Team 99

Game 25: Michigan at Illinois Recap

Since Caris LeVert’s injury, Michigan has now lost to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois in overtime and by three at Indiana. But this one hurt just a little bit more. For the first time during that stretch, Michigan wasn’t fighting to comeback and tie the game, it was in control and let the game slip away.

Since Caris LeVert’s injury, Michigan has now lost to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois in overtime and by three at Indiana. But this one hurt just a little bit more.

For the first time during that stretch, Michigan wasn’t fighting to comeback and tie the game, it was in control and let the game slip away.

It was all there for Michigan. The Wolverines finally found led by seven points on the road against a top-50 opponent with under four minutes to play. After three weeks of discussing late game execution, all the Wolverines had to do was make a few plays and make it nine straight against Illinois.

Instead, Michigan tightened up. Illinois scored on its next three possessions and a Spike Albrecht three that might have iced the game rimmed out. Suddenly a 50-43 lead was a tie game and headed to overtime. Again.

The Wolverines were the better team for the first 35 minutes, but playing in front of a record capacity crowd at the State Farm Center — they were sunk. Illinois scored the first 14 points of overtime to extend its run to 21-0 and walked off the floor celebrating a 64-52 victory that kept its NCAA tournament hopes alive.

Michigan, which lost its fifth game in six tries, was left searching for answers once again.


Both offenses were brutal in the first half, but Michigan’s offense actually played fairly well in the second. The Wolverines scored 28 second half points in 26 possessions and managed an eFG% of 58%. Of course, getting outscored 14-2 in a seven possession overtime period is enough to skew every statistic. Instead, Michigan’s .825 points per trip are nestled between the Purdue and Ohio State games as Michigan’s worst offensive performance in Big Ten play.

The Wolverine ball screen game really started clicking in the second half as Illinois was switching screens and Spike Albrecht and Max Bielfeldt were able to exploit mismatches. But Illinois shifted that strategy late in the game which negated the other mismatches and took away any option other than shooting for the ball screen guard.

Defensively Michigan continued to rotate between man-to-man defense, 1-3-1 zone and 2-3 zone. I’m not sure any of them really work great, but I’m also not sure U-M has another choice, but to rotate between them and hope to come up with the right combination. To be fair to Michigan, Illinois was held in check until the final five minutes and overtime.

The 2-3 zone does a few things well and was fairly successful. It protects the rim despite not having any great interior defenders and it provides some rest for guys that are all playing heavy minutes. It’s clear that Michigan’s wings are being told to extend their pressure high when the ball is caught on the wing, but they need to do a better job of recovering to the corner because that three-point shot was open all night.

I’m still not convinced that the 1-3-1 zone does anything other than give up slightly uncomfortable, but open jump shots. Michigan struggles to force turnovers out of the look and it just didn’t work today, especially down the stretch. Man-to-man is always there, but the Wolverines don’t have the horses or experience to play man for 40 45 minutes.

Any time you lose a seven point lead in the final three minutes, it’s fair to put at least some blame on the coaching staff. Here are a few issues that could fall in that category:

  • Michigan’s botched sideline out of bounds play that resulted in a five second call with 2:21 to play was painful because it didn’t seem like the players on the floor understood that the shot clock had been reset to 15 seconds after the kick. At that point, U-M just had to get the ball in and reset the offense and it still looked like it was trying to get a shot immediately out of the set.
  • Defensively, switching defenses has worked for U-M this season, but the 1-3-1 zone didn’t work tonight. Beilein stuck with it down the stretch and it cost him.
  • Michigan had the ball with four seconds left to play in a tie game and didn’t get a shot off (instead Illinois did). Beilein mentioned in the post-game that someone ran the wrong route on the play and Illinois deserves credit for executing the fouls to give strategy effectively, but this possession just had to end with a shot. This was Michigan’s chance to win the game and the result was Spike Albrecht throwing a 40 foot pass over Nnanna Egwu’s 7-foot+ wingspan.

Simply put, Michigan can’t play for overtime. There’s no depth on the roster and Michigan’s bench played just five minutes total in the second half. The depth issue isn’t going anywhere — Michigan brought 10 players to Champaign and eight were on scholarship — but it’s frustrating to see the wheels just fall off when the Wolverines run out of gas.

I don’t know where Michigan goes from here. The fight has been admirable, but it’s hard to shake the image of Spike Albrecht sitting on the bench hiding his face in his jersey. The Wolverines now have the weekend off to prepare for Michigan State, but they might be at a breaking point.Maybe back-to-back home games against their rivals are what the doctor ordered, but at this point it’s just cruel that Michigan hasn’t been able to win one of these nail-biters.

Illinois 64, Michigan 52 (OT) -18

Player Bullets:

  • Spike Albrecht: Spike left it all on the floor. He carried Michigan’s offense (13 points on 6 of 11 shooting with five assists) and continued to play heavy minutes (42) through injury. He missed the three that could have really iced the game for Michigan, but the only reason that Michigan had a chance in this game was because Spike played so well. The array of circus shots that he was able to hit floating or flying through the lane was beyond impressive, including when he lost the ball and caught in mid-air before throwing it in.
  • Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt has given Michigan more this season than I ever would have imagined. He was finished with 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds in 29 minutes. He was physical in the middle, controlled the paint and showed off his entire offensive arsenal – turnaround jumpers, spin moves off the bounce, putbacks — other than the three-point shot.
  • Zak Irvin: Michigan’s offense isn’t going to be very efficient if Zak Irvin can’t hit shots. That was the case in November and it has only been amplified without Walton and LeVert. He didn’t do that today. Irvin had plenty of open looks, but finished just 3 of 12 from the floor. Irvin does deserve credit for battling on the defensive glass, where he secured seven defensive boards.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman has really struggled with turnovers over the last two games and was credited with four giveaways and zero assists for the game. There’s enough film to get a solid scout on him now and teams are overplaying him and realizing that he’s not a good enough passer to make them pay quite yet. He still had active hands defensively (two steals) and one very strong driving layup, but Michigan needs more from him. Not that he’s in a fair situation, but the only other option is playing walk-ons. He’s averaging 36.6 minutes per game after he played just 51 minutes in the first 16 games of the season.
  • Ricky Doyle: Doyle has been struggling lately and was just 1 of 5 from the floor with six rebounds in 16 minutes. He improved his defensive rebounding a bit in the second half, but he needs to finish opportunities when he catches the ball within a couple feet of the basket. Bacari Alexander told Doyle in the second half he had one job, to rebound the basketball, but in actuality Michigan just needs him to get defensive rebounds and catch and finish around the rim.
  • Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins had arguably Michigan’s highlight of the year with his poster dunk over Nnanna Egwu and finished with 9 points on 4 of 9 shooting. He missed a few and I’d still like to see him rebound better, but at this point you pretty much know what you’ll get from Dawkins in an average game: open catch and shoot threes, a back cut or two and mid-range curls. He’s averaging just .38 assists per game in Big Ten play.
  • Kameron Chatman: Chatman got the start – a move that Beilein attributed to him playing better in practice this week – and while he moved the ball well, he couldn’t make a shot.
  • Andrew DakichKudos for the backdoor pass on Dawkins’ big dunk and playing within himself enough to earn Albrecht and Abdur-Rahkman five minutes of rest.

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