Not great. pic.twitter.com/DzuujyGixt
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) November 23, 2016
Sometimes it's not your day.
Zak Irvin had the worst performance of his career, fouling out with five points on 2-for-13 shooting and eight turnovers. The rest of the team followed suit. Michigan shot 19.2% from the field and 7.7% from beyond the arc, and no, those are not typos. They had two assists and 16 turnovers. Derrick Walton hit both of Michigan's three-pointers; they were separated by 32:10 of game time.
Sindarius Thornwell was everywhere for South Carolina, posting 21 points, ten boards, three assists, and three blocks. Michigan's defense otherwise held firm, holding USC below a point per possession, but there was little to be done on that end to overcome M's shooting woes.
While a game this ugly tends to leave a lasting impression, this is one best worth forgetting. Michigan may not be quite as good as they looked last week; they are certainly not as bad as they looked today.
One team found shooting a little easier than the other. [Joseph Dressler]
If this is a fever dream, please don't wake me up.
A little over 11 months after SMU played like men among boys in a 24-point win over Michigan, the Wolverines returned the favor to win the 2K Classic due to imposing size, dominant defense, and red-hot shooting from Derrick Walton.
I'll let that all sink in for a moment.
This was the best all-around performance by John Beilein's squad since the 2013-14 Big Ten title team. Michigan scored 1.32 points per possession while holding SMU to 0.88. The Wolverines turned the ball over four times and forced 13 Mustang turnovers. They hit 67% of their shots inside the arc and 43% of their three-pointers. They never trailed; from the 6:18 mark of the first half onward, the margin was never within double digits.
After going scoreless in Thursday night's win over Marquette, Walton had the best shooting performance of his career, hitting 7-of-12 threes to score a game-high 23 points and dishing out five assists with no turnovers. Fellow senior Zak Irvin was nearly as impressive, posting 16 points on 14 shot equivalents, grabbing six boards, and handing out five assists against a lone turnover.
Zak Irvin took home 2K Classic MVP honors. [Dressler]
The big story, however, was once again Michigan's frontcourt play. SMU power forward Semi Ojeleye entered the game averaging 23 points. With DJ Wilson seemingly everywhere on defense, Ojeleye managed only 11 on 4-for-13 shooting, and he was far from alone in his struggles; SMU shot 39% as a team. Wilson's six points, three rebounds, two steals, and two blocks don't come close to encapsulating his impact tonight. With Wilson and either Moe Wagner, Mark Donnal, or behemoth freshman Jon Teske manning the interior, SMU hardly had a clean look all evening.
Wagner and Donnal once again had efficient games on offense to go along with their strong work on defense. Donnal had nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and capped the sequence of the night for Michigan: after Wilson drew a foul on a highlight-worthy dunk, Donnal rebounded the ensuing free throw, popped to the perimeter, and was rewarded for his effort with a three-pointer. Wagner had a quieter night because of some early foul trouble, but still managed to hit one of two three-pointers and pull down a few impressive rebounds. Teske made a surprise appearance early and held his own, forcing an SMU miss with his rather astonishing length and hitting a pair of free throws after getting fouled on a pick-and-roll.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman found his groove with a couple strong takes to the basket, and after a slow start from the perimeter he eventually found his shot, finishing with 12 points on eight attempts. A quiet game from Duncan Robinson (2 points, 0-for-2 FG) was really the only negative of the game, and his role has diminished greatly with the emergence of Wilson at the four.
While it's dangerous to put too much stock in an early-season game, this marks two consecutive great performances by Michigan against teams that were supposed to pose significant challenges. That they've accomplished this on the strength of suffocating defense only adds to the excitement. There may not have been much buzz surrounding this team heading into the season, but that is already in the process of changing. It appears that, once again, John Beilein has successfully transformed his team for the better.
Moe Wagner and a concerned onlooker. [Marc-Gregor Campredon/MGoBlog]
After a slow start against a funky matchup zone defense, Michigan found some consistency late in the first half and pulled away in the second for a comfortable 76-58 win over Howard in the season opener. This was a stilted, largely unwatchable game; the officials called 47 fouls.
The Wolverines spent much of the first half trying to shoot over Howard's zone defense, allowing an overmatched Bison squad to take a small early lead and hang around for much of the first half. Derrick Walton took control of the game, hitting threes, running the point, and knocking down four free throws on one late-half possession after drawing a foul and ensuing technical on a play that left him with a slight limp that he played through with aplomb. Walton finished with 20 points, three assists, and three steals, and did most of his damage from beyond the arc, making four of his seven three-point attempts.
DJ Wilson (right, Campredon) keyed a quick start to the second half with a massive two-handed tip slam and a block on the following possession, but a sloppy turnover and back-to-back Howard three-pointers made it a five-point game with only 12:27 to play. That was as close as the Bison could get. Zak Irvin responded with a tough layup between two defenders, Wilson converted an and-one after an offensive rebound, and Irvin capped the quick run with an open three off a Wilson kickout—the rout was on.
While Wilson didn't have a totally clean game—his two turnovers were both ugly—he loooked like he could eventually overtake Duncan Robinson at the four. His length made him a matchup problem on both ends of the floor, he was very active on the boards, and he moved the ball around well. With nine points, eight boards, two assists, and a block, he showed he's quite capable of stuffing the stat sheet, and he's already a better defender than Robinson, who had a rough night (1/6 FG). At the very least, Wilson looks like he's earned his role as the first player off the bench.
Walton and Moe Wagner turned up the pressure on defense and gave Howard's ballhandlers fits. Both came away with three steals, and the new-look defense forced 17 total turnovers. Wagner did his best work on that end of the floor; Mark Donnal was the better offensive player in this game, finishing with 12 points and four offensive rebounds.
Zak Irvin couldn't find his outside shot, needing 13 shots to get 11 points. Xavier Simpson went 2-for-2 to net his first career points, first on a corner three, then a slick runner at the end of the shot clock. Ibi Watson also got his first bucket in a real game in limited action, and fellow freshman Jon Teske burned his redshirt in garbage time.
While Michigan will have to find a way to generate more shots at the rim that don't come off rebounds, this was an encouraging performance. Billy Donlon's impact is apparent. Those 17 turnovers stood out, as did Michigan's increased willingness to foul near the rim instead of ceding easy buckets, which was a winning strategy on a night Howard shot just 14-for-29 from the charity stripe. Much like in last week's exhibition, DJ Wilson looked like he's putting it all together, and that could be a season-changing development if it continues.
Derrick Walton did most of his offensive damage from beyond the arc.
Michigan learned a difficult lesson about the importance of the point guard position in John Beilein's system two years ago. Unfortunately, they learned the same lesson again last year. From the 2015-16 season preview:
As Michigan learned the hard way in 2014-15, it all starts with the point guard in John Beilein's system. Derrick Walton is healthy again after a foot injury derailed and then prematurely ended his sophomore season; now he's poised for the patented LaVall Jordan second-year leap a year later than expected. Spike Albrecht is recovering from surgery on his hips but should be a full go early in the season, giving the Wolverines a starter-quality backup.
Despite returning to full health, Derrick Walton had many of the same issues that were initially blamed on his foot injury—most glaringly, he remained woefully inefficient as a scorer inside the arc. Walton's support vanished when Spike Albrecht, not fully recovered from his hip surgeries, was shut down after nine games. For the second straight year, John Beilein was compelled to pull a redshirt off Andrew Dakich to provide spot minutes.
Walton has one final go-round to break into that elite tier of point guards. While Spike is off to Purdue, there's still good reason to hope point guard depth (finally) won't be an issue this year, as Ohio's Mr. Basketball, Xavier Simpson, joins the squad.
[Hit THE JUMP for in-depth player previews.]
Billy Donlon protects the rim against Xavier Simpson. [Isaiah Hole/247]
I planned to spend the assistant coaches portion of media day splitting time evenly between the three assistants. After wanding into Billy Donlon's scrum, however, I never made it out. Michigan's new de facto defensive coordinator, even if he's reluctant to use that term, gave a lot of insight into how he approaches coaching defense and guard play. I tried to pick and choose the highlights from the half-hour or so of audio I have from him; I still ended up transcribing nearly 4000 words.
- Donlon coaches a man-to-man defense with what he calls a gap philosophy, which is similar to the pack-line defense.
- Expect to see Michigan stop fast breaks more often by fouling—Donlon mentions this tactic as a significant breakthrough in transition defense brought over by European coaches/players.
- Toughness is a skill that can be taught.
- Saddi Washington is a "grand slam" hire.
- He's "in awe" of how John Beilein does his job.
- "When you’re an assistant you make suggestions. When you’re a head coach you make decisions."
On what he may have seen on film from Michigan last year that is correctable:
I think you just try to look at some things from film from last year that maybe we could work on or address or understand the rules, and for me just trying to familiarize just the Big Ten in general. That was what I tried to do with some of the free time, when you’re not recruiting, when you’re not with the guys. You’re always trying to get it better. We’ll continue to work really hard at trying to get it better.
On his defensive philosophy:
We’re a gap team. The gap is really similar to the pack-line. The pack-line is a little lower. In the gap you’re a little closer in terms of you’re up the line a little bit more, you’re one step off the line of the ball and your man versus maybe two steps in the pack-line. In the pack-line, that means it’s more contained. [In] the gap, the closeout isn’t as hard. There’s good and bad in everything that you choose to do. The great thing about both of those is you can easily go from the gap to pack-line and then back, because they’re similar. That’s been how I’ve grown up playing in it and also coaching it, and it’s similar to what they’ve done here, to be honest.
[Hit THE JUMP.]
Michigan's top options had a tough time creating good looks at the rim.
Injuries. Let's get this out of the way. Michigan managed to make the tournament despite losing Caris LeVert, who was playing at an All-American level when injury struck, and Spike Albrecht, whose absence kept Derrick Walton on the court for huge minute totals and caused John Beilein to give Andrew Dakich a spot at the end of the rotation. Add in Zak Irvin's wonky back, which affected his shot well into the season, and Derrick Walton still not looking like the player he was before his sophomore-year injury, and it's fair to say health cost the Wolverines at least a couple wins.
The center position. Moe Wagner's late emergence provided hope for the future. For most of the season, however, the center position was the source of much consternation. Ricky Doyle, the presumed starter heading into the season, took a huge step backward as a sophomore; his turnover rate nearly doubled and his teammates clearly lost trust in him as a result. Doyle's struggles may be attributed to the late-season revelation he suffers from sleep apnea, but that realization came too late to save his season or, ultimately, his career at Michigan.
Mark Donnal stepped into the void and improved markedly from his first year of game action. That said, he still had obvious deficiencies, especially on defense. Getting beat up by AJ Hammons is one thing; making Alex Olah look like Hakeem Olajuwon for the second straight year is another. Unless Donnal gets a lot stronger or becomes a legitimate three-point threat, he seems best suited as a backup center; deploying him against opposing backups would mitigate his weaknesses. For that to happen, though, Wagner must cut his foul rate significantly.
Perimeter defense. It was bad, even by the mediocre standard of previous Beilein squads. Michigan's best perimeter defenders, MAAR and Derrick Walton, had uneven seasons on that end of the floor—especially Walton, who'd vacillate from awful performances to good ones with little indication of what he'd bring on a given day. The three spot the biggest sore spot with Duncan Robinson somehow looking sigificantly less bad than Aubrey Dawkins by the end of the season; Robinson was still quite far from good.
The Wolverines were especially poor in the halfcourt. While their transition eFG% allowed fell in the middle of the NCAA pack, they were 273rd out of 351 teams in non-transition eFG% defense, per hoop-math. The problems were myriad: fighting through screens, guarding isolation, contesting shots, weakside rotation—you name it, really. The problems on the perimeter were amplified by the lack of a rim protector; they still started on the perimeter.
via Shot Analytics
Stars taking one step back for every step forward. There were encouraging developments out of both Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton this season. Irvin did an admirable job playing out of position on defense and rounded out his offensive repertoire, nearly doubling his assist rate. Walton posted center-level defensive rebounding numbers and returned to his freshman form as a perimeter shooter.
But with their bigger roles, flaws were exposed. Irvin's forays to the hoop increasingly resulted in turnovers as the season wore on; his handles still need work and teams exploited the fact that he was far more likely to try to kick the ball out than finish in traffic. Walton simply couldn't finish at the rim, continuing an alarming trend from his injury-plagued sophomore season.
This is where LeVert's absence hurt the most. The only player Michigan could rely upon to consistently generate a decent look—MAAR—still had a limited game; while he could weave his way to the basket in LeVert-like fashion, he wasn't nearly on LeVert's level as a shot-creator for others. Rahkman becoming a better all-around offensive player would be huge for the 2016-17 squad. It's becoming harder and harder to expect Irvin or Walton to live up to the expectations set by M's previous top options.