There were a few signs of trouble in Michigan’s opening games, but Xavier walked into the Crisler Center and put everything out in the open on Friday night.
Every question that we’ve thrown around this offseason about this Michigan team was evident.
Xavier overpowered Michigan’s big men in man-to-man post isolations, dominating the points in the paint statistic 34-14. The Musketeers rebounded 45% of their missed shots and outscored Michigan 16-5 in second chance points. Xavier abused the Wolverine wings and guards off of close outs and off the bounce to consistently draw fouls or make layups. The Musketeers even won the turnover battle and outscored Michigan 16-9 in points off of giveaways.
Michigan’s offense looked eerily reminiscent of last year’s early season offense with Caris LeVert carrying the majority of the heavy lifting, he was the only Wolverine to reach double figures with 29 points.
Any one of these problems would probably be expected in any game, especially early in the season, but it was disappointing to see the whole gamut on display in Game 3.
But despite all of the stats, mismatches and flaws on display in this November game, it was toughness that decided the outcome. Twice Michigan cut the deficit to two points in the second half and both times the Musketeers answered with statement three-pointers.
Xavier was the bigger and tougher team an eventually they wore down the Wolverines to the point where JP Macura’s three-pointer extended the lead once and for all. From that point on, Xavier seemed to win every loose ball and rebound. The Musketeers outscored Michigan 25-11 in the final ten minutes after LeVert hit a three-pointer to bring the game to 59-61 and the Wolverines were beaten.
“We have to learn to play harder and smarter and that’s on me,” Beilein said after the loss.
Michigan regressed to a few of its old habits offensively, but still topped a point per possession. The Wolverines settled for too many jumpers and just couldn’t generate any offense at the rim. Just 12 of Michigan’s 52 field goal attempts were at the rim and it made only five. The Wolverines shot the ball well in the mid-range (6 of 14) and from three (10 of 27), but the true test of this offense is whether it was creating easy baskets. There were no easy chances tonight.
One of the underrated disappointments of this game was that Michigan couldn’t control the tempo. This team doesn’t want to play 69 possession games and Xavier killed the Wolverines in transition. Xavier’s 86 points were the most Michigan has allowed since December 2007 and they managed 1.25 points per trip in the track meet.
For much of the first half, Michigan relied on its man-to-man defense and actually held its own on the defensive glass. The problem was that it still couldn’t get many stops. Eventually it started experimenting with the 1-3-1 zone (beginning late in the first half) and a 2-3 zone (midway through the second) and the defensive rebounding went by the wayside. Xavier rebounded 55% of its misses in the second half and the majority came against zone looks.
It was the guards that grabbed almost all of Michigan’s defensive rebounds. The four players who logged the 40 minutes at the five position combined to grab two defensive rebounds. Aubrey Dawkins, Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton grabbed 17 defensive boards. I realize that part of that is by design, but at some point Michigan’s five men have to be able to grab a rebound.
The post play seemed to get a lot of attention, but Michigan’s undoing was its inability to stop anybody off the dribble. Xavier has great drivers that know how to attack, but on the wings the Wolverines had no answer. There are basically five rotation players that have little chance of stopping anyone off the dribble and they combined for 83 minutes. Sure Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht will get a bit more healthy. Maybe Duncan Robinson will catch up to the pace of the game and Aubrey Dawkins can certainly be more consistent. But it’s going to be tough to get stops (or rebound) when your big man is having to help (usually late) on drivers every possession or you are sending them to the free throw line.
Given Michigan’s roster makeup, I think that the Wolverines need to change some of their approach defensively to focus more on limiting penetration. Having the big man hedge ball screens out to midcourt and recover with his back to the guard just isn’t working. Time and again Xavier ball handlers would get past their man on the recovery and drive right at Michigan bigs without them even seeing the ball. They were taking away the roll, but giving up a layup anyway. Soft hedges and forcing guards to shoot over the ball screen are all the rage in basketball these days because they prevent penetration and it might be time for a more cautious approach.
The UConn team that Michigan will face next has a roster designed like Xavier’s. The Huskies have three guards that can drive and shoot, a 6-foot-7 combo forward with a 7-footer to anchor the middle. There’s no hiding it now. Michigan knows where it needs to improve, but its opponents will too. Early season losses can be forgotten or compound quickly during a conference tournament and the clock is ticking until 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday night.
- Caris LeVert: Chris Mack quipped after the win that he was astounded that Michigan had been able to keep Caris LeVert around for four years and he has a good point. LeVert scored 29 points on 16 shots, grabbed seven rebounds (all in the first half) and made 5 of 8 triples in the win. Was it a perfect effort? Far from it — his man that hit one of the biggest triples of the night and he also committed a backbreaking foul to close the first half — but LeVert looked every bit himself, maybe even a step quicker.
- Derrick Walton: This Michigan needs Derrick Walton to play like he played on Monday on a consistent basis. Not that he’ll go for 24 & 7 on a nightly basis, but the player that hit those tough shot clock shots (we only saw one today) and got his teammates involved while playing down hill in the ball screen game. That’s the Walton that Michigan needs and he was absent on Friday night: 4 points, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 5 rebounds on 1 of 5 shooting.
- Aubrey Dawkins: After an offseason of buzz as Michigan’s most-improved player, Dawkins disappointed. He was 1 of 6 from the floor and seemed rattled on both ends. He missed a pair of open threes to start the game and even missed an open transition layup in the second half.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin showed a few more flashes, including a big step back three, but overall he still looked a half step slow and his jumper wasn’t quite on. He got beat to a brutal 50-50 rebound late in the game which was almost the final nail in the coffin.
- Ricky Doyle: In early games I wrote that Ricky Doyle hadn’t shown much to emerge as Michigan’s starting five, but he showed some more today. He had a couple of nice baskets and probably should have had two more as a pair of LeVert daggers went through his hands and he was about the only one player that could battle in the post in isolation situations. On the other hand, zero defensive rebounds in 22 minutes just isn’t acceptable for a big man.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal got schooled defensively on the first possession of the game and finished the game with four fouls in six minutes. Beilein wasn’t blunt about his performance after the game and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a switch in the starting lineup when Michigan takes the floor in the Bahamas.
- Duncan Robinson: I thought he passed up a couple of jumpers that he could have shot, but he still knocked down 2 of 4 off the bench. If his shot off of Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s moving screen counts then maybe it is a different game.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson was the third man off the bench at the five and didn’t record any minutes at the four. He’s not quick or versatile enough to play the four against a four-guard look with Bluiett at the four and he clearly wasn’t strong enough to hold his own down low against Reynolds or Farr. He did bank in an 18-footer, but he was overpowered down low.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman had a great hustle play for an offensive rebound of his own miss and then got the ball back for a nifty finish, but he played only eight minutes. When you’re chasing a game, it’s tough to find minutes for him given his lack of perimeter shooting ability.
- Spike Albrecht: Spike just isn’t healthy. He can’t move laterally nearly as quick as he needs to stay on the court in a game like this and he still managed to score five points and hand out an assist in 8 minutes of play. He can be invaluable offensively to provide a jumpstart to the offense, but until he’s moving against he’s major liability defensively.
- Mortiz Wagner: We saw the tantalizing potential of Wagner with a driving left-hand layup through contact late in the first half, but also the frustration when he committed fouls on back-to-back possessions for using his off arm when battling in the post.