Game 28: Michigan at Rutgers Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan had everything to lose and very little to gain on its Wednesday night trip to The RAC and it played like it was feeling the pressure.

The Wolverines led for most of the evening in New Jersey, but every time it felt like they could put the game away the Scarlet Knights crept back into the action. After extending the lead to 10 points in the first four minutes of the second half, Michigan let Rutgers back in and found itself down by 4 with 6:46 to play.

Michigan answered with a 10-0 run of its own, featuring a DJ Wilson three-pointer, a Derrick Walton and-one layup and a pair of layups by Moritz Wagner. The Wolverines held onto that lead down the stretch, but not without teeth gnashing as they missed enough free throws to give Corey Sanders a three-point look for the tie that he missed with two seconds to play.

Michigan has had worse offensive performances statistically this season, but I’m not sure it’s played a more frustrating offensive game. The Wolverines managed 1.07 points per possession in the end, but nothing about the performance was clean.

Free throw shooting is becoming a scary mental block for this team, which is ranked 6th in the country in free throw percentage but went 14-of-23 at the stripe tonight after going 9-of-18 on Sunday. Mathematics say that the last two games should be a statistical anomaly, but there’s clearly some mental hijinks going around in the heads of Michigan’s guards.

57% of Michigan’s shot attempts were three-pointers, and it made just 32% of its long-range efforts, but I thought they were good shots for the most part. Most came off of dribble penetration and kick action and the Scarlet Knights consistently over-helped and were leaving guys. The fact that Michigan also posted a free throw rate of 43% (their highest since the first Indiana game) speaks to the fact that there was at least some aggressive play going down hill.

In the end, this was tied for Michigan’s 5th-worst shooting night of the year at 52% on twos, 32% on threes for a 50 eFG%.

The turnovers were most frustrating of all of Michigan’s offensive woes as it gave the ball away on 17.3% of its possessions and it felt worse than that. The Rutgers press took the Wolverines out of their comfort zone offensively and forced a litany of bad decisions which led to 15 Rutgers points off giveaways.

Perhaps the most shocking stat of the night was that Michigan actually won the offensive rebounding battle, grabbing a third of its misses and holding Rutgers to just a 24% offensive rebounding rate. Defensive rebounding was Michigan’s focus on the night and they certainly did a good job of that.

The next most surprising stat on the box score was Rutgers making its threes. The three-point luck bounced back in Michigan’s favor over the last few weeks, but Rutgers going 6-of-16 from deep is just the opposite. The Wolverines did hold the Knights to just 42% shooting inside the arc, but weren’t able to force the turnovers that have provided such a defensive boost in recent weeks.

There’s no such thing as a bad road win. The victory at Rutgers gave Michigan a modest RPI bump and it also doesn’t hurt to have a 2 instead of a 1 in the road victories column. Six of the Scarlet Knights’ previous 8 games had been decided by single figures, so it’s not like the rest of the league had been dominating them either — get into town, get out and move on.

Now it’s time for Michigan to go hunting. The Wolverines could be underdogs in the final three games and probably need to win at least one of them reach the NCAA Tournament. First up is a Saturday afternoon date with the league’s best team, the Purdue Boilermakers.

Player Bullets

  • DJ Wilson: I apparently wasn’t paying close enough attention because I had no idea that DJ Wilson landed a double-double on the night with 10 points and 11 rebounds. He also stuffed the stat sheet with 2 assists, 2 blocks (both in the final 4 minutes), 1 steal and two turnovers. He wasn’t perfect, but he can do so many things to influence to the game and him playing well is really a key to Michigan’s ceiling.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanAbdur-Rahkman had some of the biggest plays in the game in both directions. He looked incredibly shaky against Rutgers’ press defense, but he also had 14 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. He made his first two threes and I promptly jinxed him with a tweet about him leading the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage, but while he cooled off from deep he had some strong drives that were critical plays.
  • Derrick Walton: Walton went 0-of-5 from deep in the first half, but I have no problem with him shooting those shots and he made two triples in the second. He was slinging the ball all around and commanding the offense to open the game with 4 assists before the first media timeout, but he only had 1 more dime for the rest of the night. He had some really frustrating moments, especially on defense, but he settled in and made the big plays late as well.
  • Zak IrvinIrvin carried Michigan’s offense in the first half with 13 points, but scored 3 points on 0-of-3 shooting and went 3-of-8 at the line in the second. Overall this game was still a step in the right direction for Irvin, but his second half felt like a half-step back as well and he got stuck taking a brutal shot late in the game after dribbling the ball off of his foot.
  • Moritz Wagner: Wagner took a long time to get involved in the game as he missed a few makeable shots, but scored some key baskets late and also held his own on the glass with 6 boards. Wagner is doing a better job of staying out of foul trouble, he forced some turnovers fronting the post and he’s rebounding and while this was a down game offensively, it feels like it’s just a matter of time until he has a big offensive game.
  • Xavier SimpsonSimpson now has 7 assists in his last 41 minutes of game time and is starting to show a really nice feel for passing the ball. His role is still limited, but he’s consistently started to show flashes.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson’s hesitation to let it fly on three-pointers is turning into a trend. He’s on the floor to shoot those shots and he’s hesitating just enough that it’s throwing everything out of wack. Defensively he’s shown some signs of improvement, but I thought he really struggled on that end as well tonight.
  • Mark DonnalDonnal had some nice moments in the first half including a layup running the floor, but his second have shift wasn’t nearly as impressive. With Wagner out of foul trouble, Donnal only played 8 minutes.

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  • ChathaM

    I can see why RU leads the league in O rebounding. They crash the boards as aggressively as any team I’ve seen all year. It’s almost as though they accept that they aren’t going to hit a lot of shots, so they just get after it on the glass. You’d think that they could be carved up in transition because of that, and we did get several good run-out opportunities, but the defensive rebounds that you do get against them aren’t always clean ones, so it’s tough to run. The bottom line is that our guys did a great job on the defensive boards, and that was a huge key to the win.

    I thought that Wilson and Wagner, for as tough as they played on the defensive end, played very soft offensive games most of the way. It drives me crazy that everything Wilson shoots is a fade-away (even his 3-point attempts), and he seems reluctant to take the ball all the way to the rim. It’s also so frustrating to watch Wagner fail to finish consistently around the rim. But, those two turned it around late, with some solid finishes by Wagner and a big shot by Wilson (in addition to two late blocked shots). Another key to the win was how those two stepped up late.

    I wasn’t surprised to hear that the RU pressure wasn’t something they’d shown in past games. We looked unprepared for that style of pressure, and that’s understandable, given the circumstances. X looked completely out of sorts against it (set up Robinson for a turnover, and made a couple other bad decisions), and I’m sure that’s why he didn’t see the floor in the second half. Beilein obviously did some teaching at halftime, and we handled it much better after that. Really good coaching by both guys.

    Free throw shooting becomes a mental block for fans as well, if I’m any indication. Our guys are at the line, and I find myself thinking “Man, he’s not making this”. I gotta relax!

  • Wayman Britt

    Hope the poor FT shooting is just mental, UM sure is going need good FT shooting down the stretch.

    • bobohle

      Maybe the home rims will help against Purdue.

  • gobluemd16

    A win is a win is a win. Man, it cruuushes me to see Minnesota up 12 at the under 4 TO @ MD. That *win* would have been our best of the year and pretty much locked up a tournament bid. Minn is going to be top 20 in the RPI if they win this game.

    • bobohle

      Minn won that game by 14 for 6 wins in a row. They are the hottest team in the B1G right now and yes we would have won against Minn with one more ft make in regulation.

  • MrLG

    I’m just so effin relieved that this game is over and we won. Go Blue!

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Big W…had nothing to gain, and all to lose – now comes a winnable game @ home, senior day for Walton/Irvin…1 win against Purdue or NWestern makes our resume look really nice. Free throws have been bad on the road…I’m sure @ home it will improve but it’s weird to see Beilein teams not be good at the FT line

  • AC1997

    While I would agree with Dylan that most of the threes they took were good shots (minus one bad one from Irvin and maybe a couple from Walton) and they just weren’t falling tonight. That, plus the FT luck on both sides, kept the game close.

    But I don’t agree that Wilson and Wagner played well on offense. This felt like the OSU game to me where both just lingered around the perimeter and rarely were involved in the offense. Against Minn. they attacked inside against a great shot blocking team. Against lowly Rutgers they each only took a couple shots inside the paint and they were later in the game. While I worry about early cheap fouls on the road, I think Michigan needs to go to Wagner (and Wilson too) in the paint early and often. I didn’t like it tonight.

  • AC1997

    Does anyone know why the Selection Committee continues to rely so much on RPI when there are other metrics that seem to be less flawed?

    Also, shout out to Gene Steratore’s officiating crew for staying out of the discussion. I’ve always liked the way Gene calls a game and this one had so few calls that it was fast and wide open. No constant whistles, no foul trouble for either team, let the guys scramble and hustle without phantom calls, etc. After the travesty of a TV Teddy game, this was the way it should be. I know they missed calls, but I’d rather be a little annoyed at no fouls being called than too many.

    • ChathaM

      Great point. That game was as well officiated as Sunday’s was poorly officiated. I didn’t even notice that until I read your post, which is what every official should want to hear; that you didn’t even notice them out there.

  • gobluemd16

    Dylan, in the past you had mentioned a website that gives the probability of each team’s Big Ten seeding in the BTT. Could you pass that site along? Thanks a lot.

    • Hmm, not sure about probability. But this let’s you brew your own scenario:

      • gobluemd16

        That’s what I was looking for, haha. Thanks!

        • Seems like Michigan would get the 7 seed at 9-9 and the 5 seed at 10-8. Could drop to the 9 if they lose out. But i’m sure there are a bunch of scenarios that I’m missing.

          • gobluemd16

            Agree. Although if they beat Purdue and Neb and lose to N’Western (10-8), leaving all other projections as is, looks like we would be the 6.

          • ChiMan

            Pretty cool tool guys, thanks for sharing. I just tried it out and going with my gut, I had us finishing at 10-8 and going in as the #6 seed. That’s the good news! Bad news is, we’d play the winner of Rutgers and Iowa. lol NO THANKS! I wouldn’t mind another shot at Ohio State. Beating Indiana would be tough, as beating a team 3 times in the same season is really difficult.

    • gobluemd16

      Nevermind, think I found it. Was it

  • GTFOmycourt

    I think JB is being way too conservative by not giving X more meaningful minutes in the second half. Rutgers was pressing and Walton and MAAR looked like they could used a break at several points…

    • ChathaM

      I get that a bit of rest may have been helpful to Walton and MAAR. But, X looked completely baffled by the pressure in the first half. Even though he entered the game unprepared for it, and there was quite a bit of halftime coaching done, I really can’t blame Beilein for sticking with the guys he trusted the most in the second half.

      • GTFOmycourt

        X probably was not credited with the turnover but, you are right, he did have the bad pass to Robinson and the unnecessary pass to DJ. Both of which resulted in a turnover…

  • michaeltheoriginal

    For those of you who have never been to the “RAC,” take it from a native New Jerseyan, this is a very difficult place to play a road game. Sure, the teams haven’t been very good since the the early 1980s, but the structure of the seating is such that the entire crowd feels as if it is sitting on top of you. It is unlike any arena in that players feel the weight of the fans stacked on top of them. Add to that a usually way more intense crowd (puts Michigan to shame) and you have a challenging road venue. And finally, most teams don’t get very motivated for Rutgers because they aren’t very good. Definitely a recipe for an upset. I’m not surprised.

    • ChiMan

      It’s funny, I was thinking the same thing in regards to crowd noise. It seemed like they were really pumped for that game last night. Kudos to their fans for staying engaged even with a less than winning product on the court. Granted the RAC is considerably smaller than Crisler, the crowds this year have left something to be desired.

  • A2MIKE

    Beilein is 5-4 on senior night. He is 3-2 as a favorite and 2-2 as an underdog. I think Michigan will be a slight favorite. Go Blue!!!

  • Champswest

    I thought Walton’s long ball was pretty much on target, just not going in.
    Wilson and MAAR have been playing really well lately.
    If we have a normal shooting day against Purdue, we win. It would really take a lot of pressure off of the last two games. I would hate going to Nebraska in a must win situation.

  • jemblue

    Looking at the four factors, I’m surprised it was as close as it was. Those turnovers really make a difference.

    • Missed free throws are a big thing that doesn’t show up in the Four Factors.

  • bobohle

    I agree with Dylan on the missed free throws. If Michigan made there avg in both the Minn and Rutgers games,they would of won both comfortably.

  • BlueMaze

    Simpson also has 19 steals in 250 minutes, eight behind Walton (the leader) 952 min. I know season isn’t over but can’t wait to see him full time jmo. #nextgreatUMguard

  • Stephen Chang

    A ugly game, no doubt about it, but it is a win and a big one on the road! Bring on Purdue!

  • Chris De Sana

    A win is a win that is true but my take away from this game is not much different than most others, and that is that these players are either a bad fit for the offense or they lack the discipline to run it night in and night out.

    I see a point guard in Walton who struggles with the most important feature of the offense and that is using a pick at the top of the key. I only see two players that move well without the ball with any regularity – Robinson & Wagner. I see a team that struggles to take advantage of situational opportunities such as when either Wagner or Wilson have a much smaller defender on their hip down on the block.

    On the other hand when it comes to their defensive effort, I see vast improvement mostly due to consistent effort by those on the back line. Wagner, Wilson, Robinson and Donnal all have lapses no doubt but their effort has really improved and it is that effort that has kept them in many games and has allowed them to win some games that earlier in the season they would have lost.

    • I don’t get this idea: ” that is that these players are either a bad fit for the offense or they lack the discipline to run it night in and night out”

      Michigan has the best offense in the Big Ten, top 10 in the country. They had a below-average game at 1.07 PPP but that’s still basically good for third in the Big Ten on average.

      • Chris De Sana

        We probably do not agree but I see an offense that is very inconsistent, that often goes for long stretches to run the offense effectively and struggles to create action in the paint to free up its shooters.

        Michigan’s best teams under coach had multiple payers that could drive and kick, how many does this team have? MAAR can drive but struggles to kick, Irvin the same and Walton is inconsistent at best.