alternate headline: man does job
That went as expected.
The last time Bryant played at Michigan, the Wolverines rained in a school record 16 three-pointers in a blowout victory. This time around, Michigan one-upped their previous performance, tallying their 17th triple when Kam Chatman beat the shot clock and the final buzzer from right in front of the bench.
Any other drama had long since passed. Michigan tore apart Bryant's matchup and 2-3 zones in the first half, recording 12 of their threes in the first 20 minutes and tallying assists on 17 of their 21 first-half field goals. Even though the defense had a sub-par half, Michigan went into the tunnel with a 22-point lead. The going wasn't quite as easy when the Bulldogs went man-to-man for much of the second, but by that point it hardly mattered.
What did matter, from Michigan's perspective, was seeing Zak Irvin get off the schneid; he connected on 2/4 triples after heading into the game with a 3/19 in the month of December.
"It was a huge weight off my back," said a visibly relieved Irvin after the game.
Irvin was one of several beneficaries of great ball movement by Michigan, led by Caris LeVert (8 assists), Duncan Robinson (6), and Derrick Walton (5). The Wolverines passed up open jumpers for even more open jumpers, and that opened up the paint, especially once Bryant switched to man; Michigan made 20 of 28 two-pointers in addition to their record-setting night from beyond the arc.
LeVert paced the team with 19 points, followed by Irvin with 16, and three others finished in double figures.
At long last, Michigan has made their way through non-conference play, and they'll carry a 10-3 record—with no bad losses—into the conference opener at Illinois on December 30th. The fans aren't the only ones who are relieved to see stiffer competition.
"I want to get on with the Big Ten and play," said John Beilein. Amen to that.
Caris LeVert recorded the fourth triple-double in program history. [Fuller]
Caris LeVert's most memorable play of the evening didn't even count towards the fourth triple-double in Michigan basketball history.
LeVert finished with 13 points, ten rebounds, and ten assists, but his steal and Gumby-like save in the second half stood out as the highlight in a game Michigan controlled from start to finish. Duncan Robinson made a sizable contribution to that assist total, knocking down three of his six first-half triples off LeVert passes.
Robinson scored all 18 of his game-high points in the first half. He also scored them all from the same location:
Does he have a favorite spot? pic.twitter.com/LXPZC8duXb
— Dylan Burkhardt (@umhoops) December 16, 2015
When Northern Kentucky reconfigured their defense to prevent Robinson from getting the ball in the second half, the rest of Michigan's offense benefited, especially LeVert and Derrick Walton. Walton returned from his ankle injury, got the start, and looked healthy—save for a brief scare after a hard foul in the second half—in a 16-point effort.
Outside of LeVert making history, Robinson raining threes, and Walton looking spry, the major intrigue from this game came from how John Beilein handled the rotation. (Alright, and the defense once again being not-so-good, but let's leave that for another day.) LeVert, Robinson, Walton, and Zak Irvin all played 34 minutes or more, while Ricky Doyle (23) and Mark Donnal (14) took up nearly all the minutes at the five; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (11) was the only non-center backup to see anything approaching significant time. Donnal had easily his best performance of the year, netting his season-high 11th point on the pick-and-roll to give LeVert his triple-double.
Andrew Dakich entered in time to run out the clock, and he did so with aplomb.
Tonight's bad poetry:
Duncan made a three.
Duncan made another three.
I need four more lines.
You said this would be a good basketball team.
What are YOU doing here, bolded alter-ego?
I'm bothering you. You said this would, and I fake quote, "not be a festering trash-heap."
I didn't say that but I did imply it. This was not correct, in a general sense. I mean, they did beat Texas and NC State. We may be overreacting here. But a top 25 team this ain't.
My feelings are bad now because you. Hate you.
Okay. Do you still want to talk about this, or was that sufficient for your purposes?
We can talk about it. What is going on, man?
Center is killing Michigan on offense, too
We are taking it as read that the center position is a disaster on defense. Any large, slightly peevish man is spend games against Michigan flexing so much he looks like he's in a bodybuilding competition.
But wait, there's more: Michigan absolutely does not trust their centers to run the pick and roll and it's killing their offense. Michigan got one roll dunk from Ricky Doyle after a second-half timeout, and other than that bupkis. Moritz Wagner got a layup blocked when he could have dunked the ball early and then Michigan didn't try it again until Beilein probably yelled at them about it.
When the pick and roll isn't working Michigan gets stuck on the outside all day because they don't have dribble penetrators, and the ensuing barrage of bad threes in the first half is the result.
This is a big disappointment since Ricky Doyle was very promising as a pick and roll finisher last year, when he hit 77% at the rim. This year he's down to 65% and, more importantly, he's got an astronomical 32 TO rate—a third of the time he uses an offensive possession it's to thunk the ball to the other team. Last year he was at 12. Maybe he got sweatier?
Wagner's shown some promise here—he used that super-quick layup to get buckets against NC State's enormous shot-blockers. But after that initial failure Michigan didn't go back to him.
Perimeter defense is abominable
I kind of expect it from Duncan Robinson. Ace made a good point on twitter: he is better as a bench player because his minutes generally come when the opponent has substituted as well, which helps Michigan hide him on D. Also, Robinson is shooting 60% from 3 on a burgeoning significant 50 attempts.
But that's a problem and then Dawkins is barely better against the starters. LeVert is better this year but still gambles a lot, and it's not paying off much. Once that happens and rotation starts bad things result.
Possible solutions on the perimeter can't shoot
Michigan needs four guys who are reasonable shooters from three on the court to run this offense. Kam Chatman, who did a nice job on D against NC State, is 0/8. MAAR is 2/11. That contributes to the offense bogging down.
This goes double when neither guy really facilitates anyone else's offense. MAAR has an early-Irvin-esque assist rate, which is frustrating because he's able to get to the basket better than anyone else on the team. He shoots decently inside the arc; Michigan needs him to set some other guys up to facilitate the offense.
Zak Irvin is broken
Shooting 20% from three, getting killed on the boards, bleah. He has seemingly not recovered to get in the flow of the game from his back injury, and that's a major downer. Hopefully these upcoming games give him an opportunity to shoot himself hot.
LeVert is not quite an alpha dog
Caris LeVert is very good at basketball, and statistically he's one of the best players in the country. I just think that sometimes, in the wrong matchup, you can shut him down. His ability to get into the lane is so-so, so the right defender can fend him off and then he has a game like he did against SMU. That did not happen to Trey Burke or Nik Stauskas. Maybe this is a one-off bad game—hopefully nothing is quite as bad as that. I think Caris is a very very good basketball player who might be better as a second banana.
I think our goals have reset to "make the tournament," which kind of sucks, but Michigan should be able to do that. A weak Big Ten gives you some pause but there's going to be a game or three against a tough opponent in which Duncan Robinson goes 11/10 from three, and that should be enough.
[File photo: Eric Upchurch]
Caris LeVert's 11 first-half points were easy to overlook during a spectacular Michigan barrage that featured 11 three-pointers.
When the barrage abated, and a persistent Texas squad nearly knottedd up the score, LeVert's eight second-half points kept the Wolverines out in front. Tasked with taking control of the offense with the Longhorns giving chace, LeVert snaked through defenders to find all manner of ways to create a layup.
The supporting cast is still setting into shape; it did just enough tonight. Duncan Robinson hit 4/5 three-pointers. Zak Irvin went 5/8 for 13 points. Derrick Walton stuffed the stat sheet (13-5-7) and drew a pivotal charge on Isaiah Taylor down the stretch. Moe Wagner looked like he may quickly become the team's best center, putting up six and four in the first half before foul trouble limited him in the second.
The team defense still wasn't good. Texas had plenty of chances to make this a real game but an 8/19 mark from the free-throw line made up the difference and then some. Big man Cameron Ridley was perfect from the field but only took five shots in 28 minutes; not to sound like Seth Davis calling a Michigan game, but he could've used a few more post touches.
Michigan is going to get in some shootouts this year. They're ready for them on one end. On the other, we'll have to wait and see.
Brian's preview is here. Go Blue.
Michigan's defense provided little resistance. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Michigan has a long way to go.
The good news is the season is far from over. In fact, Michigan probably hasn't yet played a game with what will become their standard starting lineup. But there's no glossing over the holes Xavier exposed in Michigan's defense tonight.
None is bigger than the hole in the middle. Mark Donnal gave up a bucket and a foul to Xavier's Jalen Reynolds on the game's opening possession and his night didn't improve from there; despite starting the game, he finished with four fouls, one rebound, and a turnover in six minutes. Ricky Doyle at least provided a little resistance in the post, but his poor hands cost M on both ends of the court, and time and again he found himself too far from the hoop on pick-and-rolls that resulted in open looks. Mo Wagner and DJ Wilson flashes some promise, especially the former, but they're both still getting used to the position; neither was ready for extended time against Reynolds.
Add in Michigan's porous perimeter defense and Xavier simply overwhelmed the Wolverines. Reynolds finished with 15 after getting to the line at will in the first half. The Musketeers hit nine of their 21 three-point attempts, usually wide open looks off the high screen. They missed 39 shots and rebounded 18 of them. Michigan's desperate late attempts to run a 1-3-1 zone only hurt in that regard.
It not for Caris LeVert posting 29 points on 21 shot equivalents, this would've been even worse; LeVert was the only Wolverine who could consistently produce his own shot, and while he sometimes forced it a little too much, someone had to carry the load.
For a brief period in the second half, Michigan looked like it would mount a comeback, getting as close as two points down on two separate occasions after triples by Duncan Robinson and LeVert. Each time, though, Xavier immediately responded with a three of their own and a dunk on the following possession, which aptly sums up the defensive effort from the Wolverines.
While the offense went in fits in spurts, it was at least decently effective, and Michigan easily could've surpassed the 1.05 PPP they posted if a couple open three-point looks didn't rim out. Their effort for most of the game, especially midway through the second half, was good enough to win a lot of games, but not this one given what was happening on the other end. Rough shooting nights from Derrick Walton (1/5 FG) and Aubrey Dawkins (1/6) didn't help matters. Robinson (nine points) and Zak Irvin (seven) were the top scorers behind LeVert, and that simply wasn't enough.
Michigan will have to learn from this game in a hurry. They head to the Bahamas for the Battle of Atlantis next week and will face UConn—featuring seven-footer Amida Brimah and plenty of size across the board—in the opener on Wednesday.
Tonight will hopefully prove to be one of the team's worst performances of this very young season. There are plenty of reasons to expect it to be so; this was a bad matchup given M's still-developing centers—who will have to grow up in a hurry—and uncertain rotation. If the effort on defense doesn't improve by next week, though, this team will take some serious lumps even before conference play begins.