Michigan dominated Wayne State on the stat sheet, but head coach John Beilein was quick to reiterate that the Wolverines still have a long way to go before their season opener on Saturday.
“It’s hard to believe we went to Europe and we’re still not further along,” Beilein said after the victory. “But I’m not moving as quickly as maybe I would’ve in past years. I just don’t think we’re there yet.”
Ten different Wolverines saw game action in the first 10 minutes of Monday’s exhibition game, and the Michigan roster continues to be riddled with a unique blend of intriguing options and uncertainty.
“They’re getting better, but it’s so slow.”
“We’re just creeping along,” Beilein said. “I probably over-analyze it and want things to be running perfectly before we move on. We’re moving in the right direction, but it’s really slow.”
Sooner or later, Beilein will have to implement his entire offense and throw his young team into the fire head first and that moment is coming sooner than later. But the good news for Michigan’s head coach is that it’s clear that he has several talented pieces to work with.
Caris LeVert looked every bit the star that most expect him to be, finishing with an easy 16 points and six assists, while Zak Irvin had more above-the-rim finishes than he managed throughout last season. But at the end of the day, the Wolverines were clearly a team with plenty to work on before the season opener.
While Michigan played well, Wayne State was blatantly overmatched. Michigan and Wayne State are both rebuilding rosters that lost most of their top players from last season, but the Warriors are rebuilding a .500 level GLIAC team while Michigan has been deep in the past two NCAA tournaments. Michigan’s statistical domination has to be taken with a grain of salt considering the circumstances.
Statistically, this game was won by Michigan’s defense, something rarely written in this blog last season regardless of competition. The Wolverines held Wayne State to just a 29.6 eFG% and forced turnovers on more than a quarter of its possessions. Michigan cleaned up the glass well — guards and wings combined for 26 of 40 rebounds — and showed promise on the perimeter. Wayne State managed just .63 points per possessions, and most of its turnovers led to easy points on the other end.
Michigan outscored the Warriors 11-2 in points off turnovers, a big reason that the Wolverines were able to score 1.26 points per trip despite shooting just 32% from three-point range. Michigan shot 62% inside the arc with most of those baskets coming at the rim on open dunks and layups — a sure sign that the Wolverine offense is working fairly smoothly.
But all eyes were on the big men, and while they probably deserve a passing grade, Beilein isn’t going to be sleeping soundly at night quite yet.
DJ Wilson was perhaps Michigan’s most impressive player off the bench, finishing with nine points, two rebounds, two assists and a block.
“They’re getting better, but it’s so slow,” Beilein explained after the win. “We just got to keep working, be strong and be efficient with the ball. I love coaching them every day. I think their defense has come a long way, and as their defense gets better, than their thinking will come along.”
All of the bigs can do one or two things well, but it’s clear that at this point no one has the complete package and is ready to pull away. Michigan’s defensive rebounding numbers were solid, but Wayne State simply didn’t have the horses to challenge them on the offensive glass.
John Beilein didn’t pull any surprises in his starting lineup, sticking with Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Kameron Chatman and Mark Donnal – the same group that started all four exhibition games in Italy over the summer. Spike Albrecht, Aubrey Dawkins and Ricky Doyle were the first three subs off the bench, but 6-foot-9 forward DJ Wilson was perhaps Michigan’s most impressive player off the bench, finishing with nine points, two rebounds, two assists and a block.
- Caris LeVert: The game looked easy for Caris LeVert in the same ways that it started to look easy for Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas in the past two seasons. LeVert opened the game with a ball screen dish to Mark Donnal, then he hit a pull-up jumper off the elbow, then he buried a three off the pick-and-roll, then he found DJ Wilson rolling to the basket for a dunk a few minutes later. LeVert finished with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting and handed out a team-high six assists in a game where he never had to push the pace past cruise control.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman only made two baskets, but he left his fingerprints all over the game in his 25 minutes of playing time. The 6-foot-7 freshman was just 2-of-6 from the floor, but he also grabbed six rebounds and handed out four assists. The scoring will come – he missed his first two threes way long before knocking down one on the secondary break in the 2nd half – but the little things that he does on the court make a huge difference. There was one stretch in the first half where Chatman grabbed four rebounds in close to four possessions and finished the final one off with a terrific outlet pass which led to an alley-oop. Chatman played major minutes, especially in the first half before Beilein started to experiment with more combinations, and he looks like he’ll be a fixture at the four position this season.
Zak Irvin: Irvin was just 1-of-4 from three-point range, but his physical improvement was evident. His development this season is going to be more similar to Tim Hardaway Jr. than Nik Stauskas. Irvin is significantly more explosive, and his offense this season is going to come off of catch and shoot situations, transition leak outs, back door cuts and straight line drives. The good news for Irvin is that there are a lot of points available in Beilein’s offense by simply doing those four things. Irvin was 4-of-7 on 2-point attempts and also hauled in five rebounds in 29 minutes.
DJ Wilson: He’s raw and at times a bit unorthodox, but he’s dripping with potential. DJ Wilson’s development over this season (and the next few years) is going to be a treat to watch. He had a few rough moments (a missed layup, a blocked mid-range jumper and a couple of rough three-point attempts), but he also had plenty of bright spots, including a dunk rolling to the basket, several nice passes, a block helping on a ball screen drive, a made three-pointer and even a ball-screen assist. He’s very skinny and isn’t a true five, but Michigan is going to have to find playing time for him somewhere this season.
Derrick Walton: Walton provided a scare when he fell hard on a transition layup attempt, but he returned to the game and Beilein reported that he was only dealing with cramps. Overall, Walton’s performance was fairly nondescript. He was just 1-of-4 from long distance despite some open looks and didn’t record an assist on his way to 11 points. He did grab four rebounds and 6-of-7 free throw shooting, but he didn’t look like a player ready to grab control of the offense.
Spike Albrecht: Albrecht provided a great spark off of the bench and demonstrated why Beilein has discussed a two point-guard lineup so often. He took a charge and had three steals including one of his patented swipes after a made basket. He tossed a behind-the-back pass for a transition dunk and even finished a little Eurostep of his own.
Mark Donnal: Donnal is the starter until someone takes the job from him, and he is probably the safest option of the bunch — he moves better than Doyle, is stronger than Wilson and taller than Bielfeldt — but he needs to continue to be more assertive physically. He did have a few highlights, including a roll to the hoop, a drawn charge and a steal on a weak entry pass.
Ricky Doyle: Doyle showed that he can play physically, hauling in a nice offensive rebound and putback and finished with four points, three rebounds and a turnover which came off of a set play out of a timeout.
Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins was the first wing player off of the bench, but he played just three minutes and didn’t check back in until there were seven minutes to play in the second half. He looked tentative with the ball in his hands in the half court, but in the second half, he knocked down a pair of open threes.
Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt has been the forgotten man in Michigan’s frontcourt rotation, and that wasn’t going to change after he sat the duration of the first half. Then he was the first big man off the bench in the second half and had a put back, a block, a steal and a turnaround jumper.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Rahkman appeared to revert to some of his high-school tendencies and let the game speed up on him just a bit. He had a handful of hard drives to the basket, but was 0-of-3 from the floor in 12 minutes. He still has a unique skillset that I think Michigan will need at some point this season, but there will be some growing pains along the way.
- Austin Hatch: Hatch’s incredible recovery continued on Monday with another powerful moment as he scored his first point in a college game.