Michigan didn’t have enough to beat Wisconsin on Friday, but once more it showed that it should have the pieces to be formidable next year.
The Wolverines played Wisconsin to a 54-54 tie for 34 minutes, but – as we’ve seen all season – just couldn’t finish off their bigger, older and better opponent. Wisconsin answered Michigan’s valiant effort and closed the game on a 17-6 run and potentially ended Michigan’s season.
While the Wolverines managed to go shot for shot with Wisconsin for impressive stretches, they couldn’t get the stops, and more importantly rebounds, to overcome Wisconsin’s size and skill. The Badgers put the game away by scoring on three consecutive second-chance possessions to stretch their lead from two points to seven inside of four minutes.
Michigan players and coaches have harped on individual and team growth since Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton were injured because they had little other choice. But after a long two months, growth isn’t just a talking point — it’s obvious.
Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins, Spike Albrecht and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman have all reached heights that no one, even their coaches, would have expected entering this season.
This game came down to Michigan’s inability to stop the Badgers. It’s hard enough to force Wisconsin to miss the first shot of a possession. It’s impossible to stop the Badgers if you give them two chances to score. Wisconsin rebounded 44% of its misses and scored 17 second chance points including three critical possessions to seal the game.
Michigan faced countless matchup disadvantages, but it was Sam Dekker (17 points on 7 of 12 shooting with 6 rebounds and 6 assists) and Duje Dukan that seemed to make the decisive plays in the game. Dekker’s personal spurt came late in the first half to return the lead to the Badgers while Dukan knocked in two triples and had a dunk in the second half.
Michigan’s offense took another big step in the right direction, scoring 1.14 points per trip. The Wolverines still had a scoring drought to close the first half, but the offense was as fluid and crisp as we’ve seen this season.
Mid-range jumpers are always critical against Wisconsin and Michigan hit plenty of them. Zak Irvin excelled offensively with his ability to shoot off the dribble, but others chimed in as well.
In the first half, Michigan was aggressive as we’ve seen in quite some time looking for early offense and it helped build a big lead, but a couple of those ‘loose’ plays that got them this far ended up costing them in the second half. Spike Albrecht had a rushed three and a poor entry pass during critical minutes late in the game while Zak Irvin tried an ill-advised behind the back pass when Michigan was still right in the game.
John Beilein and the team were very hopeful to continue their season in the NIT after the loss and it would be a great opportunity for a team that is quite obviously still growing on a daily basis. Their chances may be long with just a .500 record, but a top ten strength of schedule and an RPI of 77 could bolster their argument. They’ll learn their fate on Sunday evening at 8:30 p.m. during the NIT Selection Show on ESPNU.
- Zak Irvin: If there’s one thing that Michigan fans should really feel good about after this season, it’s Zak Irvin. Irvin looks like a completely different player than he did three weeks ago. There was a point in January where he looked like he might have hit a wall in his development, but he’s smashed through it and suddenly looks like a viable option to grow into a two-guard in this offense. He finished with 21 points on 9 of 18 shooting – drilling mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper against Wisconsin’s defense – and grabbed 11 boards and three assists for good measure.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht scored 10 points in the first half, but Wisconsin did a great job of bottling him up in the second. He finished with 10 points on 4 of 9 shooting, but had just one assist in 40 minutes. Wisconsin’s defense did a great job of making him into a shot taker rather than a distributor. His mistakes late in the game make me wonder if the 5-foot-11 point guard playing 40 minutes per game on a bum hip might have finally ran out of gas, both mentally and physically.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman continued to impress with his ability to get to the cup and finish. He was 4 of 7 from the floor and handed out an assist in a solid 35 minute outing. The degree of difficulty on some of his finishes was incredible and this will be a big summer for him to refine his game. Defensively, I was surprised to see Bronson Koenig beat him off the dribble so cleanly a few times, but he’s still shown promise on that end of the floor.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle had been in a funk and it took facing off with the possible National Player of the Year for him to reach double digits for just the third time in the 2015 calendar year. Doyle was 6 of 6 from the floor, finishing around Kaminsky and even going at him with a nice up and under move in the post. Defensively he only grabbed one rebound in 18 minutes, but he took a major step forward offensively.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins had a quiet day with just 5 points on 2 of 7 shooting. He had some highlights including a smooth pick and roll feed, a monster tip slam and a late three that kept Michigan close, but he also struggled to finish when he attacked the basket (1 of 5 on twos).
- Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt had a rough game defensively against Wisconsin’s versatility. He gave up a few threes on poor closeouts, but also was beaten easily off the dribble by Nigel Hayes. The matchups he was faced with were as tough as it gets, but Max struggled on the defensive end of the floor. Offensively he handed out four assists and went 2 of 4 from the line in a solid showing.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman missed his only shot attempt and also let a late rebounding opportunity slip away, but he made a terrific pass to find Irvin in the corner after driving baseline in the first half.