A week after a demoralizing drubbing in Dallas, there was plenty to feel good about in Michigan’s easy 77-62 win over Northern Kentucky on Tuesday night.
Derrick Walton returned from injury and scored 16 points, Duncan Robinson knocked down six first half threes, and Caris LeVert reached 1,000 career points on Michigan’s first scoring possession and recorded a triple-double on its last basket of the night.
There’s only so much that can be learned from these December guarantee games, but we’re certainly seeing John Beilein start to whittle his rotation. Michigan’s presumed Big Ten starting lineup — Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Duncan Robinson, Zak Irvin and Ricky Doyle — recorded its first start together this season and all five played significant minutes. The only two bench players to log double-digit minutes were Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Mark Donnal.
It might not always be fun, but we’re starting to understand Michigan’s identity. The Wolverines have a roster that’s designed to outscore people and when everything is clicking, it’s hard to keep up.
The Wolverines were on fire out of the gate and their final tally of 1.21 points per possession was dampened by a few sloppy stretches in the final 10 minutes of the game. Five Wolverines reached double figures and all four of the five shot better than 50% from the floor. That hot shooting was in large part to shot selection. 45% of Michigan’s shot attempts were at the rim (it made 17 of 24 layup attempts) and a third were from long distance where it connected at a 44% clip (Duncan Robinson had 6 of Michigan’s 8 three-point makes). The Wolverines also got to the free throw line 18 times in the comprehensive offensive performance.
The defensive warts were still on full display. Over half way through the first half, Michigan was scoring a ridiculous 1.73 points per trip, but it was allowing NKU to stay in the game by scoring 1.19 points per trip. The Norse are a good shooting team that know how to get good shots (they have strong 2-point shooting numbers on both end of the floor), but there were still far too many examples of the same problems: easy dribble penetration, blown switches leading to open threes and frustrating buckets at the rim.
Give the Wolverines some credit, they made at least some improvements. The Wolverines held the Norse to just 2 points in the final three minutes of the first half and then .85 points per possession in the final twenty minutes.
Michigan was two-points away from covering the KenPom spread (79-61) in an otherwise routine performance. The Wolverines will have another tune up on Saturday evening against a Youngstown State team that’s rated similarly to Northern Kentucky before wrapping up the non-conference season against Bryant.
- Derrick Walton: Derrick Walton looked healthy and productive. He had 16 points on 5-of-10 (2-5 3pt) shooting with three rebounds in the win. He didn’t record an assist as he played more off the ball and let LeVert do more distributing, but his shooting and driving ability were both critical to Michigan’s offense. 3-of-5 shooting inside the arc and 5 free throw attempts were both welcome signs after the ankle injury. Walton is shooting over 60% from three this year and while those numbers will regress, his ability to hit the corner three creates a lot of space for others to work.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert set the tone from the opening tip with a transition layup and a pair of assists. From there he took on a facilitator role and eventually racked up a triple double. He got the big men involved in the pick-and-roll game and assisted three of Robinson’s six triples on the night. A triple-double is by definition a complete game and while LeVert could have played better defense that can probably be said about anyone on the roster.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson made 6-of-7 threes in the first half and changed the game with his shooting ability. Michigan’s defense was bad for much of the first half, but it is almost impossible to keep up when Robinson is shooting the ball like that (he also threw a few nice passes). He’s leading the country in effective field goal percentage (86%) and is now shooting 62% from three-point range — meaning an average three-point attempt is worth 1.86 points per shot. He only had one shot attempt in the second half and struggled to get touches, which opened everything up for Walton and LeVert to attack in the second half. Coincidentally, all of Robinson’s makes tonight were in almost the same spot.
- Zak Irvin: This was only the second game of Zak Irvin’s career where he didn’t attempt a three-point shot. On the other hand, he was 5-of-8 on twos (an equal mix of nice drives to the hoop and 17-foot pull-up jumpers). He’s improved almost every element of his game other than shooting and if he can regain his perimeter stroke this offense has the potential to be special.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle had 9 points and five boards in the win, but he left easily half a dozen points on the board by failing to finish drop offs around the rim. He struggled at times against Jalen Billups’ quickness, but he also had a few good stops defensively.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal came in during the first half and recorded a personal 7-0 run. There wasn’t much to most of his offense other than catching drop-off passes, but it was nice to see him put together a solid performance. He finished with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, two boards and an assist in 14 minutes.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner came in the first half and played three minutes before he was replaced by Donnal. Donnal proceeded to play one of his best games and Wagner didn’t see the floor again. It was the fifth game in a row that Wagner has struggled or played sparingly after his tremendous performances in the Bahamas. Wagner will get his chances, but it’s clear that Beilein is comfortable sticking with the hot-hand at the five position and Donnal earned the additional time with his first half play.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Duncan Robinson is the starting wing and Aubrey Dawkins played the four minutes to prove it. This isn’t a 50-50 split anymore and if Robinson keeps shooting like this it is going to stay that way.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman didn’t earn the chance to build off of his nice spurt last time out as he didn’t check in until the final minutes of the 77-62 win and missed his only three-point attempt.