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Five Key Plays: Bryant at Michigan

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Michigan wrapped up non-conference play with another blowout win on Wednesday evening, finishing the pre-league slate with a 10-3 record. Here are Five Key Plays from the 36-point win over Bryant.

Michigan wrapped up non-conference play with another blowout win on Wednesday evening, finishing the pre-league slate with a 10-3 record. Here are Five Key Plays from the 36-point win over Bryant.

1. Michigan overloads the zone

Michigan’s offensive approach against Bryant’s zone defense became clear early on: the Wolverines wanted to overload one side of the zone. Michigan is essentially able to create a 4-on-3 situation on one side of the floor when it brings Duncan Robinson over to the opposite corner. Two Bryant defenders are focused on Derrick Walton with the ball on the wing while the other three defenders have a foot in the paint. No one is within 15 feet of Robinson and that’s not a defensive approach that will work.

On the next possession we see the Wolverines overload the near side before reversing to the far side. This time Bryant stretches its defense more effectively and takes away the shot for Robinson, but he makes the simple dump down pass to Irvin right in the soft spot of the Bryant zone for an easy 8-foot bank shot.

2. Zak Irvin hits a three

No one was happier to see this shot go in that Zak Irvin. The relief was pouring out of him when he made his first triple and he went on to knock down another in the easy win, finishing with a season-high 16 points.

Irvin was relieved in post-game to finally knock down a few perimeter shots and a lot of hard work went into getting his stroke back in order. Irvin spent Tuesday in the gym shooting with Caris LeVert and got up 600 shots on the gun on Monday, making 400 of them according to John Beilein.

“That was a great feeling, I have to be honest,” Irvin said after the win. “Especially the first three. I know it’s been a long process for me but I’m just trying to stay confident out there. But it’s always a huge relief seeing the first one go in.”

As I wrote earlier this week, the difference between this offense being good and great is whether Zak Irvin can knock down threes.

3. Beilein borrows cross-screen zone set

Out of a timeout late in the first half, John Beilein rolled out an offensive play against Bryant’s 2-3 zone that I’ve never seen him use before. Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman both set cross screens on the Bryant defenders at the top of the 2-3 zone to allow Caris LeVert to slash right into the middle. From there, the center defender had no choice but to take a step forward to contest LeVert, who simply throws an alley-oop pass to Ricky Doyle around the baseline.

I couldn’t remember Michigan running the play, but it looked vaguely familiar. The reason why? SMU ran the same play against Michigan three weeks ago for a Jordan Tolbert alley-oop. They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and here we see Beilein borrowing a page out of Larry Brown’s playbook.

4. LeVert beats man-to-man defense

Bryant played strictly zone defense in the first half and the Wolverines methodically passed and shot it apart. After allowing 57 points in the first half, Bulldog head coach Tim O’Shea had no choice but to try something else. He went with a man-to-man defense and Michigan countered with one of the better isolation players in the country.

“We’re going to take what the offense gives us,” Beilein said afterward. “They went zone for 30 of those 40 minutes. There were two different zones, one matchup where they were staying with every cutter and  a traditional one and then they played a switching man-to-man.”

If you are going to defend Michigan in man-to-man and lock off on shooters, Caris LeVert is going to have a lot of space to work with in the middle of the court. That’s what we see here as LeVert attacks in isolation and ball screen situations and either gets to the rim or finds open shooters. LeVert scored or assisted Michigan’s first 10 points of the second half and proved that he’s every bit as effective of a man-to-man beater as Duncan Robinson is a zone-beater.

5. Kam Chatman breaks three-point record

John Beilein was ready to head to the locker room and wanted his team to hold the ball for the final 30 seconds of the game, but his well-drilled group of turnover-averse Wolverines had other ideas.

Michigan turned the ball over only 8 times in 64 possessions and is now ranked 4th in the country in turnover rate on the season, giving the ball away on just 13.9% of its possessions. The Wolverine backups weren’t looking to be credited with a turnover for a shot clock violation in the final seconds.

“I didn’t want him to shoot it,” Beilein said after the win. “That was a funny sequence — I think (a shot clock violation) is a team turnover isn’t it? — none of them wanted the turnover on their record so they kept giving it to other people so they wouldn’t get the turnover. He didn’t get the message that I didn’t want to shoot it, just take the turnover we’re not rubbing it in, and he shot it.”

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