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Yes, we have to talk about it.
John Beilein is a great coach. His tenure at Michigan has left no doubt. Even great coaches, however, have their downsides. Beilein's rigidity with his foul policy qualifies, and—along with a perplexing insistence on sticking with the 1-3-1 while Maryland rained in second-half threes—it cost Michigan a shot at this game.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman picked up his second foul with 12:27 to go in the first half; the score was tied at nine. Zak Irvin committed his second with 6:55 to play in the half; Michigan held a 19-18 lead. Beilein went with a lineup that included walk-ons Andrew Dakich and Sean Lonergan, and didn't re-insert Rahk or Irvin until the second half.
Maryland entered halftime up 30-21 after the Wolverines scored on just one of their ten possessions after Irvin hit the bench. Using KenPom's win probability calculator, which factors in that Maryland entered the game with an 81% chance at victory, the Terrapins' win probability jumped from 78.0% to 93.3% during that span.
Although Michigan got within three during the second half, Maryland pulled away each time the Wolverines drew near, usually with an open corner three against the ineffective 1-3-1 zone. The ten-point swing with Rahk and Irvin on the bench in the first half held up as the final margin of victory.
Abdur-Rahkman finished with seven points on seven shots, seven rebounds, two assists, and three fouls in 28 minutes. Irvin had 15 points on 14 shots, three rebounds, three assists, and just the two fouls in 31. Lonergan had no points, two rebounds, and a foul in 11 minutes. Dakich had a three-pointer blocked in his three minutes.
It's not fair to Beilein to only point out the negatives. For the second consecutive game, Kam Chatman looked like a different player, scoring seven points on 3/5 shooting. Spike Albrecht tied for the team lead with 15 points. Irvin displayed a level of aggressiveness, ballhandling, and court vision that he didn't possess earlier in his career.
Beilein is coaching these guys up, and we'll undoubtedly be singing his praises again soon. Today, however, he wasn't close to his best.
Spike was the best player on the floor today. Seriously. (Bryan Fuller / MGoBlog)
This season has been, for the most part, a sequence of ever-increasing disappointments: upsets at home, injuries to our key players, and narrow losses to good teams. Things just haven’t gone our way.
This was a beautiful afternoon of catharsis, when–despite a now-customary second half scoring drought–Michigan beat a good team and a bitter rival. I sat in the student section and, for the first time since the win over Syracuse, Crisler was alive and roaring.
I won’t profess to knowing the exact sequence of events: I didn’t take notes as I sat there, heart racing, as the Wolverines played their best half of basketball all season, then managed to hold on after taking the air out of the ball in the second half. It’s all an almost surreal blur. Our Weird Guys played a team full of veterans and/or blue-chippers, and but for those descriptions there was no doubt as to who was the better team in Ann Arbor.
Spike Albrecht was sublime (and the game MVP per Kenpom), playING one of his best games in a Michigan uniform. Spike had an efficient 16 points, grabbed 4 boards, tallyied 5 assists, swiped 2 clutch steals, and didn't the ball over once. He’s indispensible to this Michigan team. Ohio State threw a parade of long, quick, and athletic defenders at him, Spike was unflappable and managed to hold things together when things looked on the verge of collapse. Some poised inbounding at the end of the game was just icing on the cake.
Zak Irvin played very well too; his early five points (and a nice assist(!) to Ricky Doyle) enabled Michigan to jump out to a critical early lead, and get the crowd active. After Ohio State stormed back Irvin hit an absolutely vital three from the corner–and promptly celebrated with the Michigan bench, which was awesome–to extend the lead back to six. Ohio State never got closer than a few possessions for the rest of the game. Zak posted a line of 15-7-4-2, which says something about him not being just a shooter, or what have you.
Those two were the only Wolverines in double figures, but nearly everyone else chipped in to help pull off the upset. Aubrey Dawkins scored just five points, though two of them came on an impossibly athletic put-back late in the game. MAAR was a non-factor offensively, but he harassed D’Angelo Russell (who only scored 16 points on 16 shot equivalents and had 5 turnovers to just 2 assists) all game. Max Bielfeldt put up a workmanlike 7-and-7 and sonned Michigan expat Trey McDonald for two consecutive offensive rebounds late. Ricky Doyle had a frightening fall and rolled an ankle, but he put up 8 points in just 13 minutes. Even Kam Chatman had a few nice takes to the rack in the first half to tally six points, and Andrew Dakich of all people hit a jumper to extend Michigan’s lead during the torrid first-half scoring binge.
As for Ohio State, it felt like the Buckeyes didn’t play particularly well, but Michigan played a large part in that–UM ran its best offense all year, and the Wolverine defense consistently harassed Ohio State on drives to the basket, a stark change from the recent streak of permissive interior defense at home. Russell led OSU in scoring, but struggled with the Wolverine defense, often appearing visibly frustrated. Senior Shannon Scott just scored two points on six field goal attempts; Sam Thompson played alright, if not efficiently; Russell’s fellow freshmen Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate might have been two of the three best Buckeyes today.
And–because I have to say it – former McDonalds All-American Amir Williams (from Detroit) and fellow center Trey McDonald (from Battle Creek), combined for four points and ten rebounds in 32 minutes. Thad Matta eventually went with Tate as a small-ball five to match up with Bielfeldt because the Buckeye centers simply couldn’t produce.
Call it a regression to the mean–after all, Michigan simply couldn’t lose all of their close conference games down the stretch, right?–but this game felt like such an extreme departure from the bad luck that’s plagued the Wolverines all season. Today, Michigan played well against a quality opponent and made enough plays down the stretch to win; a nucleus of Spike, Zak, and Max--along with afterthought recruits Aubrey and Mo–finally notched a big win without alpha dogs LeVert and Walton around. This individual game doesn’t change the optics of the entire season of course, but dammit, it felt great to see Crisler alive with the euphoria of an exciting Michigan win again – and it showed what this team just might be capable of next year or a few years down the road.
It could've gone either way. Alvin Ellis drove baseline, Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman squared up, the two collided, then Ted Valentine hopped three times and called a block.
With 13:11 left in the first half, Adbur-Rahkman exited with two fouls. Michigan State led 11-8. When John Beilein reinserted him a little over eight minutes later, the Spartans held a commanding 33-14 lead.
It'd be too easy to point to that 16-point swing and say auto-benching MAAR proved the difference in the game. Michigan's problems tonight went far beyond early foul trouble for their freshman guard. No matter the defensive strategy, the Wolverines couldn't defend the paint. The Spartans finished an astonishing 25/32 on two-pointers, rebounded nine of their 19 missed shots, and turned the ball over just eight times. That's a far bigger issue than who's playing at one spot on the floor.
On this Michigan team, though, the dropoff is so severe that ceding points in the name of caution isn't an option—and, let's face it, playing Andrew Dakich instead of MAAR is handing over points to the opposition. That's twice now Beilein has benched MAAR for extended time while the Spartans pulled away. While it's unlikely Michigan would've forced overtime in this one, seeing MAAR score 12 points on seven shots in the second half—after Dakich went 0/1 with a foul in eight minutes—made it hard to imagine the strategy gave them the best shot at winning.
The story of the game on the other side was the dominance of Branden Dawson, who finished with 23 points (10/12 FG) and 13 boards. Michigan's wings couldn't handle Dawson one-on-one, but when the Wolverines went zone, Travis Trice served up lob after lob for the athletic forward to finish. Trice had an excellent night himself, scoring 22 points and dishing out seven assists; his two early threes from nearly the same spot above the break helped ignite MSU's early run. From start to finish, the Spartan offense ran smoothly and effectively.
The Wolverines, on the other hand, couldn't consistently hang. Zak Irvin needed 15 shot equivalents to score 16 points; Aubrey Dawkins needed 12 for his 12; Spike Albrecht ten for his 12. The big men were all but nonexistent; the bench, of course, depleted. On a night when Michigan's defense needed the offense to wring out every bit of talent, strategy, and luck available, they couldn't maintain that for 40 minutes.
Sometimes it's not your night. Lowrawls Nairn hit just his second three-pointer of the season early on, when Michigan sagged off of him, and it felt then like it'd be a long game. What's equally frustrating as the loss, though, is the overwhelming feeling that it could've—should've—been closer, if only Michigan approached the first half with the same urgency as the second.
Those moving pictures are the thousands of words you very much don't want to read about Michigan giving up a 21-2 run to close out yet another overtime loss. Worst of all, perhaps, is I couldn't lead off this post with Aubrey Dawkins taking Nnanna Ewgu for a ride on the BOFA Express.
This is apparently what happens when your only trusted inbounder is 5'10". I don't much like it.
Oh, the faces you'll show. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman's last-second attempt to tie from the corner summed up this Michigan team of late. Indiana looked like they'd win comfortably for most of the game, at times threatening to break the game wide open, but the Wolverines clawed back into it late, overcoming their porous defense with timely buckets.
The final possession played out similarly. Zak Irvin, whose hot hand brought M within striking distance, was clearly the first option, but IU wouldn't allow him a decent look. As the clock wound perilously close to zero, Michigan swung the ball around the arc, and suddenly there was MAAR, standing alone in the corner.
His try caught only iron, and we're once again left to commending Michigan's effort in a narrow loss against a better team.
This team, in its current form, just isn't talented enough to overcome too many mistakes. The first half featured Indiana jumping out to a lead in part due to too many Wolverine turnovers. The second half featured a couple critical missed layups—including MAAR blowing a breakaway that would've pulled M within two—and too many offensive boards for IU.
Michigan struggled throughout on defense, failing to keep Yogi Ferrell (18 points, six assists) out of the lane whether in man or zone; Ferrell did most of his damage in the paint, either swooping in for layups or creating open looks when the defense collapsed. Troy Williams posted 20 and 8 in an impressive performance highlighted by a couple thunderous dunks.
The failings on the other end meant Zak Irvin's 23-point output (9/16 FG) went in vain. Ditto Michigan's most productive performance from a big man in a long time, Ricky Doyle's 15 points on 5/5 FGs and 5/6 FTs. While the offense clicked in the second half, the hole dug in the first proved too deep to escape.
Facing their most difficult stretch of the season ahead, Michigan has a lot of positives to take from the last couple weeks. To actually start recording some signature wins, however, they must start shoring up the mistakes.
Two weeks ago, Michigan made Wisconsin look like Iowa.
Tonight, they made Iowa look like Wisconsin.
While much of the focus will go on Michigan's 8:51 scoring drought that spanned both halves, their woeful defensive play was the main culprit in this loss, as the Hawkeyes shot 63% from the field to finish with 1.39 points per possession. All five Iowa starters finished in double-figures.
The ease with which the two teams scored could hardly have contrasted more. 52 of Iowa's 72 points came in the paint, as they ran their offense through the post with equal success against man and zone defenses; they rebounded nearly half their (rare) misses. Michigan managed just 16 points in the paint and looked completely befuddled when Iowa went to a 2-3 zone, moving little and shooting prayer after prayer.
Aubrey Dawkins scored 16 points on nine shots, hitting a couple second-half threes that briefly drew Michigan within striking distance. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had a couple decent drives on his way to 11 points, though he struggled to shoot from the outside. Kam Chatman had a solid stretch in the first half, scoring six points, then went cold in the second. Pick a player and he probably blew at least one assignment on defense.
The bubble didn't just burst; Iowa took a shotgun to it, and gleefully pumped in a few more rounds to the detritus for good measure. After an inspring performance against Michigan State, the Wolverines fell flat, and it'll be a long final month of the season if their effort on both ends doesn't improve.