

    • ZRL

      On a similar note, they spent a lot of time practicing D this offseason, which means they didn’t spend as much time on offense. That could be part of the reason for the early season lack of crispness.

      • A2MIKE

        I think there is something to that. It is also much more comforting to know that the offense is the problem rather than the defense. The offense feels fixable, whereas in years past the defense was bad and it felt as if nothing would ever change. I am actually encouraged by last nights game. It was a tough, gritty game and we still have a lot of young pieces (Wagner and Wilson are only sophmores). I really like what we are building towards, no necessarily this year, but definitely next year.

    • AA7596

      Excellent point—especially when guys virtually never get a rest. Texas had 1 guy who played more than 31 minutes. Michigan had 3 over 35.

  • Chezaroo

    I’m just not sure what Donnal gives this team right now. Minus 11 in a fifty point ballgame?

    Wagner is the only real X factor in potentially raising this team’s ceiling for the remainder of the season. To be blunt, he’s the only guy to on the roster who can go make a play on the offensive end when you desperately need one.

    • bobohle

      That’s why I’ve been calling for more minutes for Teske. I’m sure JB is not completely confident in him but it seems every time he comes in mostly positive things happen especially defensively for the whole team.

  • Chezaroo

    It’s also painfully obvious what Beilein thinks about Simpsons development at this point in his career.

    If Walton gets 39 minutes of playing time in a game he plays like that, it says all you need to know.

  • Barth Applefeld

    This team doesn’t have an “identity” yet. Irvin and Walton are not, apparently, going to be the great players we hoped for this year, but I think it is important to remember that for three years they played in a guard oriented, offensive minded system. Now they are being asked to play a different style of offense because we have Wagner and Wilson and to focus more on defense both in a game and in practice. It’s a transition, and ugly games can happen when a team is defensive minded.

    Having said that, it’s hard to understand why the pick-and-roll play comes and goes so much or why Donnal is so inconsistent. UCLA will be tough, but I am still optimistic for this team if the seniors can learn to play consistently in the new style. Go Blue! And thanks Dylan for a great write up as usual.

    • Mattski

      Well, I think it went last night because it was well defended–and that’s a reason, probably, to remain calm and not say DWalt and Zak are worthless, etc. But they do have their clear limitations right now, one of them being confidence. And so much of this game is about confidence, which is why a kid can look great one night and pretty awful the next. If Zak and Derrick improve at working the ball to Wilson and Wagner, that will in turn open up the floor for them.

      Robinson, Wilson, and Wagner were all bright spots last night. I was particularly appreciative of the way Wilson protects the ball.

      • Mattski

        I went to watch the highlights at mgoblue because my internet cable died with a minute to go and I missed the final sequence. They will make everyone feel better:

        Texas’s lowest scoring output of the year.

      • Barth Applefeld

        Well-said! I didn’t mean to be negative toward Zak and DWalt, and, if I was, I’m sorry. I meant to do the opposite . They are very good players (just not transcendent players so far), but in the new offensive and defensive schemes, they have to adjust their playing styles. It doesn’t help that Wagner and Wilson are learning too and therefore inconsistent. I think Robinson had a terrible start but he’s finding his stroke and can play a big role. Don’t know what to write about MAAR other than I think he is trying to figure out where he fits too.

  • Tenzin

    I think this blog is overly critical of Walton’s play….
    There needs to be some criticism for Beilein for riding Walton the whole game.
    In the beginning of the season the blog discussed the need for Walton not to play the whole game.
    That is exactly what he did in the Texas game.
    The high intense defense that Smart employs fatigued him and resulted in turnovers.
    When you play a team like Texas(athletic, long and fast) an increase in turnovers should be expected.

    The questions I would ask is….
    Why does John Beilein not trust Simpson for an extra guard on the court like Spike?
    Simpson looks scared out there, he looks like he’s playing not to make a mistake rather then to make an impact on the game. Beilein and the coaching staff seems to have sucked out all the confidence out of the young man, they need to build him up, by trusting him, rather then what they are doing now..

    On Irving… I know that MAAR is struggling but so is Irving. I would much rather see MAAR on the court then Irving. The blog discussed how MAAR seems like he has no confidence. Irving is never going to be the guy, plus he is a senior. John Beileine needs to supply MAAR with the confidence he needs by saying MAAR is our guy. He will play up to it.

    How I saw the game…
    Michigan looked bad. They weren’t cutting hard, they weren’t moving, and there was no flow in John Beilein’s offense. Beilein needs to change things up. Other then Walton, I don’t trust any of the guards to break down the defense by dribbling through it this season. Our offense requires movement and there was none last night. I think the team would benefit from having some healthy competition for minutes by the younger guards. What do we have to lose? Its not like the older guys are running the offense the way it should.

    • Chezaroo

      Irvin. If we had Irving we’d be all set.

    • MAZS

      MAAR is never going to “be the guy”. He is certainly better than he has been playing, and while many have been intrigued by his past ability to get to the basket, he has obvious holes in his game–extremely right-handed, poor vision for guard, below-average 3 point shooter (in a 3 point offense) and merely an okay defender. MAAR’s struggles may also be partly the result of opponents now knowing his tendencies and limitations. That said, MAAR is only one of the problems on this team at present.

  • ChathaM

    I thought that both teams defended very well throughout the game, which was a major factor in how “ugly” the game looked. There was some poor shooting and shot selection (particularly from Texas), but when you’re being guarded the way these teams were guarding, offence is going to look bad. Texas did look as young as they are, and were disjointed offensively, especially throughout most of the first half. I’ll be curious to watch them play as the season goes on. They won’t be fun for anyone to play against, because of how they guard, but I’m not sure they have the offensive punch to do really well in the Big 12.

    Hopefully, MAAR’s late grab of the loose ball and free throws helps to build at least a bit of confidence. We really need him, as he brings a dimension that the other guards don’t have; being able to slash to the basket and score.

    I agree with Dakich that the best part of this game is simply that they were willing to schedule it. I love this year’s non-con schedule, which will result in 6 games against major schools, including 2 true road games. This is the type of scheduling I hope to see going forward, and that type of schedule is already set for the 2017-18 season. It was fun to be the B1G team in a major matchup last night, while other B1G teams were playing against (and in one case, losing to) small conference teams.