A little over a year ago, Michigan went on the road to Piscataway and won an ugly 54-50 game over Rutgers. The Wolverines played two walk-ons and failed to surpass a point per possession of offensive output, but it was a feel good story. They had proven they could win a game without Caris LeVert.
Michigan is playing without Caris LeVert once again this season, but the expectations have changed. Despite playing their seventh game without their star guard, the Wolverines matched their 2014-15 season win total with Wednesday night’s win over the Scarlet Knights. An ugly home win over Rutgers is nothing close to a moment of pride, it was a letdown.
For the second straight week, Michigan faced an overmatched team on its home court and slept walk through 40 minutes. Rutgers led for the first 15 minutes before allowing the Wolverines to pull away with an somewhat safe, but never decisive 68-57 victory.
Michigan has played brilliant basketball at times this season, but it has also lacked consistency without Caris LeVert in the lineup. A Big Ten win is a Big Ten win, even if its over Rutgers, but the Wolverines continue to play with fire by sleepwalking through conference games against over-matched opponents.
We know that this Michigan team can score the basketball, but this was a disappointing offensive showing. The Wolverines finished the game shooting 43% on twos and 39% on threes for a 52 eFG% — all well below their season averages.
Michigan took significantly more threes (28) than twos (21), but also attempted 20 free throws in the win. The cold early shooting seemed to rattle the Wolverines a bit and it wasn’t until Aubrey Dawkins provided a spark that the confidence returned. Rutgers played a packed in defense that dared the Wolverines to shoot and took away many of the easy opportunities in the lane. When Michigan’s offense is at its best, it makes those early threes and then spaces the defense to open cutting lanes to the rim. That didn’t happen early on which caused the majority of Michigan’s offensive consternation.
Defensively, it’s tough to decipher much from holding Rutgers to .88 points per possession. Michigan went back to the 2-3 zone that it utilized against Nebraska and it continued to be very effective and helped mask some of the Wolverines’ concerns defending dribble penetration. Mark Donnal has settled in really nicely in the middle of that zone and stepping up to stop drivers while the wings and guards also are bumping and recovering more effectively. I’m not convinced the zone will work against teams with multiple perimeter shooters, but it’s a nice weapon to have in the arsenal.
There’s not much to get excited about with another ugly win against a winless conference foe — it’s hard to pat yourself on the back after beating a team that gave the ball back to the ref after a missed front-end of a 1-and-1 — but you can’t argue with Michigan’s record as we near the halfway point of the conference season.
The Wolverines are tied for third place in the conference at 6-2, despite playing without Caris LeVert for the last seven games, and travel to New York City this weekend to face Penn State before starting a marquee home stretch of their season at home against Indiana and Michigan State.
- Derrick Walton: If Saturday was a great Derrick Walton game, this was the typical ‘average’ Derrick Walton game. He knocked down half of his threes, made his free throws and handed out four assists, but was 0-of-4 inside the arc and never seemed to dominate the action until it was necessary with some big threes in the second half. In one of the most-bizarre stats on a bizarre night, Walton had 2 offensive rebounds to just 1 defensive board.
- Aubrey Dawkins: I wrote in the preview that Aubrey Dawkins could be in for a big night after he tore apart the Scarlet Knights last season and he answered the bell. Dawkins is a perfect answer off the bench because he’s so comfortable getting shots up in a hurry. He buried a couple threes and picked up a dunk on a backcut and suddenly there was a bit of life across the roster. His struggles defensively are still a problem, but his offensive spark is a real weapon off the bench.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin the distributor and rebounder stuck around — notching 12 rebounds and 8 assists — but his jump shot was left in Nebraska. He was just 2-of-8 from the floor and just 1-of-6 from long distance, in one of his worst shooting performances of the Big Ten season.
- Duncan Robinson: Michigan’s leading scorer for the second consecutive game, Robinson has been more aggressive searching for his offense since the Maryland game. He hit 4-of-9 threes (44%) en route to 18 points, but struggled a bit in the in-between game. I’m all for him being aggressive, especially in a game like this but he shot two airballs in the pull-up game and also had a few sloppy passes leading to a pair of turnovers.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal scored 10 points and grabbed four boards in the win, but it was his defensive stretch in the first half that impressed me. The junior big man had a monster block and followed it up with a pair of charges in the critical sequence that gave Michigan the momentum in the first half. In the middle of that stretch he managed to kick the ball out to Aubrey Dawkins for a triple.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman didn’t attempt a two-pointer in the win and finished with three points, all on free throws. He’s emerged as a serviceable three-point shooter in LeVert’s absence, but he’s not immune from 0-of-3 performances like tonight.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner lost track of his man after showing on a pick-and-roll and then didn’t see the floor in the second half, giving way to Ricky Doyle.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle made the most of his opportunity and finished back-to-back pick-and-rolls that included a few fairly difficult catches. The sophomore has played single digit minutes in every Big Ten game this season and his 4 points were a Big Ten season-high.
- Kameron Chatman: Chatman saw the floor in the second half and promptly turned the ball over almost immediately for the second game in a row. He’ll need to show something quickly to hold onto a chance of seeing the floor in meaningful minutes.