Michigan 79, Penn State 72

Submitted by Ace on January 30th, 2016 at 2:52 PM

Paul Sherman/MGoBlog

When the threes aren't falling for Michigan, they're usually in deep trouble.

Today, however, that was not the case. The Wolverines hit six triples on 20 attempts, tying a season-low set way back in the opener against Northern Michigan, and yet they controlled the proceedings against Penn State while posting an impressive 1.20 points per possession.

The progression made across the board in Caris LeVert's absence was apparent. Michigan went 19/35 on two-pointers and 23/31 from the line, successfully going at the interior of Penn State's defense time and again. Nobody did it better than Zak Irvin, who attacked from the jump, scoring a team-high 20 points—whenever PSU switched a high screen, Irvin drove to the bucket and got results. As a bonus, he drilled a corner three to beat the first-half buzzer.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman also had a lot of success off the dribble, working his way to the point for 15 points. Derrick Walton played the role of distributor with Irvin focused on scoring; he put up a 13-10-7 stat line, and when PSU threatened to make it a game late, he had six points and a gorgeous assist to Rahkman in the final four minutes and change to put it away. Mark Donnal added ten points on 2/4 FG and 6/8 FT with four offensive boards.

Foul trouble limited Duncan Robinson to 27 minutes and after an early triple he couldn't find the mark from deep again, finishing 1/5 from beyond the arc. That would normally spell doom for Michigan in another game without Caris LeVert, but Aubrey Dawkins provided a spark off the bench again with seven points, two steals, and an assist.

A month ago, under these circumstances, Michigan probably loses this game. The emergence of an effective ball-screen game keyed by Irvin and Donnal has changed the complexion of the offense, however, and that's allowed Michigan to be productive even in games when one or two of their main scorers aren't hitting their outside shots—today, Robinson and Walton combined to go 2/9 from three, yet the offense still hummed along.

Michigan will still need more of those shots to fall in marquee games against Michigan State and Indiana this week. For today, though, they managed just fine as a team working from the inside out. Remarkably, even though LeVert hasn't played a minute in 2016, the Wolverines are momentarily just a half-game out of first place in the Big Ten.


LS And Play

January 30th, 2016 at 2:57 PM ^

Beilein said in his presser there's a chance Caris comes back this week. That would be huge for him to give us 15 minutes or so, if only to spare the legs of someone like Duncan, who's really struggling right now.


January 30th, 2016 at 5:02 PM ^

and Walton is playing great, but 39 minutes a game isn't ideal.  Would be good to get him down closer to 32-34.  Would make sense for the breakdown at 1-4 to look approx like this:

Levert: 32

Irvin: 35

Walton: 32

Robinson: 26

Rahkman: 23

Dawkins: 12

Beilein called for Wilson or Chatman to step up as well, which could give Irvin some more breathers, but Wilson certainly didn't step up in his few minutes today.


January 30th, 2016 at 3:06 PM ^

To be fair, Robinson was limited by John Beilein's definition of "foul trouble."  He finished with three personal fouls, despite all of the ticky-tack stuff that sometimes was being called during the game.

Having said that, he's definitely been struggling -- his 3P% is now all the way down to 50%, and his last couple of attempts really looked forced.  I agree that getting Caris back could really help Robinson get some rest and find his shot again.  Fingers crossed...


January 30th, 2016 at 3:14 PM ^

Duncan is also being guarded a lot tougher now than before. Like Ace said some looks lately have looked force. Caris will definitely improve his looks when he gets completely healthy. Overall good win for the Wolverines.
Btw..How the hell does Kenpom get these games correct?


January 30th, 2016 at 3:25 PM ^

Doing it again without LeVert!! Irvin, Rahk, Walton, Dawkins continue to step up! Beliein said after the game they are going out for Italian food!! We had gnocchi, it was crazy!! Or maybe the place he's taking the team has excellent Italian subs!!! GO BLUE!!


January 30th, 2016 at 3:22 PM ^

I know it's not a big deal or gonna be a deciding factor in whether or not they make the tourney... But I really don't understand how this team isn't ranked in the top 25.

4 of their 5 losses have come against teams currently in the top 21 with the other coming against a solid Power 5/UConn team. Also, 4 of their 5 losses have come on the road and they've played a good portion of this season w/o their best player. Factor in a signature win vs Maryland that some other ranked teams lack, and it just doesn't make much sense to me.


January 30th, 2016 at 5:34 PM ^

Yes, we have "good" losses but in a lot of tries, we only have one good win, which came at home. (UT looks good now, but they weren't as good when we played them as Shaka has them playing now).  We're 30th in kenpom which seems about right.  Don't deserve to be top 25 yet.


January 31st, 2016 at 9:59 AM ^

Just looking at 17-5 and 7-2 in B10 sounds like a top 25 team but look at the wins.  On the one hand, they don't have any resume damaging losses in that all 5 of their losses are against top 50 teams.  However, how many wins do they have against the top 50 or top 100 even?  I am encouraged by the 7-2 conference record but the combined conference record of the teams Michigan has compiled the record against is 15-38 (nearly half of those 15 come from Maryland).  If Michigan goes out and beats Indiana and Sparty this week, they will be ranked in the top 25, and deservedly so.


January 31st, 2016 at 11:47 AM ^

but it makes sense somewhat.  We haven't beaten many good teams but we do have quality wins against Texas, NC State, and Maryland.  First off, rankings often don't make any sense, nor do they matter that much as long as you make the tournament. Secondly going by your logic there is no reason why IU should be ranked and a lot of other teams in the 15-25 range, Wichita State, IU, and Notre Dame come to mind.  It is nice to see us ranked but as long as we make the tournament then meh.  We may be ranked Monday given that IU and Notre Dame both lost but there is a lot of turn around in the last 5 regularly, that is why it is the last 5. 


January 30th, 2016 at 3:22 PM ^

Nice win in a "road game". 7-2 without Caris is promising. This team is right in the mix for a conference title. Couple big games can't wait to see how the respond. I am very anxious to see Caris get back on the court and see how the team comes together for the second half of the season.

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January 30th, 2016 at 3:28 PM ^

It seemed like there were more of us than PSU fans. Everything is branded PSU though. They are even selling BTN Super Saturday merch - but none of it is Michigan branded, yet some of it is PSU branded. Unless they just ran our of Wolverines only merch - but I've only seen PSU merch so far. 


January 30th, 2016 at 3:31 PM ^

My worry...

...is that this we enable the "if the shots fall, we're unbeatable" meme a little to hard. We barely crack the top 100 in scoring offense and overall field goal percentage is average. Though, we are good with regards to 3 point %age and offensive efficiency according to Kenpom. All this against a very weak SOS.

At this point in the season, we are who we are - which is seemingly a good, not great offensive team, with a horrible defense. For this team, saying that "if the shots fall, we're unbeatable" is almost irrelevant, since you can say that about any team really. We need to be good in other things to really move this team forward.

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January 30th, 2016 at 3:50 PM ^

You do realize that "good with regards to... offensive efficiency" is the exact reason that "barely crack[ing] the top 100 in scoring offense" is meaningless, right?  Michigan's adjusted tempo is 66.2 possessions per game -- 3.3 fewer than average.  Michigan is scoring about 1.17 points per possession.  Add 3.3 more possessions to get to average, you add about 3.9 points per game, which would rank 31st -- let alone how many points they could score if they could maintain this efficiency at a pace that were above average.

I mean, seriously.  The top 5 in scoring average are The Citadel, Green Bay, Oakland, Oklahoma, and North Florida.  Exactly one of those teams is any good.  (The next five are Indiana, UNC, Duke, Detroit, and Omaha, so it gets better, but it's still not a telling stat).

As for "overall field goal percentage [being] average," well, first of all, that's ridiculous.  Michigan is hitting 41.3% of its 3s and 54.7% of its 2s; that's 7th in the country for 3s and 18th in the country for 2s.  (Hence, an effective field goal percentage of 58.1% -- fifth in the country).  I mean -- not that field goal percentage, on its own, is a good stat -- but they're 18th in the country at 48.8%.  That's well above average.

If the shots fall, Michigan can score as well or better than anyone in the country, as evidenced by having the #12 offense in KenPom despite having a few offensive clunkers along the way.  The meme isn't the problem.


January 30th, 2016 at 5:31 PM ^

I think you are being a little obtuse.

1. Explain to me why we are below average in tempo? Because we have hard time controlling tempo - we don't have the talent or physicalness to do so. Therefore, offense per game is an important indicator, especially at this stage in the season and considering our SOS is weak.
2. The meme IS the problem, since I could still can say that about team. What happens when teams hit their shots? Like SMU, UConn, Xavier? They win. No different than us really. In addition, it underscores how one-dimensional we are. Again, we really need to improve on defense.

For all but 1 (maybe 2) games, we have beaten who we should. Next week will really show how good we are and how prepared we are for a tournament (NCAA or otherwise).

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January 30th, 2016 at 6:41 PM ^

Michigan is below average in tempo because:

  1. They don't allow a lot of live-ball turnovers, which (a) shorten the offensive possession and (b) often lead to quick transition opportunities for their opponents.
  2. They don't generate a lot of live-ball turnovers, so most of their possessions are run from half-court sets.
  3. They rarely push the ball up the court, after misses or makes, unless they have an exceptional advantage -- hence, their transition offense is very efficient, but not used very frequently.
  4. They rarely foul, meaning that most defensive possessions take longer than they would if they fouled frequently.
  5. Similarly, they rarely draw fouls, extending their offensive possessions.
  6. Beilein has coached the team to pass up a good shot to get a better shot.

Their average offensive possession length is 18.8 seconds, 319th in the country; their average defensive possession length is 17.4 seconds, 233rd in the country.

Your narrative -- that they don't have the talent or physicality to "control" the tempo, doesn't seem credible; for one thing, you're making an implicit assumption that they would prefer to go faster.  If a team prefers to go more slowly, and they succeed in doing so, aren't they controlling the tempo as well?  Michigan has played just three games this season that have reached 70 possessions or more.  Again, the D-I average is 69.5, so it seems pretty clear that they are influencing the tempo plenty; slowing it down to match their strengths.

Certainly, I would love to see Michigan improve its defense.  Michigan's defensive efficiency in conference play has not been great.  However, this offense has been much better than you're giving it credit for, and if LeVert can return and play up to his potential, it can be an elite unit.  During their best games -- e.g., @ Nebraska -- they can suffer a subpar defensive game and still win comfortably based upon the strength of the offense.


January 30th, 2016 at 5:24 PM ^

your ignorance of math and basketball are cringeworthy.  Scoring offense without taking into account tempo is meaningless, as mentioned by another poster.  And overall FG as an indicator of offensive quality is meaningless without taking into account 3PA/2PA since 3 pointers are worth 50% more points but are generally made at a lower percentage.  We shoot a lot of threes so we might miss more shots than some teams but our makes are more valuable.

Hence being the 12th most efficient offense in the country, SOS adjusted.  That is an elite offense. Our defense isn't great, but it's mediocre - certainly not horrible.

 And our SOS is 70th out of 350ish in the country.  More difficult than fellow B1G contenders Purdue (73rd) and FAR more difficult than IU (185th). Only slightly easier so far than Maryland (54th) and MSU (40th).  Very weak is a ridiculous thing to say about our SOS.


January 30th, 2016 at 5:58 PM ^

in the way the defense rounds into form as the season progresses. We played quite good D in the first half today. Not sure why we were letting PSU score so easily at the game's end--seems like not fouling at the end of games is a Beilein thing.


January 30th, 2016 at 3:33 PM ^

In Beilein we trust. If someone told me we would be 17-5 after our loss to SMU without Spike or Caris I would've laughed my ass off. Thankfully my ass is still attached and I have been proved wrong. Also, Kenpom knows. Crazy accurate.

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January 30th, 2016 at 3:41 PM ^

How many points in the paint did we have? It seemed like a million. Also how does it compare to the rest of the season. I feel like that is the most paint points we have had in like 3 years. Somebody do some research I'll upvote you I swear.


January 30th, 2016 at 3:46 PM ^

I guess they're well compensated for it, but PSU really got rooked out of a home game. 

The nice thing I can say, and probably the most accurate, is that the performance today was "sufficient."

PSU's interior D was atrocious, but it's nice to have a clever player like MAAR to take advantage of that. 

Coach B was killing Donnal for failing to recognize some of the cuts he's supposed to make on offense. Donnal needs to not walk away from Coach when he's showing him something on the white board. Donnal was trying to get to his starter's chair during the TO to get away from the chewing out, lol. 

It was fun, but we made it a lot harder than it needed to be. Being there live really reminded me that there are some bad teams at the bottom of the Big Ten. PSU was pretty unimpressive. 

We slept walked a lot of that game - may have been more noticeable live. We need to do a *much* better job of recognizing when the opposing offense has isolated a mismatch against us near the hoop. We were *way* too slow to help on multiple occasions, and we paid every last time. 

Being there live also really emphasized something I've thought for a while. I really really hate to say it, and listen, I was exactly that guy, playing on a very high level basketball team, but running into the limits of my size/athleticism/speed combination, so I'm sympathetic. But Dakich cannot see minutes. He just can't. Guys like us are great to have at practice, and contribute to the team in our own way, but at a certain point, what's happening on the floor is just a half step beyond your means. He forces us to play 4-5 on offense. He's not a real option. The D just needs to vaguely know where he is. We're not good enough for that handicap. And on defense, even when he gets to the right spot, he's just zero impediment. I watched him get to the right spot on multiple occasions where the guy just went by him or through him or over him like he wasn't even there. We can't afford his shaky minutes going forward. 

Nice to win and fun to turn a "road game" into a pretty strong neutral site pro-UM environment. 



January 30th, 2016 at 3:54 PM ^

Wow. I think some fans expect way too much from this team. As far as Dakich how many minutes did he play? 2 maybe 3? Who else can fill those minutes with spike and Caris out of the lineup? I never felt this game was in danger. As soon as Michigan went up by 19 I knew psu would make a run. Happens in almost every college basketball game.

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Franz Schubert

January 30th, 2016 at 4:06 PM ^

He played just a couple minutes and Michigan was out scored 6-0 when he was in. He cannot play meaningful minutes and it's stupid that Beilein puts him in the game. 6 points is huge, and can be the difference in winning and losing a close game. You ask who else is going to play those 2 minutes? Seriously, NAAR and Walton are healthy and can play additional minutes however they can just play Wilson or even Chatman. Dakich is so obviously not capable of playing at this level it's foolish to play him unless it's an absolutely desperate circumstance.


January 30th, 2016 at 4:18 PM ^

I am not advocating for Dakich but there have been games where he has been useful. MAAR and Walton are already playing a ton of minutes. Chatman coming in the game provides the same result as Dakich and Chatman cannot run the point. As soon as Caris comes back I am sure Dakich will only see the floor if there is foul trouble or the game is out of reach either way.

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Franz Schubert

January 30th, 2016 at 4:26 PM ^

MAAR and Walton will survive an additional 2 minutes. Playing someone other than Walton or MAAR would suffice also, so long as either Walton or MAAR are in at the same time. This would negate the need for someone other than PG to handle the ball handling duty. Hopefully this silliness does not cost Michigan a game.