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hoops game recaps
The season may very well be over, and that might be for the best. This Michigan squad squeezed every last bit of talent and effort out of an undersized, overmatched, and exceedingly young group over the last couple months, to the point that I'm not sure they have much left to prove this year. This team battled harder than anyone expected after the losses of Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, and there's little doubt they're going to be dangerous as all hell next year.
For the first 15 minutes of today's matchup against the Goliaths of Wisconsin, Michigan looked to be on their way to a stunning upset. Eventually, though, the mismatches up front caught up to the Wolverines, who started the game with Zak Irvin guarding Frank Kaminsky and Max Bielfeldt on Nigel Hayes. The Badgers closed the first half on an 18-4 run and kept Michigan at bay, though not by much, through the second half.
The Badgers won by virtue of size, talent, and experience. Aubrey Dawkins looked the part of a freshman against Sam Dekker, who led Wisconsin with 17 points and pulled down four offensive rebounds. Hayes managed nine points and three offensive boards of his own. Kaminsky talled 16 and 12 against a wave of double-teams. Fittingly, a Hayes putback after Kaminsky drew in M's interior defenders proved to be the final nail in the coffin.
But man, did Michigan fight. Irvin once again raised expectations for next year with a tremendous all-around performance. He scored 21 points on 9/18 shooting, hitting an array of NBA-level midrange shots, knocking down three of his seven triples, and finding his way to the basket. Tasked with cleaning the glass against Wisconsin's huge front line, he recorded 11 rebounds, all on defense, which was one off a career high. For good measure, he added three assists and three steals; a baseline dish to Ricky Doyle looked like it was ripped straight from Spike Albrecht's highlight reel.
Doyle, who's been quiet of late, gamely battled Kaminsky in the post, and got the better of the Big Ten Player of the Year his fair share of times: Doyle hit all six of his shots from the field to tally 12 points. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had a couple great takes to the hoop on his way to eight points on 4/7 shooting. Albrecht added ten, highlighted by a couple deep threes.
So, yes, Michigan lost, but the positive indicators for next season were everywhere: a pivoting Doyle finish against Kaminsky, Albrecht dribbling through defenders like Steph Curry before pulling up for a jumper, Dawkins throwing down an Irvin miss on the break, Rahk blowing by the defense for a layup, Kam Chatman tossing an inch-perfect entry pass to Doyle for a layup.
The Wolverines didn't have quite enough juice to overcome one of the best teams in the country. Suddenly, though, the big question for next year is this: how is John Beilein going to find playing time for all these promising young guys? After a season replete with real problems, that's one heck of a good problem.
Disappointing lack of calves on the jersey plaque. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Max Bielfeldt recorded his first career double-double. Aubrey Dawkins nearly tied the single-game school record for three-pointers. Michigan's game-ending lineup featured Austin Hatch, two walk-ons, and two student managers turned practice players.
Needless to say, the game wasn't nearly as close as the final score would indicate. Save for a 19-0 Rutgers run to close a contest that had long been decided, Michigan maintained a death grip from start to... well, almost-finish.
On his Senior Day, Bielfeldt opened the proceedings with a hook shot before going on to score 14 points (6/10 FG), pull down 11 boards, and even hand out three assists. Bielfeldt earned a couple ovations on the day, including a "double double" chant when he grabbed his tenth rebound.
While it was Bieldfeld's day, Aubrey Dawkins stole much of the spotlight. Setting a career high in points for the second consecutive game, Dawkins rained in eight of his 11 three-point attempts—finishing one make short of Garde Thompson's school record—on his way to a game-high 31. He also provided the highlight of the afternoon with a forceful two-handed finish of a Spike Albrecht lob.
Albrecht generated much of Michigan's offense despite scoring just seven points on eight shots. He repeatedly found open shooters after lulling Rutgers to sleep with his patented forays along the baseline, ultimately dishing out nine assists, tying a career high.
As a result, the Wolverines literally shot until the lights went out. After Dawkins knocked down his first four three-pointers, Kameron Chatman added one of his own to give Michigan an early ten-point lead; the lights in Crisler Center promply shut off, causing a brief delay in the action. It didn't seem to affect Michigan, which continued its assault right up to the halftime buzzer, when Chatman drilled another triple from the corner to boost the lead to 19.
Chatman would finish with 13 points on 4/5 shooting. Zak Irvin had an off day, knocking down just 5/15 shots on his way to 12 points, but it was barely noticable with all the offensive fireworks going off around him.
The second half mostly featured both teams playing out the string—or canning more threes, in Dawkins' case—until the late Rutgers run. While the final few minutes provided John Beilein with some teachable moments, it didn't threaten to change the final outcome. Bielfeldt gave himself a proper sendoff, while Dawkins continued a hot streak that should have Michigan fans very excited about his future.
Michigan is now locked in to the #9 seed in next weekend's Big Ten Tournament. Their opponent will be either a reeling Indiana squad or, if they lose to Purdue this afternoon, Illinois. Either way, the Wolverines managed to build a little momentum for themselves after a heartbreaker earlier this week at Northwestern.
The good news: Zak Irvin is going to be really good. Aubrey Dawkins isn't too bad, either.
The bad news: The rest of that happened.
I'm going to bed.
File photo [Barron]
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.