For this young Michigan team, freshman mistakes are a necessary evil.
Against Detroit on Monday, Michigan head coach John Beilein swept those mistakes under the rug by sitting his young players and riding his five experienced players down the stretch.
But the reality of the situation is that hiding the freshmen will never work, especially not when the schedule mandates playing two games within 24 hours. Freshmen are going to be key to this team’s success and have to start growing up on the job sooner than later.
Beilein threw caution to the wind on Monday, throwing his young players into the mix and seeing what came back. Eleven different Wolverines saw playing time in the first half and Michigan scored 19 points off the bench. The resulting performance featured plenty of freshman mistakes, but it was also a win and another step in the right direction.
On both an individual and team level, Michigan looked great for stretches and completely out of sync for others. There were plenty of freshman mistakes – poor positioning, missed blockouts, errant passes and weak finishes – but there were also encouraging steps of progress. The ups and downs led to a game where Michigan always felt in control, but never could pull away. The Wolverines extended the lead to eight points midway through the second half, but Oregon was always there to make enough plays to stay within arm’s reach.
Locked in a one possession game inside of four minutes, it was a freshman that finally sealed the deal. Ricky Doyle pulled down an offensive rebound with 43 seconds remaining and then managed to go up strong and complete the play. Doyle’s bucket extended Michigan’s lead to five points and cemented his best performance as a Wolverine.
Michigan’s experienced stars did most of the heavy lifting – Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert combined for 37 points – but at the end of the day it was a freshman that got Michigan over the hump in its best victory yet.
Michigan’s offense didn’t play its best game, but it still managed 1.13 points per trip. The key for the Wolverines wasn’t three-point shooting as it so often is, instead it was the ability to get to the free throw line against an Oregon defense that just couldn’t stop fouling. The Wolverines managed a free throw rate of 63% and actually shot more free throws (24) than field goals (20) in the second half. Oregon was whistled for 24 fouls in 40 minutes, including 17 in the second half – or one per 71 seconds of second half game clock. Michigan was unfazed by Oregon’s token pressure, turning the ball over on just 13% of its possessions, and shot 49% on twos and 38% on threes for a 51.1 eFG%. Michigan’s pick-and-roll game faltered a bit due to Oregon switching every ball screen on the perimeter, but the Wolverines were eventually able to exploit those switches and just attack the rim.
For the first time this season, Michigan’s defensive rebounding was exposed – badly. John Beilein quipped that, “there’s not too many times you win a game giving up 18 offensive rebounds,” and he couldn’t be more right. The Wolverines escaped despite getting pounded on the offensive glass. Oregon rebounded 18 of its 40 missed shots and scored 17 second chance points. Dillon Brooks led the way with five offensive rebounds, but overall the Ducks just outworked Michigan for many second chances. Michigan’s five-men managed just one defensive rebound for the game, but there was plenty of rebounding blame to pass around on the roster. The poor defensive rebounding took away from what was otherwise a very good ‘first shot’ defensive performance from Michigan, who slowed down Oregon star Joseph Young. Young’s 20 points were deceiving as most were late free throws and he was just 5-of-16 from the floor with three assists to four turnovers.
There are still plenty of warts and flaws for Michigan to mend. The Wolverines are far from perfect, but it’s always preferable to grow from a win than a loss. With less than 24 hours of prep time for a game against a well-coached and experienced Villanova team, Michigan could be in for a big test. Caris LeVert (39 minutes) and Zak Irvin (38 minutes) were both afforded very little rest and the young Wolverines will have to prepare quickly in a short scout. Tip-off for Tuesday’s Legends Classic Championship is scheduled for 10:00 p.m. eastern on ESPN2.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert had a rough shooting game – 2-of-9 on twos, 1-of-4 on threes—and struggled to finish, but he was quickness was enough to get him to the line. He slashed his way to the paint all night and finished with a career 13 free throw attempts, which helped him to 18 points. LeVert’s had a couple of sub-par shooting games this season, but Michigan wasn’t doing much other than setting him up for an isolation drive and he was able to carry them home.
- Ricky Doyle: Michigan has been waiting for someone to step up at the five position and Ricky Doyle responded with the best game of his career. Doyle finished with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting with three rebounds and a block. He was Michigan’s best big man on the day by a wide margin, earning 24 minutes off the bench. Doyle did just about everything: he finished a beautiful lob pass, took a charge, had a big block and was active around the rim.
- Derrick Walton: Walton was hamstrung by foul trouble all game. Beilein pulled him briefly 52 seconds into the game after he committed an early foul and then again when he picked up his second with 8:19 to play. He did a good job of staying in the game in the second, managing to play 17 minutes, and he stayed aggressive. Overall it was a quiet night for the 6-foot guard who finished with six points on 1-of-3 shooting.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin had several very impressive hard takes to the basket in the first half. He used the pump fake well and attacked poor closeouts with ease. While it felt like he disappeared for a long stretch of the second half, he still finished with 19 points on 6-of-11 (3-6 3pt) shooting with five rebounds and a steal. That’s a very impressive stat line, especially considering the clutch three he hit late to help Michigan pull away.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman’s strengths and weaknesses are becoming very clear early on and he’s going to have to improve quickly or be picked apart by opposition scouting. Offensively, he has a great feel for the game and he was provided with the opportunity to create offense in the first half and he did a pretty good job with three assists. But he continues to struggle to finish at the basket – going to a underhand scoop layup instead of to the rim strong – and with his jumper from anywhere on the floor. Defensively he’s still trying to play catch-up and while he’s solid on the ball, he struggled against the physicality of Oregon’s frontcourt as well as in deadball situations.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht ended up playing 34 minutes as Walton battled foul trouble and he did just about everything you could ask for. He made all of the Albrecht plays that we’ve come to expect: he drew a charge, finished a late clock baseline out of bounds play with a pump fake and mid-range pull-up, he took the ball coast-to-coast against Oregon’s pressure and he buried a deep three.
- Aubrey Dawkins: I thought Dawkins gave Michigan some quality minutes in the first half and he was rewarded with a nice drop-off pass dunk from Kameron Chatman. The one time he put the ball on the floor and tried to drive, he ended up throwing an errant pass into the third row.
- Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt only played three minutes after featuring in Michigan’s last two games. He’s still a trusted option for Beilein off the bench – he was the first big man sub on Monday – but Doyle’s strong play won the day.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal hit a smooth baseline jumper and finished with 4 points on 2-of-3 shooting, but he was just too tentative overall. He needs to continue to play more aggressively against physical frontcourts like Oregon’s, especially when he has a size advantage.
- DJ Wilson: The game is running circles around Wilson still, but it’s pretty clear that the Wolverines could use his skill set. Wilson played just one minute and was whistled for a foul about 30 feet from the hoop.