Michigan wasn’t crisp but handled Wayne State comfortably, 79-60, in its final preseason exhibition tune-up. The Wolverines faced a somewhat tougher opponent, although the Warriors were missing three players, but failed to live up to the extraordinarily high standards they set in their 117-point exhibition opening performance.
Individually there were plenty of positives to draw from the routine win. Freshman point guard Derrick Walton earned his first start and played well while Zak Irvin had a breakout game, knocking down three straight triples en route to 13 points. Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas both picked up where they left off against Concordia and continued to showcase their offseason improvements.
But as a unit, it was obvious that the Wolverines haven’t figured everything out just yet. John Beilein is still tinkering with his lineups and experimenting with players in new roles and then there’s Mitch McGary. It’s nearly impossible to judge the 2013-14 Wolverines until their preseason All-American returns from his back injury.
Michigan scored 1.24 points per possession on the game, a solid total but unspectacular against an admittedly well organized Division II opponent. Wayne State did a great job of slowing Michigan’s transition game which took some of the punch away from the Wolverine offense. In the first half, that was no concern as Michigan’s shooters were in a groove. The Wolverines made 7-of-11 first half threes and scored an impressive 46 points on 31 possessions (1.48 PPP). In the second half, things were dicey. Michigan’s shooters went cold (2-of-9 from three point range) and the bulk of the scoring came from the free throw line. The Wolverines failed to make any impact on the offensive glass throughout, rebounding just 22% of their misses and scoring just one second chance bucket.
Defensively, Michigan’s performance left a bit to be desired. Wayne State’s Bryan Coleman went on a scoring outburst in the first half, tallying 17 points on 13 shots. Some were well guarded, others were wide open but eventually the Wolverines were able to slow Coleman in the second half (8 points on 11 shots). That was encouraging but the defensive rebounding wasn’t. Wayne State rebounded 44% of its misses for 9 second chance points in the second half alone.
The new NCAA-mandated emphasis on fouling was clearly in effect (having Ed Hightower officiate an exhibition game gives a superb preview of whats to come) and the results clearly benefited the Wolverines. Michigan attempted 28 free throws to just 46 field goal attempts (61% FT Rate). Wayne State attempted just 10 free throws to 63 field goal attempts and was outscored 22-7 at the stripe. John Beilein’s teams have always done a great job of avoiding fouls but have struggled to rack up free throw attempts. Tighter officiating would seem to help Michgian as much as anyone and that will be a stat to watch in early season play – and then again once Big Ten play begins.
- LeVert, Stauskas serving as ‘point guard’: The ‘point guard’ in modern college basketball should be defined as the player that creates offense for other players, not necessarily who brings the ball up the court (see: Manny Harris in 2009). For this team right now, that role is being filled by Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas. Those two were by far the most comfortable getting into the lane and attacking the basket, combining for 7 2-point field goal makes, 7 assists and 12 FTA.
- Two bigs isn’t working. The two big look doesn’t work with Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. The offense is stagnant and while the rebounding is a bit better, there’s not a large enough defensive or rebounding impact to make it a net-positive. Add McGary into the equation and things will change. He’s the whole reason this two big approach is feasible and it makes some sense for everyone else to be practicing in the positions they would play with McGary on the floor at the four.
- The changing halfcourt offense. The ball screen is still present but without Trey Burke it has been reduced. The majority of the successful offense that Michigan ran was based on spreading the floor with shooters and then driving and kicking (16 assists by six players on 24 made field goals). Eventually there were a couple nice backcuts that have always defined Beilein’s offense. U-M has the shooters in Stauskas, Irvin, Albrecht, Robinson and LeVert to make this approach work which could make for a balanced attack.
- Transition. Wayne State did a great job of taking away Michigan’s transition offense but the Wolverines also looked a bit sloppy when they did run out. Derrick Walton is a great transition point guard but he’s still figuring out the proper spots to get his teammates the ball. That was obvious when he tried to throw a lead pass to Glenn Robinson III that sailed past the photographers.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas’ improvements appear to be legitimate. He finished with 17 points (5-of-8 shooting), six rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal in 31 minutes. He’s Michigan’s most aggressive player offensively and can make things happen often enough to live with him being a bit loose with the ball at times. His drive-and-kick game is very good and it’s clear that he hasn’t forgotten how to shoot. We’ve seen Stauskas kill average and above-average non-conference teams and he should have a big early season but more than anyone, we can’t wait to see him in some of Michigan’s marquee games.
- Caris LeVert: There’s so much to love about Caris LeVert’s game and whether or not he starts, he’ll play significant minutes early and often this season. LeVert’s change-of-pace moves, hesitation dribbles and crossovers when slashing to the basket are a joy to watch. He also executed back-to-back perfect ball screens: the first a keeper to the rim and the next an assist to Horford for a dunk. His jumper looks better and if he’s consistent with it he will be tough to guard.
- Zak Irvin: A couple years back, a player of Irvin’s caliber would probably be expected to be one of Michigan’s top scoring options as a freshman. He’s good enough to do alright in that role but not on this team. Michigan has so much talent on the wings that John Beilein’s primary worry is finding enough opportunities for Irvin. He knocked down three triples from the wing to open things up before demonstrating his mid-range game – which is perhaps his greatest strength – in the second half for a solid 13 point night.
- Derrick Walton: Walton got the start and finished with 7 points (1-4 shooting), four assists, three rebounds, two turnovers and a steal in 27 minutes. His jumpshot looks miles better when he’s able to catch and shoot (he made one with a foul) but he’s still working to shake the tendency to pull up for long jumpers off the dribble. He’s also very comfortable picking someone’s pocket at midcourt like the point guard that he’s replacing.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson’s final stat line wasn’t bad (15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, three rebounds and three assists) but he looked out of sorts throughout the night. He didn’t make a field goal until a half court alley-oop near the end of the first half and that wasn’t really for lack of trying. Michigan ran a few out of bounds plays and sets to try and get him going. He got caught in the middle of a few drives, turned the ball over three times, and missed a few jumpers. He looked to pass the ball but was just off by just enough on passes to Horford on a ball screen and Irvin in transition to throw off the momentum of the play.
- Jon Horford: Horford seems to be clearly a rung ahead of Morgan on the depth chart – he played 25 minutes to Morgan’s 14 despite being whistled for four fouls – but his performance was fairly pedestrian. Horford scored 2 points, grabbed nine rebounds (two offensive) and blocked two shots in 25 minutes. He struggled to catch the ball around the basket both on passes and rebound attempts and just plays a little too passively.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan is an adequate defender against quicker players but offensively he hasn’t found a comfort zone at the four spot. He can get in some dangerous spots but simply lacks the confidence to shoot or drive. His best drive of the game was after a slight second of hesitation and he ended up getting blocked and fouled at the rim.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht isn’t going to be the starting point guard on this team but there’s still a role for him. He’s a very capable spot up shooter (he knocked down a corner three) and ball handler. His vision can be negated by better defensive teams but he can do enough offensively to give Michigan minutes.
- Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt’s lack of length continues to kill him, even against a team that didn’t have a player over 6-foot-8. He struggles to defend at the rim, can’t take away the pass over the top when hedging the pick-and-roll and didn’t do a great job on the defensive glass.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal didn’t check into the game until the final two minutes and appears destined for a red-shirt.