John Beilein spoke this week about a defensive “tape delay” that was causing his team to be a step slow to defensive rotations. On Wednesday night in Champaign, the Wolverines were easily four or five steps slow.

In a battle of two of the worst defenses in the Big Ten, Michigan proved that it had further to fall. Facing an Illinois offense that has been average at best this season, the Wolverines were shredded to the tune of 1.41 points per possession.

If you’ve been following since New Year’s Day, you know the script. Michigan’s ball screen defense was horrendous and the Illini shot a silky smooth 64% (9-of-14) from three-point range in the blowout victory.

For about 15 minutes, Michigan had no trouble keeping pace. The Wolverines were tied 34-34 when Derrick Walton was whistled for an offensive foul and spiked the ball on the floor to draw a technical. The two personal fouls in one play sent Walton to the bench for the final 3:18 of the half and Illinois took control.

Illinois outscored Michigan 15-2 heading into the locker room as the Wolverines failed to close out yet another half. If the technical wasn’t enough, the Wolverines — ranked 5th nationally in free throw percentage — missed the front-end of two separate one-and-one attempts in the final five minutes of the first half.

That was the point when the game ceased to be competitive, but Michigan’s defense was broken from the opening jump.


Michigan’s offense, once again played well enough to win. If you score 1.15 points per possession on the road, you expect to win more games than you lose. The fact that Michigan wasn’t even competitive is a reminder of just how bad the defense was. The Wolverines shot 54% inside the arc and 50% from three-point range while only attempting 27% of their shots from three. With a 59.8 eFG% and a 13.3% turnover rate, the problems were all on the other end of the floor.

There was nothing positive to take away from the defensive performance. Illinois opened the game by posting up against Wilson and Wagner with almost no resistance. From there, the ball screen defense and rotations were horrendous. Michigan guards cheated for steals and gave up layups, Michigan bigs were abused on the glass. There was no rim protection: Illinois made 64% of its twos and the Wolverines didn’t record a single block.

Through four Big Ten games, teams are shooting 57% from three-point range against Michigan. 57% three-point shooting is a remarkable stat for any single game, but it is almost unfathomable for a four game stretch.

It’s so hard to put into words how bad Michigan’s defense has been, but it’s almost even harder to explain how it fell apart this quickly. In November, this team actually looked capable of playing competent defense. Great? Probably not, but competent. They held the No. 16 and the No. 34 offenses in the country (the two best offenses they’ve faced this season other than UCLA) to below a point per possession on a neutral floor. But since conference play began — and after an extended holiday break — the Wolverines have been terrible on the defensive end of the floor.

How bad? The Wolverines have allowed 317 points in 258 Big Ten possessions — that’s 1.23 points per trip. They’ve managed that woeful feat against offenses ranked 61st, 169th, 70th and 75th nationally. Michigan isn’t running into Indiana or UCLA-style offensive juggernauts here, its running into teams that are simply average on that side of the ball.

Michigan has had some bad defenses during John Beilein’s time in Ann Arbor, but I can only remember one defensive stretch that was this bad: the 1-6 Big Ten start to the 2010-11 Big Ten season. The Wolverines allowed 1.22 points per possession in their first 7 Big Ten games that year and that was supposed to be the rock bottom moment that turned the program around for good and was never spoken about again.

Right now, it’s hard to argue that Michigan isn’t right back where it was in late January of 2011. Now the question is who or what is going to change it? Back then, it was a couple of fiery speeches from Zack Novak that turned things around (that team never allowed more than 1.12 PPP against until its tournament loss to Duke), but what  is going to right the ship this year? Your guess is as good as mine.

There are so many problems with Michigan’s defense that some are clearly fixable and obviously others that aren’t. Michigan doesn’t have the personnel to be a great defensive team, but personnel isn’t everything on the defensive side of the ball. This group is plagued with so many issues between the ears and on the white board that they almost appear to be lost in space — at least some of those issues are fixable.

The path to winning 9 or 10 games and making the NCAA Tournament looks a lot tougher than it did two weeks ago. Sitting at 1-3, Michigan has its work cut out for it going forward starting with a home game against Nebraska. If the ball screen defense isn’t any better by then, it could be a long afternoon at Crisler.

Player Bullets:

  • DJ WilsonWilson continues to excel offensively, he finished with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting, but he needs to get stronger on the defensive end of the floor. He’s attacking more off the dribble, knocking in mid-range shots, hitting threes — all very impressive. But he really struggled on the defensive glass against Black and Nichols (6 offensive rebounds combined) and thats an area where Michigan needs him. Early on this year, Wilson had some great games on the defensive glass — that hasn’t been the case lately.
  • Derrick Walton: Walton had the backbreaking mistake that basically took Michigan out of the game (he said he was trying to bounce the ball into the hoop), but he also had some of his best offensive moments in a while. He hit shots, was aggressive and even had some good takes to the basket. He finished with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting with 7 assists in the loss. He also still continues to struggle to contest 3-pointers and gave up a couple stepback makes once again.
  • Moritz WagnerWagner has been completely lost defensively since Big Ten play started and that can be a disastrous combination when he’s struggling offensively as well. We’ve seen the defensive woes in the past, although they seem to be getting worse, but the offensive end is more concerning. Now that we’re in Big Ten play, it’s clear that the scouting report on Wagner is out: he’s going to face-up, drive to his right and go behind the back to his left; he’s going to shoot threes from the wings; he’s going to try to go baseline on the block. He scored 6 points early in the 2nd half, but that was it as he was 0-2 inside the arc and turned the ball over three times.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanAbdur-Rahkman scored 12 early points and finished with 14. He had a couple strong drives and knocked in a three, but seemed to lose all of his confidence after a short stint on the bench midway through the first half. His defense remains poor, but maybe he took a small step forward offensively after some struggles lately.
  • Zak IrvinIrvin had a quiet game, finishing with 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He had a couple of nice mid-range jumpers and drives to the hoop, but after Michigan had cut the deficit to single digits early in the 2nd half he had brutal back-to-back possessions: a drive right into Maverick Morgan and a terrible intercepted pass.
  • Mark DonnalI’ve seen a lot of talk about Donnal’s big game at Illinois last year, but that was almost all a product of Caris LeVert’s domination. Donnal has sometimes been a more consistent defender than Wagner and while he might have been a bit better tonight, he still wasn’t good.
  • Xavier SimpsonSimpson’s only made basket was a three-pointer in garbage time and he didn’t record an assist in 14 minutes. It was a quiet night overall as Illini freshman Te’Jon Lucas outplayed him.
  • Duncan Robinson: 5 fouls in 15 minutes, Robinson couldn’t stay in front of anyone on Wednesday night.
  • jlustig22

    Wagner and Wilson play like they are 6’2 when it comes to defense and rebounding. Wagner is just an awful defensive rebounder. For all of Wilson’s length, he rarely comes down with traffic rebounds. Neither of them offer any interior defense so the fact that we have legit size on the frontline hasn’t made any difference. Both of them have improved a lot offensively and Wilson has really surprised me on that end, but since we can’t stop anybody, it doesn’t matter.

    Not to just single out those two because the perimeter guys can’t defend a lick either. We don’t offer any resistance defensively or affect any shots. The offense while not perfect, is not remotely the problem. It’s all about defense. We have no chance to win with the type of defense they have put out there the first four conference games.

    • gobluemd16

      Totally agree with this post. Great points.

  • David Remmler

    We continue to struggle with defense and rebounding. Even our offense is very inconsistent. I love Beilein but I’m beginning to wonder if he’s going to right the ship. We need better talent and we need to at least be adequate in the above areas. I’ve lost confidence in his ability to find under-the-radar talent. Our freshman are essentially invisible while elite freshman on other teams are playing at a championship level. And the prior two classes have not produced any true stars yet. Wilson and Wagner may yet be stars but they’re not there yet and they need some help.

    We look like an NIT team at best. If we don’t improve this year, Beilein has to be on the hot seat.

    • Indiana_Matt

      It is a $6 million dollar buy out if they let him go this year. $5 million dollar buy out after 2018. Then it drops to only $1.5 million for 2019. I don’t know how much the money would affect the patience of the AD. But if you are just talking dollars, I see him on the sidelines until spring of 2019 unless we would miss the tournament this year and next. Then I suppose they may eat the $5 million. I don’t see it coming to all that though.

      • A2MIKE

        How much are they losing in ticket sales though? It has to be equivalent. They actually had a waiting list going in to the 2012-13 and 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. Not so much now.

        • MAZS

          Pretty sure we didn’t sell out with season tickets any of those years–I had mini-packages in each of them.

  • Wayman Britt

    UM has gone from a bubble team for the NCAA tourney to may be even a bubble team for the NIT. You have to be at .500 or greater to get into the NIT, with this team it is not a given.

  • Cliff Pappe

    This team has fallen so far, so fast. Defense has never been a staple and I think we had some hopes that 2 new assistants would change that.
    I think part of it may be personel. Have we brought in a guard or forward known for their toughness and defense, in recent years? I can’t think of any guys that, that applies to. We always bring in the shooters, guys that can score in the offense.
    In order to turn this season around, guys have to step up and lead. And it starts with the Seniors. Irvin and Walton need to get vocal and get the other players to stary playing with more intensity.

  • Chezaroo

    RE: Donnal

    We all know that Donnal’s great game last year in Champaign was the result of residual action from LeVert’s penetration.

    But is it to much to hope that he reminds us that he is a scholarship player every once in awhile?

    • bobohle

      I agree there is no way Donnal should be given a fifth year next season.

  • umnyc

    When you get called out by Seth Davis as being the quietest team he’s ever been around, you know team culture is bad. We obviously don’t have any motivational leaders on the team, but I’m not sure we’ve had that since Mitch was around. Could we be missing Bacari and his locker room speeches? Because let’s not forget this is almost the exact same team from last year.

    • Fab 5 Legends

      Agree with your points…we did make the NCAA last year, anything less would be a dissapointment considering we have the same team…upperclassman leadership is lacking – especially at times like this

  • gobluemd16

    I know there are hot takes galore right now and threads both on the UMHoops forum and MGoBlog calling for Beilein’s head, but I (and I think many others) would love to hear your rational opinion, Dylan. Whether that be here, in a separate post, or on the forum.

    • gobluemd16

      Dylan, saw your take on the forums. Appreciate that.

  • David Miller

    Season is over. We are going to go on a 10 game losing streak in the Big 10. It’s time for a change.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Very weird how this is the same team from last year, Levert was injured early on, transfers weren’t big contributers…yet we are playing really down to our competition…what makes it even more bizarre is how we started in NYC tourny…as a poster mentioned maybe Bacari would fire them up with toughness/motivation? Our seniors simply aren’t leaders? Vegas has us as favorites these last couple games lol This season has been such a disappointment so far considering we have upperclassman…1-3 is not the end of the season but it will be an uphill battle! I think our season is lost at this point but I’m still hoping for a push…BigTen doesn’t seem strong this year…Indiana is also 1-3, OState hasn’t won yet…hoping the seniors bring this team together and remind them the pride for playing for UM…Go Blue!

    • Fab 5 Legends

      Going into the season, my expectation was anything less than NCAA tourny bid was a dissapointment because it was another year together and same team basically…did the bigten get drastically better? Incoming freshmen/transfers, or development have made teams like Illinois, Iowa, Penn State better? I’m trying to wrap my head around this…need a W against Nebraska… @Wisco, vsIndiana, @MSU, vsOState, vsMState, @Indiana, vsWisco, @Minn is a crazy schedule…and OState will be up for their rivalry game even if they are having a down year

  • Champswest

    “Walton had the backbreaking mistake that basically took Michigan out of the game .”
    I think his technical foul and benching had very little if anything to do with Michigan losing this game. What were his contributions up to that point? What did we miss by not having him on the floor? Defense? Leadership? Scoring?

    My favorite part of the game was the last two or three minutes watching Simpson, Watson and Teske. I saw better ball movement and hustle from that group. If we are going to get blown out by weak teams, I would rather be watching this group playing with a little pride and desire.

    • He had 8 and 4 on perfect shooting in the first half. He had just given Michigan the lead and instead gave away two points that gave Illinois the lead and turned the momentum of the game.

      Simpson came on the floor for him and Michigan didn’t make another basket down the stretch

  • ChathaM

    I am extremely confused about this team. Watching these, and other B1G games, it is so clear that our frontcourt operates at a significant strength disadvantage. The height is there, which is a nice change from some past teams, but Wagner, Donnal, and Wilson look so much weaker/skinnier than their matchups on other teams. Combine that with the relative physical weakness of guys like Robinson and MAAR on the perimeter, and it makes perfect sense that we can’t guard, and struggle to rebound with B1G teams. Last night, I sensed no lack of effort; just a lack of ability to match up physically. But….it’s all so confusing because we saw guys defend and rebound in November against good competition. I always feel like once you see a guy do something, you know he has it in him, so he can continue to do it. You don’t just get lucky defensively for 80 minutes against good competition, do you? I’m not ready to call this a lost season, just because my head tells me that I’ve seen acceptable defence from this group, so they can get it back. The problem, of course, is that my head also tells me that we just don’t have the physical strength to guard B1G teams. (laughing) I probably need to stop thinking about it.

    You have to admit that Illinois hit some prayers last night (banked shot clock 3, two circus and-one finishes, one kid’s first 3 of the entire season), but that doesn’t negate the overall defensive weakness. Teams simply look very comfortable against us, and seem to get whatever shot they want.

    • mikey_mac

      Your last line is exactly what I was thinking to myself during the game last night. UI was allowed such comfort. When UM fouls, 75% of the time, the UM player is in disbelief that his effort to avoid making the shot uncomfortable still ended up being called a foul.
      I want a Parks and Rec style “Assert yourself!” montage produced and delivered to this team.

  • Chris De Sana

    Defense is horrible no matter how you slice it and yet very few adjustments seem to be made. For example why not go under the screen to help stop dribble penetration? Why not try try a 2-3 zone and force teams to beat us with jumpers? Why not try Teske in a game like last night where we were getting beat up on the block and on the boards?

    I am not a huge fan of calling for someones job but Coach has to take responsibility here and make some changes. If the guys who are playing most of the minutes continue to struggle its time to play the young guys if for no other reason than to build for the future.

    • Wayman Britt

      I like your ideas. It’s time to at least try something new. I like the idea of trying the 2-3, but please get rid of the 1-3-1. I wonder if the team has even practiced the 2-3 zone.

      • ChathaM

        I noticed last night that X was at the top in the 1-3-1 (with a big down low), rather than at the bottom, where he was in the Penn State game (I didn’t see the Maryland game). I liked that adjustment. I still hate the 1-3-1, though.

        • They did change the 1-3-1… Donnal (I think) was actually at the back and it wasn’t as extended. It almost seemed to drop into a 2-3 or 3-2 at some point and then Illinois hit a three.

          • ChathaM

            “…and then “insert opponent here” hit a three” describes way too many defensive possessions lately.

  • ChipperFliet

    First in the nation with the fewest fouls. That is just “peachy”.
    Last in 3 pt fg % defense, down near the bottom of fg% defense all together, and getting out rebounded (by a lot) every night. Probably some correlation there don’t ya’ think.
    The ” Don’t be to aggressive while defending or rebounding so we don’t get in foul trouble and put the other team to the line shooting freebies” approach only works if you have a team who is extremely talented offenseivly. Aka: 2013.
    With Trey, Hardaway, GR3, McGary, LeVert, Stauskas along with Morgan and Spike offense was top notch. Six of the above were skilled enough to play in the NBA and another is playing professionally over seas.

    JB has to adapt to his personal. Nobody is going to the NBA of this current roster (maybe Mo. Maybe).

    And D Walton has lost a step, and it hurts him defenseivly and with dribble penatration. Combine that with a team with little or no heart, and this is what you get.

  • bobohle

    Nothing has been said about this,but I wonder if some of Walton’s troubles are related to that foot injury he had in the 2014-15 season or Irvin’s could be attributed to physical adjustments made due to last year’s back surgery.

  • NbobBis

    when you play with legitimate big men, and the other team goes small. then its like 5 on 3 out at the three point line because those bigs won’t get out to guard a 3-point-shot effectively. i wonder if that is happening to beilein this year. (first year in recent memory where we have somebody sized right for the 4 and 5 ((Wilson,Wagner))