The excuses don't quite cut it.
Yes, Michigan didn't have their starting point guard, Yes, they went on the road against a good SMU squad, and couldn't fly to Dallas until this morning. Yes, they're young and inexperienced. Yes, Caris LeVert had an uncharacteristically awful game.
The Mustangs managed to weather the loss of one of their key players, though, flourishing despite the departure of Markus Kennedy in the opening minute. The issues that have plagued Michigan's defense all season came to the fore tonight; SMU got dunk after dunk after dunk created by all-too-easy dribble penetration; the Mustangs didn't miss often, but when they did, they were more likely than not to grab the rebound; they rained in 8-of-15 threes on more open looks created by shoddy perimeter defense.
Walton's absence doesn't explain all of that. Youth only goes so far. Same for weather-impacted travel plans.
LeVert went 1-for-13 tonight. Without him carrying the load, only Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson could crack double-digit points. Even with the extenuating circumstances taken into account, Michigan remains too reliant on one player to carry the load on one end, and they're entirely too lost on the other to make up for it.
Michigan's next four opponents, each ranked worse than 250th on KenPom, all come to Crisler. That's welcome news for a team that needs to do quite a bit of tuning up before they're ready to take on the Big Ten.
Duncan Robinson (19 points) and Caris LeVert (28) led the onslaught. [Barron]
There once was a game in Tree City
For the foe we only felt pity
The home team scored lots
The road team did not
While you watched football on TV
[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.
Moe Wagner may be the #2 center. [File photo: Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Moe Wagner scored 19 points on 8/9 shooting. The German freshman hit all manner of up-and-under layups, fought through contact for and-ones, and even knocked down his only three-point attempt. His only miss came on, of all things, a botched dunk.
Yes, Michigan had a good night.
Eleven Wolverines tallied points against a hapless Charlotte squad, with Caris Levert, Zak Irvin, and Aubrey Dawkins joining Wagner in double figures. A day after Michigan couldn't find their range against UConn, they sniped 12/23 three-pointers, taking full advantage when the 49ers played a soft 2-3 zone.
By the time Mark Donnal found his way off the bench to score seven points, including a triple to get M to the century mark, Seth Davis was scolding viewers for still watching.
We'll learn much more from Michigan's consolation contest against Texas tomorrow (7 pm, AXS TV) than anything we saw tonight. The hope is Wagner's breakout is for real, Irvin continues to settle in, DJ Wilson's threes keep falling, and the Wolverines can come close to replicating this defensive performance against a team with a pulse.
— Ben Fidelman (@bfidelman) November 26, 2015
Derrick Walton knocked down a three-pointer to cut the UConn lead to 14. For a moment, it looked like Michigan could perhaps claw their way back into a game in which they'd been dominated throughout.
But Caris LeVert's left shoe ripped open like a Ziploc, and his mark, Sam Cassell Jr., left him to contemplate the fickle nature of breathable fabrics while Cassell made an uncontested layup seven seconds later. It was that kind of night.
Michigan's zone defense briefly kept them close early while both teams tried to get their bearings. The Huskies settled in. The Wolverines never did. Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton combined to shoot 5/7 from beyond the arc; the rest of the team went 3/22.
The loss sends Michigan to the loser's side of the Battle 4 Atlantis bracket; they'll play Charlotte, defeated today by Syracuse, tomorrow night at 9:30 on AXS TV.
It's late Thanksgiving Eve during the week of The Game. I can't end a post on that note.
Much better. Happy Thanksgiving. There will be more, if probably brief, coverage of the Charlotte game tomorrow.
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.
Derrick Walton dishing pic.twitter.com/5HEI9LlBx1
— Dustin Johnston (@DJPhotoVideo) November 17, 2015
It's safe to say Michigan sorely missed a healthy Derrick Walton.
After the Wolverines got out to a slow start against Elon, finding themselves in a 15-12 hole midway through the first half, Walton spearheaded an offensive explosion. First he excelled in transition, getting his teammates going with quick runouts and timely passes. Then he found his own shot, kickstarting M's halfcourt offense as they pulled away.
Walton posted a stat line of 24 points (2/3 2P, 6/7 3P), six rebounds, and seven assists, and he created offense in a multitude of ways. If he wasn't springing a fast break, he was spotting up for a corner three, or driving the baseline before kicking it out to a shooter, or pulling up from midrange, or going coast-to-coast for a Euro-step layup. This was the most aggressive he's looked in a Michigan uniform and the results could hardly have been better.
Duncan Robinson also lit it up from beyond the arc, hitting all five of his three-point attempts and adding a transition dunk and a pair of free throws to score 19 points without missing a shot. While his defense still has a ways to go, his shooting ability is an asset that affects more than his own scoring—when he's on the floor it stretches opposing defenses thin.
and then the blood starts pouring pic.twitter.com/MyoK3s3r2l
— Dustin Johnston (@DJPhotoVideo) November 17, 2015
The exploits of Walton and Robinson allowed the Wolverines to weather an underwhelming shooting night from the rest of the team, which was a combined 2/12 from three-point range. Zak Irvin played his first minutes of the season and didn't look comfortable coming off his back injury; he went 0/5 from the field, though he still managed to contribute with three assists. Caris LeVert was quieter than normal, scoring 11 points on 3/8 FGs and 5/6 FTs. Like Irvin, he found other ways to create offense, dishing out seven assists with some nifty work to create open looks in late-clock situations; he also swiped four steals.
The big-picture takeaways from this game will focus on the center position. Mark Donnal got the start but struggled, to put it kindly, on both ends in his 15 minutes on the floor. Ricky Doyle looked like he should be the clear-cut starter with eight bruising points in 13 minutes; three fouls limited his time but he looked far superior to Donnal.
DJ Wilson moonlighted at the five but mostly stuck to the four. Mo Wagner, meanwhile, got in early and played seven eventful minutes, pulling down an offensive board and helping M grab at least one more, then taking a charge before triumphantly exiting with a Novak-esque stream of blood running down his face. Donnal's hold on a rotation spot may be tenuous, especially as the season goes on.
There were signs of the rotation forming on the wings, too. Aubrey Dawkins, Kam Chatman, and Robinson have seemingly distanced themselves from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who only saw eight minutes, most of them late, despite Dawkins and Robinson struggling on defense.
While Michigan's team defense wasn't as good as the box score would indicate, they managed to work through some very tight officiating—which seems to be the trend this season—and come up with eight steals, a point of emphasis for them in the early going. With Walton fully operational, the offense came together as soon as the open looks from outside started falling, and the Wolverines didn't look back.
Now Michigan must hope that Irvin gets more comfortable and someone outside of Doyle steps up in the middle, as the first big test of the season looms on Friday when Xavier comes to Crisler.
Aubrey Dawkins: still bouncy
In the regular-season opener, Michigan made easy work of D-II Northern Michigan, taking a ten-point lead into halftime before blowing the game wide open in the second half. Since a traditional recap would still read "blowout" and not much else, I'll go with another list of observations.
While the competition remained easy, we learned a little more about the likely rotation in this one. Michigan started the same group as they did against Le Moyne: Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Aubrey Dawkins, Kam Chatman, and Mark Donnal. While Donnal got the start, however, he played fewer minutes (10) than Ricky Doyle (15), and DJ Wilson saw his first live action at the five.
To keep it simple, Donnal looked like Donnal, Doyle looked like Doyle, and Wilson looked viable in the middle—arguably more comfortable there than at the four, where he also saw extensive minutes. Wilson's athleticism made it easy for him to hedge on screens and get back on his man, he's got a rudimentary but functional post game, and he passed well from the top of the—he tallied three assists and only a foul on Dawkins at the hoop prevented a fourth.
If tonight was any indication, I think Wilson has a great shot at being the backup five before too long.
Moritz Wagner will not redshirt this year. He checked in with around six minutes to play. He looks to be behind Donnal, Doyle, and Wilson in the pecking order at center, but this is clearly a move being made with an eye on the end of the season. While Wagner looked lost at times out there and struggled with his post defense, his potential was apparent—his length contributed to a tip-in for his first career points and a late three-point attempt barely rimmed out. He probably won't play much early in the season, but I wouldn't be shocked if he developed into a contributor for the stretch run.
Aubrey Dawkins bounced back from an underwhelming game against Le Moyne with an impressive, efficient outing: 15 points on 6/7 shots, six rebounds, two assists, a steal, and three dunks, including the insane tip-slam at the top of this post and this alley-oop finish from Walton:
Not only did Dawkins hit 2/3 triples and use his cutting ability to create easy points like he did as a freshman, he also showed off a new wrinkle, hitting a one-handed floater off the dribble at the free-throw line in the first half. He's still a work-in-progress on defense, especially when it comes to fighting through screens, but there's no questioning his ability on the other end.
Duncan Robinson, meanwhile, came back to earth, missing his only shot attempt—which Dawkins would finish with authority—and getting pulled in the second half for missing defensive assignments. He played both the three and the four and was active on the glass, but he'll need to get better with his rotations or he'll max out at the 15 minutes he got tonight.
Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton: still good! LeVert had the superior game tonight, posting a stat line of 18-4-5 on 7/12 shooting with two steals. The offense mostly ran through him when he was on the floor; he had three consecutive assists during one second-half stretch, and he seems to be looking for the dish a little more.
While Walton had a quiet game statistically—four points on four shots, one assist, one steal—he was the primary driver of Michigan's 14 transition points; when he's on the floor, the Wolverines are looking to run, and with their athleticism on the wings (and at center when Wilson is there) that's a good plan. Walton had some hockey assists that don't show up in the box score. I'd like to see him be more assertive in halfcourt sets but with LeVert taking on a big role as a passer/ballhandler that's a minor gripe.
- Chatman looked more comfortable out there. His six points on seven shots isn't great, but he had two layups off sharp backdoor cuts, pulled down four boards, and used his length to affect passing lanes against an undersized NMU squad.
- Spike is a little limited but that didn't stop him from jumping passing lanes—scoring a reverse layup off one steal—and passing out three dimes. He got to the hoop more than you'd expect, too, though that probably has a lot to do with the competition.
- Rahkman still has a place in the rotation. He played 14 minutes, knocked down a corner three, and had a nice lefty finish on a hard drive to the hoop. While his shot is still coming along (2/5 FG), he remains one of the best on the team at attacking the rim.
In a game Michigan controlled from the outset, the John Beilein's Wolverines defeated Patrick Beilein's Le Moyne Dolphins, 74-52, in the exhibition tune-up before the season tips off for real a week from tonight. Caris LeVert led all scorers with 22 points on 17 shots; Duncan Robinson came off the bench for 15, hitting three of his six three-pointers, and Derrick Walton added 13 on seven shot equivalents.
Some scattered thoughts from the game:
Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton: still good. There's not too much more to say here except that both looked fully healthy. LeVert's ability to create his own offense outside the arc bailed out some stagnant possessions. Walton is back to his normal self; he had a couple strong takes to the hoop in transition and knocked down a pull-up jumper off a late-clock drive—these were the shots he couldn't get last year because of his injury.
Mark Donnal got the start at center, but he still doesn't look like Michigan's best big man. While Donnal hit three of his five shots, the two misses were layups—not a great sign against a woefully undersized opponent. He affected some shots at the rim but still looked a step slow on defense.
Ricky Doyle only played 12 minutes; I don't think that's a reflection of the pecking order as much as Beilein wanting to see what he has in Donnal and Moe Wagner, who played most of his 11 minutes at the five. Doyle looked much like he did last year, scoring on his lone post-up opportunity and grabbing five boards while allowing a couple other rebound chances to find their way to Le Moyne. Wagner was active but a little lost out there, which doesn't come as a huge surprise; he did look like he could contribute this season in a pinch.
Michigan really missed Zak Irvin, who sat out the game with a back injury that shouldn't affect his availability during the season. With Irvin out of the lineup, Kam Chatman and DJ Wilson played most of the minutes at the four, and their inability to hit the outside shot—a combined 0/6, with Aubrey Dawkins also missing his four attempts from beyond the arc—limited the effectiveness of the offense. Michigan couldn't get much pick-and-roll offense going and mostly scored with one-on-one takes and off-ball movement; not having Irvin to spread the floor constricted some space to operate in the paint.
Chatman's scoring output remains frustrating, especially since he can do other things well; he's a good passer an one of the team's more reliable rebounders. If he can't put the ball in the bucket, though, he'll cede minutes to someone else; he's not strong enough as a perimeter defender to justify getting minutes otherwise.
Wilson is an interesting case. He runs the floor really well—he's a weapon in transition—and he alters shots at the rim, but he doesn't look totally comfortable with his outside shot and he got blown by on the perimeter for a couple layups. He hit a face-up jumper on a post-up and may be better suited for the five, especially if Donnal struggles.
Duncan Robinson is going to pose major problems to opposing defenses. He looked great shooting the ball, as expected, hitting 3/6 triples. Encouragingly, he also hit 3/4 two-pointers, with much of that offense set up by him making nice off-ball cuts. He had an up-and-down game defensively playing primarily the three, but he's going to get a lot of time regardless.
Aubrey Dawkins had an off night on both ends. I'm not concerned at all about his offense—we know he'll be fine on that end. The more concerning stuff came on defense; he got pulled a couple times for Robinson when he ran right into screens and gave up open outside shots. Perimeter defense is a work-in-progress on a team-wide basis; Le Moyne got off 28 three-pointers and many of those were solid looks.
For an exhibition game in which the team was missing a critical starter and trying out a ton of different lineups, this went fine. The offense should function much better with Irvin on the court, Robinson looks as advertised as an offensive weapon, and the two stars who played looked like their old selves tonight.