A month and a half ago, Michigan traveled to Piscataway, NJ to play its first game without Caris LeVert. The Wolverines slogged their way to a 54-50 victory over Rutgers and left New Jersey pleased – they proved to themselves they could win without LeVert.
Fast forward to Senior Day at the Crisler Center and it was clear just how much this group has improved without LeVert and Derrick Walton in the lineup. Michigan only won three games with its depleted rotation, losing four overtime games in the process, but it also saw Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Aubrey Dawkins and Max Bielfeldt make strides that few would have imagined two months ago .
Michigan handled Rutgers with ease the second time around, scorching the net en route to a 79-69 victory that wasn’t really that close after the Scarlet Knights finished the game on a 19-0 run and still lost by double-digits, and all of those individual gains were on display.
Aubrey Dawkins scored 31 points on 10 of 15 (8-11 3pt) shooting, reaching a career scoring mark for the second straight game. Kameron Chatman notched a career high 13 points and hit three triples. Max Bielfeldt recorded his first career double double with 14 points and 11 rebounds in his first career start. Spike Albrecht failed to score in double figures for the first time in eight games, but was pulling the strings and tied a career-high with nine assists.
Rutgers has lost 13 games in a row for a reason, but there wasn’t a better way to close out a difficult regular season than with an impressive home victory.
Michigan scored 1.22 points per possession – its best offensive performance of the Big Ten season – despite not scoring in the final seven minutes of the game. Is there a more fitting way for this group to end the regular season than with a seven minute scoring drought?
The Wolverines shot 58% on twos and 45% on threes for a 63 eFG% – matching their Big Ten high water mark set at Penn State. Michigan shot the ball well because it moved the ball and got good shots. An impressive 20 of Michigan’s 29 made field goals were assisted and it had a 3.3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio as a team. While the 14 made threes matched a season-high, 13 of the long range makes were assisted – a sign that they were good three-point looks, usually off of driving kick-outs or secondary transition.
Defensively, Michigan regressed over 40 minutes. Some of that was natural due to the lopsided nature of the game, but the Wolverines certainly never really shined on the defensive end of the floor despite facing a below-average Scarlet Knight offense. Rutgers had size advantages at the front court positions and took advantage – Kadeem Jack finished with 21 points on 16 shots – throughout the night.
There’s been a lot of discussion of Michigan’s various zone looks over the last few weeks, but I thought both the 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones were used effectively in this one. Rutgers is a poor passing team and poor shooting team and didn’t really have the means to handle either zone effectively. The zone looks also negated Rutgers’ primary advantage, which was Kadeem Jack against Michigan’s undersized four men.
It’s hard not to wonder how the season would have looked if Michigan would have finished off a few more close games, but the Wolverines will head to Chicago with at least a tiny bit of momentum. Michigan is locked into the 9 seed in the Big Ten Tournament which means it will play either Illinois (if it beats Purdue) or Indiana at noon on Thursday. Wisconsin will be waiting for the winner of that game on Friday afternoon.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins was one triple short of tying Garde Thompson’s Michigan record of 9 threes in a game and while he made 8 triples, he showed signs of an all around game with an alley-oop dunk, a nice pass on a drive and a couple strong takes to get to the free throw line. Dawkins had been in a bit of a slump from long range, but he’s now 12 of 18 from long distance over the last two games. Despite some ups and downs, Dawkins is going to finish the Big Ten season shooting 48% on threes and his future is bright, especially if he continues to improve his handle and rebounding motor.
- Spike Albrecht: When Michigan needed a basket, Spike was there, but for the most part he was content to play facilitator. He finished with 9 assists – that’s 17 assists to 3 turnovers in the last two games – and ran Michigan’s offense to perfection. His play over the last nine games is worthy of team MVP honors and while his role is likely to change next year, he’s developed into a great weapon in any role.
- Max Bielfeldt: What a great way for Max to wrap up his career at home. He not only had a double-double in 31 minutes, he hit some impressive shots including a turnaround 15 footer off glass. Bielfeldt even added three assists for good measure and John Beilein left the door open for a possible return next season. Max couldn’t hit a three, but he played his best offensive game since the trip to Illinois in early February.
- Kameron Chatman: This was another solid outing by Chatman, who hit three triples, made a circus scoop shot and hit a pair of free throws after picking up a steal and run out. He played 20 minutes and I liked that Michigan kept him in the game while shifting Irvin to the two to spell the other guards. Chatman hadn’t made a three since January 6th, but he certainly shot the ball with confidence. In the second half he was a bit wild with his passes, putting a bit too much zip on them , but he did have a nice transition assist to Dawkins for a triple.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin was the only Michigan played who didn’t have his perimeter shot working and he was just 2 of 9 from long range, but he also had 4 assists, was 3 of 6 on twos, and grabbed seven rebounds in 37 minutes. He got very sloppy late in the game with some poor turnovers, but I thought he continued to show an improved all around game whether it was a great hesitation dribble drive off a ball screen or a few very nice passes off of drives.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman played just 23 minutes and scored 2 points on 1 of 3 shooting. I thought he passed the ball as well as he has all season (3 assists) and his lone made field goal was a very nice 18 foot jumper off of a pump fake and dribble.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal had a nice opportunity with Doyle sidelined by illness, but he only recorded a foul in 8 minutes of playing time. He struggled against Rutgers inside defensively and didn’t find much of a groove on offense either.
- Austin Hatch came close to a three-pointer that would have taken the roof off of Crisler while former managers Jon Rubenstein and Ryan Kapustka both got in the game in the final minute after getting the opportunity to dress.