Game 30: Michigan at Northwestern Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

30 games into the season, it appears that Michigan is still trying to get every painful way to lose out of its system.

For the second time this conference season, the Wolverines had the ball in a tie game with an opportunity to take the final shot for the win. For the second time they left the gym with a loss.

Michigan players and coaches will fire up their iPads on the way home from Evanston and look at a dozen or so plays that they should have made but didn’t and wonder how they dropped another road game that was right there for the taking. The last 6 minutes of this game will feel like a nightmare.

The Wolverines led 60-58 with under 6 minutes and only managed 5 points in its final 9 possessions to close the game. They promptly got three stops and went empty on three offensive possessions, then the mistakes compounded.

Michigan picked up a violation for entering the three-point arc after the ball had been passed to Moritz Wagner for a one-and-one attempt. A mistake that most get out of their system early on in their careers as I distinctly remember making the same error at middle school AAU tournament.

While the defense held tough, the Wolverines eventually lost on a last-second pass the length of the floor for a buzzer-beating win. Do you just tip your cap? Here’s a look back at the final two possessions to try to figure out what on earth happened.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman rebounded the ball with 10 seconds left to play on Michigan’s final offensive possession. He got the ball up court and crossed half court with around 6.5 seconds left and Irvin caught it with around 5 seconds on the clock.

First, Michigan didn’t call timeout. The timeout would have had to come from Beilein to Irvin on the sideline and I’m usually okay with letting these situations play out in an unsettled scenario with with only 5 seconds on the clock.

The best play might have been Abdur-Rahkman putting his head down and attacking the basket, but once he passed the ball to Irvin the play was kind of sunk into one outcome: Irvin shooting.

He was open and his options were the pass it back to Abdur-Rahkman or to the corner to a covered Duncan Robinson. Irvin was open and in rhythm and had been playing well down the stretch and once the ball was passed to him he basically had to shoot the open three or try to get to the rim and beat the buzzer. Do you want a 31% three-point shooter taking that shot, maybe not but you’ll live with an open three.

The next question is whether he shot the ball too early. I don’t think so because if the ball bounces another way maybe Moritz Wagner has a second chance opportunity and if not then Northwestern will need to go the length of the court in about a second.

And then there’s the final play.

Michigan was switching every screen on the play and DJ Wilson and Derrick Walton got caught up in a switch around midcourt. Pardon set the screen and then slipped to the hoop while Wilson stuck with Bryant McIntosh (he wasn’t guarding no one, he ran toward the play after the pass was thrown).

It was a well-designed play, but it was also an incredibly ballsy call. I’m not sure how many guys can throw that baseball pass on a rope like that and if Nathan Taphorn airmails it then it’s Michigan’s ball out of bounds under the offensive basket. The most-likely scenario here is Northwestern to throw the ball to McIntosh curling where he can attempt a 40-footer at the buzzer.

Michigan’s offense was anemic in the first half — 30 points in 32 possessions after a late-run — and stellar in the second — 35 points on 28 possessions. The Wolverines fell down by 11 points midway through the first half and had to get up off the mat with a late run just to make the game competitive. While they felt lucky to be around in the first, it felt like they should be winning by more throughout most of the second, but the late-game execution just wasn’t sharp enough. The Wolverines had some early turnover woes, but the stat that they’ll be kicking themselves about again is 11-of-17 free throw shooting.

Defensively, Michigan stayed in the game early with its ability to force turnovers — the Wolverines outscored Northwestern 11-0 in fastbreak points — but just couldn’t get many stops in the second. Northwestern’s 1.08 points per possession offensively qualifies as one of its better Big Ten performances and they shot 52% on twos and 36% on threes for the night.

Pick-and-roll coverages seemed to give Michigan the most trouble, not necessarily with the direct action, but the second and thrd passes that followed as Michigan defenders recovered from their help. John Beilein noted that Northwestern “shorting” the pick-and-roll in the post game and it’s a trend in the NBA that the Wolverines struggled to contain.

The only good news tonight? There’s only one road game left on the schedule. The various computer ratings systems all love Michigan because it wins big and loses close. As frustrating as that is, its still an encouraging sign heading into the postseason. Still, these mistakes and frustrating losses are compiling and it’d be nice to clean up some of the mess and take care of business on Sunday night in Lincoln.

In terms of Big Ten Tournament seeding, the loss to Northwestern means that Michigan will be playing on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament — most likely as a 7 or 8 seed — but there’s still plenty of basketball left before we know where exactly they’ll fall.

Player Bullets:

  • Derrick Walton: Walton finished with 15 points and 6 assists on the night and completely took over the game midway through the second half. He threw a beautiful transition dime and was knocking down some tough threes and looked ready to take the game over. After a couple of minutes on the bench, he seemed to wear down late and just couldn’t quite seal the deal. His missed threes looked pure, usually in-and-out but he just couldn’t produce enough late offense down the stretch.
  • Zak Irvin: Irvin quietly had an efficient 12 point (6-of-10 fg) night and seemed to get back to the basics attacking the rim off the bounce. He also knocking in a couple of comfortable mid-range jumpers and really seemed to be comfortable with his game. He missed the late three, which was obviously a bit early in the clock, but it was also open.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman had some great aggressive moments attacking the rim, but also settled for a couple of questionable pull-ups late. His ability to attack off the bounce has become a feature and I think his three-point consistency (2-of-4 tonight) has helped open up those driving opportunities.
  • Xavier SimpsonSimpson continues to show encouraging flashes of production. He scored 2 points and handed out 2 assists in 11 minutes and completely took Bryant McIntosh out of his game late in the first half.
  • Moritz Wagner: Wagner’s road woes continued as he finished with 8 points and 2 turnovers on 7 shot attempts. He seemed to get sped up around the rim and struggled to finish for the most part, but did grab 10 boards and two steals on the night. Almost as much as anyone I’ve ever seen, he seems to be really affected by result of his first couple of shots of the game.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson knocked in a pair of threes and scored a great backcut layup. Perhaps the most impressive element of his game was that he hung in there and played great defense against a driving Bryant McIntosh on back-to-back late possessions when the Illini were isolating him on the switch.
  • DJ Wilson: Wilson just wasn’t really there on the evening. He played 21 minutes and Michigan was -11 while he was on the court as he finished with 4 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks (both of which resulted in baskets).
  • Mark DonnalDonnal knocked in 3 of 4 free throws in the first half, but really struggled with his defensive rotations and provided at least a glimpse of why Beilein might be lamenting the decision to redshirt Austin Davis.
  • Chace

    Virginia Tech, Iowa, Minnesota, and this game all headscratchers….. so many opportunities to win close games just can’t get it done. Experienced team playing inexperienced down the stretch

    • gobluemd16

      Amen. Good, experienced teams win most, if not all, of those games.

      • A2MIKE

        Look at DWalt down the stretch in those games. 1-5 from FT line vs. Minnesota, Lane violation tonight, unable to guard anyone on VaTech. He has been so good this year, but when we need him most he just can’t push it over the top.

        • ChathaM

          I don’t know. A couple of huge 3s tonight to keep us in it, including a 4-point play on the second one. If he doesn’t hit that huge 3 against Purdue on Saturday, who knows how the last minute of that game plays out?

          • @A2MIKE:disqus is our resident anti-Derrick Walton commentator :-)

          • Jdubb40

            Dylan all the time.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Another tough L, hope we learn from it for the BigTen/NCAA tourny…let’s hope we finish the season with a W @ Nebraska…and lose will not look good on our resume, even though I think we are a lock in the big dance regardless…Purdue W was huge, hope we see Minn/NWestern on neutral court – I think we beat them in B1G tourny

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Seemed like Walton got elbowed at the end of that hail Mary play

    • Fab 5 Legends

      Nevermind, just miracle play that happened lol

  • gobluemd16

    I am about the biggest Beilein supporter there is — I think he is a great coach, and person, and has taken this previously dormant program to new levels. I love the guy. But, he is one of the worst late-game coaches I can recall. Not just the four games this season where we had so many opportunities late and blew it (listed by Chace), but so, so many times over the years. Whether it be botched inbounds plays (that is just an ongoing joke at this point), soft defense at the end of games to allow a LOT higher percentage shots that the situation called for (home – Brust and at Wisconsin to send to OT, Minn in BTT, Evan Turner shot, @Northwestern in multiple OT’s two years back, the list goes on), and playing not to lose with late leads. This is a trend with Michigan teams under Beilein. They find ways to lose a lot more than they find ways to win in late, close games. Of course there is the famous Kansas game in the tournament, but on the whole, Michigan wins from ahead and has a propensity to blow opportunities in close games. The mental mistakes at the FT line just kill me, too. On Derrick’s one-and-one I was yelling for someone to make a move to rebound the ball. Luckily, that one didnt hurt us, but the violation before Moe’s FT was a backbreaker. The FT line in general was not kind to us, once again. And, of course, the last play. I recognize that it was a fantastic pass, but to give up a frickin layup with 1.5 seconds left is inexcusable. I am sorry. I am just sick of blowing these games that we should be winning late. All of the team’s goals are still ahead of us and I feel the same about the team now as I did before the game — but it just hurts when we could easily be 21-9 or 22-8 and have a much better seed, yet don’t make the plays down the stretch. Hope we can win in Nebraska, so we don’t have a ton of pressure in the BTT. Sorry for ranting and, as always, Go Blue.

    • Fab 5 Legends

      Don’t forget last year Kam Chatman 3pt Win over Indiana buzzer beater put us in the NCAA tournament :)

      • MLaw

        That is a very good point and that Indiana game was worth way more good than this NW game cost Michigan. I appreciate the perspective on that as I was feeling snake bit. It’s human nature to remember the close losses more than the close wins.

        It is also very easy to overvalue close wins and losses- more often than not they turn on one fluke play that one team gets. There are always an infinite number of things that could have changed the situation, but one play makes or breaks the game.

      • gobluemd16

        You are right about this one and @Indiana_Matt:disqus mentioned another in Glenn’s shot at Purdue. Those were great plays at the very end of games, for sure. I put those in a slightly different bucket because they were pretty much 50/50 possessions, both out of timeouts where we had more than enough time to get good looks. The games I mentioned were ones we straight blew it, in situations where it was a lot less than 50/50 to get a good shot.

    • Indiana_Matt

      I understand your point. But also want to recall the play for Glenn to beat the buzzer at Purdue for the win.

  • AC1997

    Maybe I’m letting my emotions get the the best of me after finishing my DVR of the game…..but I thought Walton played like dog crap in this game. He got blown by on defense a lot and I’ve never seen him pull out the hero-ball strategy so many times in his career. It was not fun to watch him waving off his teammates, get toasted by McIntosh, and whining after every contact. I know he’s been amazing this season, but this game was not a good one.

    Wagner gets frustrated by his early shots, but I also didn’t think Michigan tried hard enough to attack his man when they switched. It played into my Walton thoughts, but when NU switched screens it seemed like Walton got too excited to take on the big man instead of trying to get Wagner some post-ups against a guard.

  • MGoTweeter

    There is absolutely no reason to be switching everything in that situation and in particular switching that play. To begin with Wilson should be playing behind pardon. Why he is in front/even of him at the start is a mystery. You let that guy catch the ball wherever he wants in that situation (as long as it’s not under the hoop!).

    Second, even if Walton gets screened off on that play, mcintosh has to catch a ball at mid court going towards the sideline. Not only is that going end up being a tougher pass (throwing on an angle instead of straight upcourt) but even if it’s compete mcintosh needs to catch and gather, turn upcourt and make a shot. Plenty of time to recover and challenge for Derrick.

    This was a colossal fail on defense. I love beilein but you gotta know what your own weaknesses and he is terrible in these situations. Hopefully Michigan doesn’t have to face another this year, but at some point you gotta let someone else draw up the d for these plays. This is way to common a problem for his teams.

    • ChathaM

      The one thing you can’t do in that situation is let a player get behind you. I’m with you 100% there.

  • ChathaM

    The team that just beat us absolutely blew a road game to a team that can’t get out of its own way…just 4 days ago! Today, they looked like a group that willed its way to a win. This is college basketball if you don’t have pros on your team. It’s just the way it goes. There were clutch shots to be hit, and clutch plays to be made, and we didn’t make them. Not quite good enough on the road; again; but it doesn’t mean that Beilein can’t close out games, or that we can’t come from behind and win, or anything else. It just means that we are no more talented than any number of other teams, and that NW made one more play than we made in this game. Don’t get me wrong. I’m as disappointed as anyone with stuff like Wagner missing a dunk, guys missing free throws, and Walton committing a grade school violation. But, at least to a degree, you have to accept that stuff like this happens on the road in college basketball.

    I didn’t see any recent NW games, but they had to have played much better tonight than they’d been playing. They defended really well for most of the first half, and seemed to run every one of our sets right along with us. I’m sure they also hit some 3s that they hadn’t been hitting. I give Taphorn and Pardon a ton of credit for the end of game play. Can you picture two guys on our team connecting for, and finishing, something like that? Me neither, but I’m not sure NW fans could have pictured those two pulling off something like that prior to it actually happening. That was very impressive. It’s sort of like Chatman beating Indiana with his shuffle-3 last year. Could any of us picture him doing it prior to actually seeing it happen?

    DJ Wilson needs a Come To Jesus moment. For whatever reason, he is content to just float around the floor and do next to nothing to impact the game. I expect, and hope, that’s why Robinson was on the floor down the stretch, instead of DJ. If that was Beilein’s way of calling him out and telling him that if he isn’t going to make things happen, then he isn’t going to play as much, I’m all for it. He reminds me a bit of Glenn Robinson during his sophomore season; just not willing to bust it on the floor. I will never forget Dan Dakich essentially calling him on it on national TV. I really believe we need DJ to get after it to have much hope of going anywhere in the post-season. If he doesn’t, it’s at least nice to know that Duncan is there to pick up minutes. Teams will attack him off the dribble, but he is doing a pretty nice job of staying in position and using his height. NW was intent on forcing him to switch onto McIntosh tonight, and Duncan did a good job of challenging everything and forcing misses.

    What happens from here? Consensus is that we’re in very good shape for a tourney bid. We probably are, as that bubble looks weak, with some 12 and 13 loss teams looking like decent bets to make it. But, I’ll feel a lot better with a win Sunday, as I’m not interested in putting a 13 loss resume in front of the committee. Unfortunately, Sunday’s not going to be any easier than tonight was, because it’s no-pro college basketball on the road.

  • Timothy David

    Sucks, but I consider this a great learning lesson before the Madness begins.

  • Jdubb40

    I see the anti Walton and the heroball
    name calling is bad. This young man have did what a sr was supposed to do. Without his second half surge ,we’re. Not in the game period. Get off these guys back tough loss. Too some, we wasn’t calling for hero ball when we were winning. So give it a rest.

  • gobluemd16

    I feel like, at this point after losing last night, we are either gunna be sweating it out next Sunday (if we were to lose out), or are pretty locked in to the 8-9 game (which limits our chances a lot of making a run). If we win our next three games maaaybe we can sneak up to a 7 seed, but all other non lose-out situations I see us sticking in that 8-9 game, unfortunately.

    • gobluemd16

      After watching the last play again, there was clearly a botched switch
      between DJ and Derrick. There was a half second of uncertainty if there
      would be a switch, which led to Pardon getting inside position and
      getting an easy layup. Not sure if it was on Derrick or DJ (or Beilein),
      or both, but DJ had another awful road game.

    • ChathaM

      I agree that 0-2 from here will make for a sweaty Selection Sunday. As much as analysts have us firmly in right now, it has to come with a “but don’t lose at Nebraska” caveat. I could see a 1-1 or 1-2 finish from here translating to a 10 seed. There will be teams below us in the eyes of the committee that make good conference tourney runs, and I could see that bumping a couple of them ahead of us in that scenario. As you said, if we win Sunday, then get to a BTT semifinal, a 7 seed is possible.

      • Yeah — win on Sunday and there will be a lot less stress in DC.

  • ChipperFliet

    Prob should have called a time out before either if M’s last two offensive possessions. Draw something up please! I don’t like just putting the ball in one players hands and letting him try “n” create ala Trey Burke. Even with Burke it was way to predictable, but he had the quickness and ball skills to at least get a good look. DW and Irvin do not.
    I have to blame the coaches in the FT violation, not Walton. What the heck were they doing. They obviously did not know the situation. DW just got caught in a bad situation as the official tossed the ball to Moe at the same time he was trying to do the right thing. Go Blue!

    • Nick

      So happy for Walton and I love his confidence and energy. BUT there is no way the most important offensive possession of the game should be “Alright Derrick, make something happen!” Personally, I want the ball going to Wagner with the game on the line, either on the perimeter or on the block, and I don’t care what his shooting numbers were at that point.

    • ChathaM

      I lean towards a timeout there as well. There are potential downsides to calling a timeout (eg.- defensive pressure, or a halfcourt defensive set switch can blow up a set play), and you might not get as good a look as you might otherwise. But, in our case, we run some great team action out of timeouts, and we don’t have a true breakdown player to go to in an end-game situation. In Beilein’s shoes, given our roster and post-timeout playbook, I’d have called timeout.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Regardless of the L, it was still close game, and there’s a lot of positive…both Minn/NWestern on the road…I think before OState game we were a different team…after that game we have had a different mindset, we play tough and different players are stepping up…I’ll take a last second miracle – knowing if we play again on neutral court Beilein would make right adjustments…I’m very positive with the outlook of the rest of the season…I think we will be a dangerous out in BigTen/NCAA tourny…which will result in another successful year…with the team we have, not going to the big dance would be a disappointing year…good programs find a way to get there even on down years…we did last year, let’s do it again GO BLUE

  • mikey_mac

    Perhaps the home/road thing is real for Wagner, but last night, it felt more like NW’s bigs were just athletic and long enough to keep him from angling his way in for easy layups. Benson, in particular, seemed to give him fits with his lateral agility.
    Plus NW started the game switching screens, which kept Wagner from getting any early open looks outside, and UM had a very tough time taking advantage of the “mismatches” it would create.
    Collins pulled out a lot of tricks to eek out a 2-pt prayer win at home.

  • MAZS

    Earlier in conference play, advocating for him to play more, I compared X to TumTum in a good D, limited O way, that was kinda obvious. I apologize to X. He is a markedly better offensive player than TumTum because of his court vision and passing skills. And, possible hyperbole aside, X may well prove to be the best defensive point guard Michigan has had since Gary Grant. I am feeling much better about that position next season.

    • mikey_mac

      I’ve actually had a few moments now where I was wishing X was on the floor when he wasn’t, which is a huge improvement, for sure.
      Once he’s scouted, though, and a primary ball handler, he’s going to need to hit 35%+ 3pt to be effective at his size. Might be a tough ask with his jumpshot form.

      • MAZS

        Disagree. You don’t think he hasn’t already been scouted and that teams are already cheating off his jumper? Plus 35% would be average among B10 point guards. Trimble is shooting 33% from 3 and McIntosh 28% and their teams are doing just fine. Darius Morris couldn’t shoot from 3. The offense simply needs to run differently; plus we should have plenty of other shooters to compensate.

        • I agree that he will be defended differently when he’s playing 25-30 minutes per game. Michigan is also looking at replacing the #1 shooter on the roster with a guy who won’t be able to produce at that level. That’s okay, but it is going to be an interesting adjustment.

          • MAZS

            My comment could not be construed as suggesting there won’t be an adjustment–Walton and Simpson are polar opposites PGs. There can be little dispute that X will be a markedly better defender and a better distributor–obviously, he won’t provide the same indivdual offense. But the cupboard no longer appears bare at the PG position—and 35% from 3 is not a necessity for success.

        • mikey_mac

          There are ways to be highly effective offensively as a 1 who cannot shoot, yes, but I’ve seen little from X yet to suggest he can do that. Your examples are all basically elite finishers, either in 2PT FG% or FT/FGA, and benefit from excellent size for a 1.

          • MAZS

            McIntosh ain’t an elite finisher.

          • McIntosh ain’t elite offensively. Puts up big numbers from his usage, but NW has a bad offense and he basically is the offense.

          • MAZS

            Again, elite “finisher” is what I said. And in this particular instance, X shut him down every time he was on him.

          • McIntosh isn’t an elite finisher. He’s not a shooter either. McIntosh shouldn’t be a great example of an effective offensive player who can’t shoot, because he isn’t that efficient at all. That’s all I’m saying. His best element is his ability to pass over guys out of the PNR I’d say, but he’s really a product of his usage. Just my 2 cents on McIntosh.

  • Champswest

    Beilein has talked about players not knowing that they can play at another level. Apparently, he hasn’t convinced Wilson yet. He and Donnal are the only two rotation players that haven’t stepped up their game as of late.
    DJ should have a miss match in just about every game, but he isn’t taking advantage of it. He doesn’t bring the extra effort or determination. I thought he was playing too many minutes this year and getting worn down, but that wasn’t the problem last night. He should be giving us more points and rebounds.j