Michigan grew up in Brooklyn, but it came up short.
For a solid ten minutes on Tuesday the Wolverines were flat out punked by Villanova. The Wildcats held Michigan without a basket for a stretch that spanned the final seven of the first half and the first three of the second.
Michigan finally bottomed when Caris LeVert was ripped by JayVaughn Pinkston for a steal and easy dunk to stretch the Villanova lead to 13 points. From there, the Wolverines called three timeouts in 18 seconds. First to stop the momentum, then because Derrick Walton was trapped in the corner and then because Kameron Chatman couldn’t even inbound the ball. Michigan looked broken and the Wildcats appeared to be on the verge of their second straight blowout win in Brooklyn.
But for the first time this season, we saw what happens when this Michigan team is punched in the mouth. The Wolverines got up off the mat and battled back. Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton combined for a 7-0 run in just over a minute to put Michigan back in the game.
The Wolverines eventually overtook the lead, only to let it slip away late. This young group made the type of mistakes that you can’t make to win games against a good team. From JayVaughn Pinkston’s emphatic block of Zak Irvin’s late dunk attempt to Mark Donnal’s missed front-end of a one-and-one, Villanova simply out-executed Michigan down the stretch.
The loss hurts, but the important lesson on Tuesday night wasn’t that Michigan lost, it was that it had the heart to get up when it could have packed it in.
It’s fitting that this was Michigan’s worst offensive performance since last November against Charlotte in Puerto Rico. This game had many of the same characteristics – it was at the end of a preseason tournament on short rest, the Wolverine offense went dreadfully cold for a long stretch and it was lost in the final possessions – and the Wolverines will hope that it has a similar residual effect.
Michigan’s offense is going to be okay. The Wolverines made the requisite adjustments to attack Villanova’s trapping defense and started slicing the Wildcat defense for easy layups with ease in the second half. Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Spike Albrecht and Zak Irvin all made handfuls of big shots down the stretch. Ricky Doyle and Kameron Chatman showed continued inklings of progress as they moved closer to game-readiness.
During Michigan’s mid-game slump the Wolverines didn’t just miss shots, they had rash of live ball turnovers that led to easy points. Villanova recorded seven steals and outscored Michigan 13-0 in fast break points on the night. Michigan had thrived in transition offense to start the season, but was outscored 21-0 in fast break points during two games in Brooklyn. The Wolverines were good enough to survive the free giveaways against Oregon, but weren’t so lucky against Villanova.
Defensively, Michigan held Villanova to .96 points per possession for the game. Over the last three years, Michigan was 48-3 when holding its opponents under a point per possession with the losses coming to at Ohio State and Wisconsin in 2013 and against Charlotte last season. This was a defensive performance that was good enough to win on most nights against an offense that is very good. The defense is far from a finished product, but the early returns have been encouraging. Michigan forced turnovers on 21% of Villanova’s offensive possessions and rebounded a very solid 75% of Villanova’s misses.
This loss will sting, but it’s far from the end of the world.
Despite the solid defensive rebounding numbers, Michigan’s big men struggled in that department. The Wolverine bigs were whistled for at least six or seven fouls after either crashing the glass or missing box outs. Those are the sort of mental errors that just compound other mistakes like missed layups into further damage. As a result, Villanova ended up in the bonus down the stretch and Beilein was forced to juggle foul trouble for all three bigs.
There were plenty of late game situations to dissect:
- JayVaughn Pinkston’s game winning shot came after Michigan opted to go with five guards defensively. The idea behind putting Kameron Chatman at the five was that Michigan would switch every ball screen (which it did), but the Wildcats made the perfect adjustment and isolated Pinkston down low on Caris LeVert.
- Pinkston followed up the game-winning shot with the game-winning block after Michigan ran a perfectly executed baseline out of bounds set that appeared to setup Zak Irvin for a dunk. While the play call and execution were great, Pinkston simply made the better play.
- With four seconds remaining and trailing by three, I thought Michigan went with the wrong option to inbound the ball. Not only was Max Bielfeldt’s pass errant, it felt too aggressive. Four seconds feels like it could be enough time to catch something closer to three-quarter court moving toward the basket rather than throwing it to half court.
This loss will sting, but it’s far from the end of the world. Villanova is going to win a lot of games this season and is a favorite to win the ‘new’ Big East. It would have been a better win, but it’s certainly not a bad loss. Michigan regroup against Nicholls State on Saturday before facing Syracuse and Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone on Tuesday.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert had been sputtering with his shot over the last few games, but he was dominant on Tuesday night. LeVert’s shot attempts often times have a ridiculously high degree of difficulty, but when he finishes 7-of-12 (2-4 from long range), it’s hard not to wonder if Michigan needs to get him even more opportunities. In the second half, LeVert hit an array of ridiculous turnaround and fading shots around the paint.
- Derrick Walton: Walton really started to click in the second half and hit a couple of very smooth mid-range jumpers. He wasn’t able to get to the line, but did finish with four assists to one turnover. He was just 2-of-6 from long range, but he seemed to be uncertain on several attempts while passing up several others. Walton made several terrific passes, but perhaps his best wasn’t even credited an assist as he found Max Bielfeldt for an over the shoulder pick-and-roll feed that took Bielfeldt two tries to finish.
- Zak Irvin: In yet another parallel to last year’s game against Charlotte, Zak Irvin simply couldn’t find his three-point stroke. He finished 1-of-7 from long range, but was 3-of-6 inside the arc. Irvin had several strong finishes and drives to the basket and it’s safe to say there won’t be many games where he goes 1-of-7 from long distance.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht is still Michigan’s sixth man, but he’s playing starters’ minutes and he’s producing. Albrecht drew a late charge, hit the go-ahead three and helped settle Michigan’s offense. Against a formidable shot blocking team like Villanova, Albrecht really struggled attacking the basket and ended up caught in no-man’s land trying circus shots around the rim.
- Ricky Doyle: After this week in Brooklyn, Doyle appears to be rising to the top among Michigan’s post players. He’s the most physical, the most passionate and he’s starting to become more comfortable. He still has a lot of work to do – he didn’t grab a defensive rebound in either of the last two games – but he’s coming along steadily.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman finally knocked down a couple of jumpers, including a long two just inside the three-point line. He finished with six points on 3-of-5 shooting and five rebounds for the game. Chatman’s development will take time, but by the end of this season his size and vision will become a major asset for Michigan.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal finished with 3 points on 1-of-2 shooting with one assist and zero rebounds. The missed front end of the 1-and-1 free throw will haunt him and he could have escaped that pressure by just making a simple pass out to one of his guards after he caught the long inbound play. Donnal struggled a bit, but I do think he improved as the night went on. The first time Daniel Ochefu went directly at him and scored with remarkable ease, but as the game wore on there’s no questioning that Donnal toughened up, even if he has a long way to go.
- Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt’s size really cost him offensively as he caught the ball in prime positions several times, but was unable to finish.