Michigan knocked off Northern Michigan in its season opener on Friday night thanks to impressive performances from Caris LeVert and Aubrey Dawkins, who combined for 33 of the Wolverines’ 70 points on the evening.
Northern Michigan hung close in the first half, trailing by just ten points at the break, but the Wolverines pulled away in the second — opening the period on a 12-2 run — for an easy 70-44 victory.
John Beilein stuck with the same starting lineup as the exhibition game, opting for Kameron Chatman and Mark Donnal at the four and five spots, and both players continued their solid if not always spectacular play. Redshirt freshman DJ Wilson ended up playing more minutes than either starter at the four or five, tallying 23 minutes combined at the four and five positions.
Michigan’s offense was good, but not great despite some hot shooting. The Wolverines managed a 58 effective field goal percentage thanks in large part to their ability to get to the basket — a welcome sign after last season’s team seemed to settle for threes more often than not. Michigan shot 15 of 22 near the rim and only 31% of its field goal attempts were from long distance. Here’s a look at Michigan’s shooting splits on the night.
The Wolverines got a lot of production out of their two biggest scorers — Caris LeVert and Aubrey Dawkins — but ten different Wolverines found the score sheet on the night. The offense was powered by fast break scoring (14-2) and points off of turnovers (23-11).
The Wolverines held Northern to just .71 points per possession on the night and forced as many turnovers as they did in any game last year. Part of that was the fact that Michigan’s newfound length is starting to pay off (nine live ball steals) and the other part is that the refs took the new emphasis on moving screens to heart and called at least four or five on the Wildcats. Either way, this was a strong defensive performance overall against a team that didn’t have a lot of firepower.
But the major red flag in Michigan’s defensive performance was on the glass. John Beilein spoke about finishing possessions in his post game and there were several times when the Wolverines were beat to 50-50 balls or rebounds under the rim. The Wildcats rebounded 31% of their misses on the night and outscored the Wolverines in the second chance point departments. Against an undersized Division II team, Michigan needs their big men to do a better job on the glass.
The four players who saw time at the five position — DJ Wilson, Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle and Moritz Wagner — had one defensive rebound each in a combined 55 minutes of playing time. That’s not good enough and will be exposed against bigger and more talented opponents. All four players need to play more physically on the interior and attack the ball when it’s in the air off the rim.
Michigan doesn’t have long to sit around before its next game. The Wolverines will regroup and face an Elon team that looks like it will knock off Charlotte on the road tonight in its season opener.
- Caris LeVert: There were a few moments early on when the ball stuck in LeVert’s hands, but he settled down and appeared to be back to form. He hit a ball screen three, had a number of strong takes to the rim, but most impressive might have been his stretch to lead off the second half where he dished out four consecutive assists.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins bounced back from an ugly exhibition performance with a smooth and effective night: 15 points on 6 of 7 (2-3 3pt) shooting with six rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes. You can’t play a much more efficient game as the majority of Aubrey’s production came off of putback dunks and catch-and-shoot triples, but his first basket of the game might have been the most impressive when he curled off of a hand-off, took a few dribbles into the lane and finished with a one-handed floater.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson saw time at the four and five positions and played more minutes than any of Michigan’s big men and showed some nice flashes. He had a nice turnaround to score and he knocked down a corner three. He looked a bit uncomfortable at the five to start, but seemed to warm up in that spot as the game wore on. Overall the lineups with him at the five seemed to find just a bit more offensive flow.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman’s final stat line isn’t the most impressive: 6 points on 3 of 7 shooting with four rebounds and an assist, but I thought he looked sharp for the second straight game. He’s one of the best passers and cutters on the team and that can really help the offense flow. He had a couple great backdoor cuts and also had a great pass to Mark Donnal for a score. He struggled a bit defensively against some of NMU’s smaller perimeter players, but overall took another solid step in the right direction.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal got the start and showed some flashes of strong play. He had a great shift to start the second half as he knocked in a 17 foot jumper on the pick and pop with Caris LeVert and then grabbed a couple blocks on the other end.
- Derrick Walton: Walton took only four shots and tallied only one assists in 22 minutes. In the preview I wrote that I was looking forward to seeing a more aggressive Walton and that wasn’t on display just yet. I’m not sure if he was content to facilitate and let the offense flow, but I’d like to see him bust out and have a big game sooner than later to start to build his confidence before entering a tough stretch of games. He did pull off his patented play once this game, getting fouled on a corner three in the second half.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle’s performance wasn’t all that inspiring. He seemed to get beat to low post position defensively and was out-leveraged several times by a shorter NMU post player, and he struggled to get very involved in the offense.
- Spike Albrecht: Spike had a pair of nice steals on back to back possessions and finished with 7 points and three assists on the night. His movement is clearly not 100%, but he was making the sort of plays that you’d expect from him.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson had a few bad beats defensive and on the glass, struggling to close out on quicker shooter, and never seemed to find a rhythm on either end of the floor. His only shot of the game was perhaps the game’s biggest highlight, but that was because Aubrey Dawkins followed his missed triple up with a monster finish. Beilein noted after the game that when Robinson is unsure he just needs to shoot it because when he shoots it good things happen. I’m going to guess 1 field goal attempt isn’t quite what Beilein hoped for tonight.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman has one very strong take to the rack, but played just 14 minutes on the night.
- Moritz Wagner: The Wagner redshirt is officially burned as he checked into the game with 5:41 to play in the second half. He scored on a putback and grabbed a couple rebounds in six minutes of playing time, but also looked a bit uncertain at times (pump faking on an open three that eventually ended up in a turnover) and will need to continue to be more physical down low.