hoops game recaps
Look past the final result and you can see this year's Michigan squad taking shape. Derrick Walton is more off-guard than point guard. Zak Irvin, filling the void, is a point-forward. Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson are the team's two best players. Duncan Robinson's offense has moved him past Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman in everything but the starting lineup.
Wilson starred for much of this game, the best of his career thus far. In 44 minutes, he scored 28 points, made 7/10 twos and 4/8 threes, grabbed 14 rebounds (six offensive), dished out six assists to only one turnover, and added a block for good measure. Wagner also looked excellent, scoring 12 points on ten shots while playing disruptive defense that resulted in a block and three steals. This was a glimpse into a pretty exciting future:
Those two will eventually be the go-to players on this team. This afternoon, however, their relative inexperience in those roles showed in overtime. Wagner missed a corner three on Michigan's first overtime possession when it appeared he had an open lane to roll to the basket instead of popping out the perimeter. Wilson badly missed his two three-point attempts in the extra session, including a rushed shot with plenty of time left on M's final possession that bonked off the backboard; while M corralled the rebound, Zak Irvin lost the ball on his game-tying attempt and Wagner's desperate volley from two-point range had no effect on the outcome.
While Michigan had the advantage up front, Iowa's backcourt, especially Peter Jok, held a similar edge. Jok poured in 25 points. Freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon outplayed Walton, posting 17 points and six assists with no turnovers and a couple huge shots late in the game. Irvin distributed the ball well in the first half when his shot wasn't falling, then committed a few costly turnovers in the second half and overtime when he finally regained his scoring touch. With Robinson only going 3/9 from beyond the arc and MAAR disappearing entirely, Michigan needed more efficiency from their senior guards.
They didn't quite get enough. Michigan starts 0-1 in Big Ten play, and while they have four very winnable games ahead of them on the schedule, they missed a great chance to tally a rare conference road win this afternoon.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 23, 2016
Derrick Walton's game-sealing three came after Michigan had missed their previous 12 attempts from beyond the arc. Michigan's narrow win over Furman was a 60-possession slog that was hard to watch outside of the two highlights above.
Moe Wagner (18 points on 16 FGA, five offensive boards) and Zak Irvin (16 points on 14 FGA, seven assists) were just effective enough on offense for this game to remain tight throughout even though the Wolverines couldn't buy a long-range jumper. It'd be easy to pin a game this ugly on the dead winter-break atmosphere and players looking ahead to the holidays; this was more Michigan missing a bunch of open looks in a painfully slow-paced game.
The Wolverines now get a significant break before their Big Ten season tips off at Iowa on January 1st. After tonight's game, we could all use some time off from basketball.
fair enough, Lonzo Ball
Michigan made 12 first-half three-pointers, only five short of the school record for an entire game. The Wolverines rebounded four of their ten missed shots in the half. They held a turbo-charged UCLA squad to two fast-break points.
Lonzo Ball pulled up from just inside the midcourt logo and tied the game at 50 as the half expired. Michigan had played a best-case scenario half and the Bruins matched them shot for shot. UCLA made ten threes themselves in the opening stanza. Only one team was equipped to sustain such a pace.
TJ Leaf, the former Michigan recruit, gave the Bruins the lead on the first possession of the second half, and they never lost it. This spectacular sequence from Ball and center Ike Onigbonu, who filled in more than capably for injured starter Thomas Welsh, stretched the lead to eight:
Alford and Leaf would push it to double digits with back-to-back buckets. Michigan made a couple mini-runs to get as close as five but they never had a shot to tie the game over the last 17:58. As the Wolverines offense sputtered, UCLA's continued to roar; the Bruins connected on 20-for-29 from the field in the second half while Michigan only went 10-for-29.
An impressive performance by Zak Irvin—who had 18 points, five rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and only one turnover—went for naught. Derrick Walton had another quiet performance, going 2-for-7 from the field for nine points with two assists and two turnovers, and if Michigan hoped to keep pace, they needed both their senior leaders to be lights-out tonight. One was, one wasn't. That isn't exactly a surprise to anyone who's followed their careers.
Michigan wasn't good enough to beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. That they hung with them for a half was impressive in and of itself, even if the second half left a feeling of demoralization. The Wolverines aren't an elite team this year; we knew that. The Bruins may be one; they've certainly looked the part. If Beilein's squad can keep up their early-season defense—judging that based on tonight is harsh, to say the least—and sprinkle in a little more of tonight's first-half shooting, they just might be a pretty good team themselves. Getting good performances from both their seniors at once would help; thus far, those games have been few and far between.
A thousand words. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
This one is going to sting.
Michigan had every opportunity to put Virginia Tech away and get a quality home win only to squander it with poor defense, strange substitutions by John Beilein, and a hideous heroball play by Zak Irvin on the potential game-winning shot.
The first half went about as well as one could ask. The Wolverines jumped out to a quick lead and were up by double digits for most of the opening stanza, exploiting VT's matchup zone—something they'd seen already this season against Howard—for a series of open threes and layups. Irvin was especially hot, pouring in 15 of his game-high 23 in the first half, and solid offensive contributions from Duncan Robinson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and Moe Wagner combined with sloppy play from VT to give the Wolverines a nine-point halftime edge.
It was a different story in the second half. The Hokies stopped coughing up the ball, allowing them to attack Robinson and MAAR on the perimeter for blow-by layups and take advantage of Mark Donnal's interior defense seemingly every possession he was on the floor.
"[We were] just doing some strange things on defense, and it really cost us," said John Beilein.
"Sometimes we just lose that edge when you've got to get a stop, we lose that edge to get a stop. We've got to be a better defensive team than that."
Wagner had an efficient outing that left many wanting more. [Campredon]
Even though Wagner clearly outplayed Donnal throughout the game, they each logged 17 minutes, and the difference between the two was stark on both ends. VT's Zach LeDay got most of his 18 points when matched up with Donnal; he found the going tougher against Wagner and, for one possession before he fouled out, DJ Wilson. The Hokies couldn't stop Wagner, who hit 5-of-6 shots—most of them driving layups—for 11 points. Donnal did not score.
Michigan's ball movement petered out in the second half, too, and with it went their hot shooting; they shot only 12-for-30 and 3-for-13 from beyond the arc. Irvin embodied Michigan's struggles. After going 6-for-8 in the first half, making his shots within the confines of the offense, he hit only 4-of-12 in the second, forcing more of his looks. None were worse than his heroball chuck on Michigan's penultimate possession, which badly missed the mark with Michigan down one.
"We were trying to isolate him and they took him away a little bit. We know what to do when they take him away and we didn't do it," Beilein said. "It's that simple. So now we got isolated and we got all gunked up there, we couldn't call timeout, and we got a bad shot."
"I wish we had a timeout to really put something together. They blew it up and we didn't counter well."
After two VT free throws and a deflected inbounds pass, Michigan had one last chance on a sideline inbounds play with 3.7 seconds left. Wagner saved a long toss to Robinson, who got a half-decent look to tie it, but his shot rimmed out as the buzzer sounded.
"It's a great learning curve game for us, and we'll grow from it," Beilein said. "We didn't deserve the win the game the way we played those last ten minutes."
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.