Michigan has just five consequential dates on the non-conference schedule (barring a significant upset loss): Xavier, UConn, Texas, North Carolina State, and SMU. With tonight’s win on the road – the first true road contest for the Wolverines this season – Michiganpulls its record to 2-2 in those big non-conference games with a chance to make that a winning record at SMU.
The Wolfpack have largely disappointed so far this season (currently ranked 63 in Kenpom, down from 41 pre-season), but most of their short rotation of players was present for the NCAA tournament upset over one-seed Villanova and Sweet 16 run last season. Beating that without Walton for a half is more than something.
It’s apparent that the team has responded well from its two early losses; the Wolverines controlled the game against Texas and built on that performance with what could theoretically wind up as one of its best road wins of the season in Raleigh against NCSU.
Both teams struggled to find their shot from the field early on; Derrick Walton was important in keeping Michigan’s offense afloat as they settled in. After about the ten-minute mark of the first half, U-M went on to outscore NCSU by a 27-15 margin – 3 three-pointers by Duncan Robinson in quick succession and a few nifty Moritz Wagner buckets keyed one of Michigan’s best offensive stretches of the early season.
An injury to Walton thankfully doesn’t appear to be too serious but Michigan certainly missed his presence in the second half. The Wolverines extended that lead to 15 with 14 minutes remaining, but NCSU was able to finally exert its size advantage inside and chip away at the lead. Nine points from Caleb Martin helped cut that to 50-46 at the under-eight timeout.
Much like in the Texas game, two assists from Caris LeVert on consecutive possessions to set up threes from Robinson and Zak Irvin helped put the lead into a much more comfortable margin. Again, it was LeVert making plays with the ball in his hands down the stretch to preserve a Michigan win.
* * *
In Michigan’s games against quality opponents, tonight’s win over NCSU stands out on the defensive side of the floor. In its first three contests against Xavier, UConn, and Texas, the Wolverines ceded 1.25, 1.14, and 1.16 points per possession. Tonight, it was just 0.96. Part – well, most – of that was due to frigid shooting from the Wolfpack (15-41 on two-point field goal attempts and 4-17 on threes); the only thing keeping them in the game was 16-18 free throw shooting from NCSU players other than BeeJay Anya.
Michigan didn’t turn in one of its best offensive performances. Perhaps if Derrick Walton hadn’t have gotten injured it would have been, but a characteristically “Beilein” offensive profile carried M to a victory anyways. The Wolverines virtually ignored the offensive glass, avoided turning the ball over, and won the game with their field goal percentage.
This game was unique in that Michigan didn’t exactly shoot the ball well from three (7-20 as a team), but absolutely eviscerated the NCSU defense for easy two-point looks, mostly around the rim, that led to 61% shooting from two. After the Xavier and UConn games, it seemed as if Michigan was far from asserting its identity in games; it turns out that significantly easier (but still fairly decent) competition was all that U-M needed.
Caris LeVert is playing at an All-American level right now: a combined 34 points + rebounds + assists is a testament to his all around ability. It wasn’t a great scoring night for Caris but he made plenty of impact elsewhere – his vision (as well as Zak Irvin’s) made up for the loss for Michigan’s starting point guard and LeVert’s activity on the defensive glass was a nice adaptation in the wake of Walton’s injury. Late free throws helped inflate his point total, but the performance hit expectations for this season.
Irivin's cold shooting continued (he was 1/7 from three and 2/5 from two), as he, LeVert, Wagner and MAAR combined to go just 2-13 from three. Robinson salvaged the night by hitting five of seven. He is now 20-33 (61%) from three on the season and well on his way to that insane promise of 50%.
As for North Carolina State’s personnel, Caleb Martin and Cat Barber combined for 35 of NC State’s 59 points. Two of their three big men – Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman – combined for just two points. Credit should go to Michigan’s inexperienced bigs for erasing bigger, older counterparts in a matchup that didn’t look great on paper.
It’s clear that Spike’s not completely healthy after two off-season surgeries. He was thrown into the mix when Walton went down against NCSU, but might not be a part of the three guard rotation moving forward. Right now, Michigan’s rotation tentatively looks like:
- GUARDS: Walton, LeVert (Abdur-Rahkman as #3)
- WINGS: 2 of 3 among Irvin, Robinson, Dawkins
- BIGS: Doyle, then Wagner, then Wilson (perhaps only if needed?)
Ricky Doyle was perhaps better defensively than Wagner tonight – Moritz may be the more appealing long-term option and showed some more flashes (including a quick spin from the high-post into a one-dribble dunk that just roasted BeeJay Anya).
Even with a core player out, Michigan was able to escape Raleigh with a win. LeVert stepped up in the second half and Irvin, who still hasn’t been shooting well, managed to create some offense for others regardless. They're a long way from a deep tournament run right now, but they can put away a bubble team on a bad shooting night on the road.
Here we go!
I thought our basketball team had great bench celebrations. Monmouth just takes it to another level. They must have a lot of time on their hands to practice.