Beilein's facial expression after Michigan radio interview was pure gold. Thrilled, and utterly disgusted.
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) November 22, 2017
John Beilein will express his gratitude for the refs tomorrow.
Moe Wagner may have been on the wrong end of some questionable calls for most of the evening. With the game knotted at 60 and under 90 seconds to play, however, he got away with an obvious foul while stealing the ball from VCU's Jonathan Williams.
Wagner, who'd never been able to get into the rhythm of the game, finished a three-point play at the other end, then coolly knocked one down from beyond the arc to put the nail in the coffin. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman's unnecessary—but consequential, given the game's Michigan -7 betting line—layup just before the buzzer gave the Wolverines an 11-0 run to close out a much-needed win.
— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) November 23, 2017
That final six-point flurry represented half of Wagner's point total. As you might imagine given that stat, Michigan didn't have a stellar offensive performance, especially as Charles Matthews struggled to stay on the floor in the second half with cramps—and struggled to make free throws (1/6 in the half) when he did.
Michigan didn't have the Matthews-Wagner two-man game going like they did in the first two games in Maui and the halfcourt offense suffered mightily for it. The Wolverines shot 5-for-20 from beyond the arc and nine of their ten turnovers came after halftime. They managed to make up for that, at least for tonight, with a 16-0 edge in fast break points.
While it wasn't pretty, Michigan needed this victory badly to get out of Maui with a 1-1 record against D-I teams and not saddle themselves with potential resumé-hurting losses. After a home tune-up against UC Riverside, they'll face their toughest test of the young season next week when they travel to Chapel Hill. Without more consistent production in the halfcourt, that UNC game could get ugly.
[Hit THE JUMP for more notes and the box score.]
The pump fake is effective. Duncan Robinson had an off-night from the outside, making 2-of-8 threes, but used the threat of his shot to get into the lane for a couple huge layups late. He finished a perfect 5-for-5 on twos, two of those converted for and-ones. With his defense still a significant problem, he needs to attack like this more often.
Point guard watch: ask again later, again. Eli Brooks got the start again and played 23 decent, if low-impact, minutes. Michigan still needs more production from their starting point guard than five points and a lone assist, though, and Brooks also had a major defensive lapse to allow a late VCU three. That got Zavier Simpson in to close out the final six minutes plus. Simpson is clearly the best defensive option but is still far from assertive on offense, and he hasn't taken great care of the ball—his two assists were offset by a pair of turnovers. Jaaron Simmons, meanwhile, was scoreless in two minutes.
As for the MAAR point guard possibility: ten points, four assists, no turnovers, two steals. I'm warming up to the idea even though he isn't a traditional distributor; much of this offense is running through Matthews anyway.
A glimpse at a two-big future? Jon Teske was very effective again tonight, finishing with eight points, four rebounds, two blocks, and a steal in 16 minutes. The only negative was a 2-for-5 mark from the free-throw line. With the point guards struggling and Robinson a defensive liability, John Beilein could look to play some two-big lineups to get his five best on the floor. While he didn't do that tonight, he did call for Michigan to play some 2-3 zone defense when Teske was on the floor, a potential hint that lineup could be in the plans. If both bigs are going to be on the floor, Michigan will have to play a fair amount of zone, which would hide Wagner's (and Robinson's) trouble staying with wings while funneling ballhandlers into the long, awaiting arms of Teske.
Few minutes for the younger wings. Ibi Watson, Isaiah Livers, and Jordan Poole combined for only seven minutes. Watson had a terrible turnover; I'm ready to see Poole, who didn't record a stat in less than a minute on the floor, soak up his playing time. Livers is a plus athlete who plays with good energy but has had trouble with his positioning as a defender and rebounder.