Every college basketball season has ups and downs and there’s a reason that ‘things are never as good or bad as they seem’ is a common phrase in every college basketball coach, fan or writer’s lexicon. But right now, it doesn’t feel like it can get any worse for Michigan.
The Wolverines didn’t just drop two straight home games, they were embarrassed and outclassed in back-to-back games at home including a 16-point home loss to their in-state rival that could have been far worse. In every way, shape and form: Michigan looks like a defeated team.
Zak Irvin spoke about the Wolverines’ lack of mental toughness while John Beilein discarded that talk as ‘typical excuses’ and said that the Wolverines just aren’t good enough to beat teams like Michigan State or Indiana. I’m not sure which is worse.
The rational mind says that these type of slumps or runs happen over the course of any season, but it’s hard to generate much of any optimism after this trying week in Ann Arbor. Michigan dropped from 7-2 to 7-4 and the schedule isn’t getting any easier. Four of Michigan’s final seven games are on the road and only at Minnesota (Wednesday) and vs. Northwestern are projected as likely wins by KenPom.
There’s still little clarity over when and if Caris LeVert returns to the mix and at this point it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll even provide enough to turn this season back around.
Michigan State dominated this game from the opening jump, executing a scripted set play to open up Bryn Forbes for a wide open triple. He didn’t miss many more as he racked up eight on the evening. The Spartans’ offense was clinical, scoring 1.29 points per possession despite turning the ball over on over a quarter of its possessions in an impressive shooting night. Michigan State shot 64% on twos and threes in the win — knocking down 14-of-22 triples en route to a 78 percent effective field goal percentage.
At this point the only teams in the Big Ten playing worse defense than Michigan at Penn State, Minnesota and Rutgers.
Michigan tried the 1-3-1 zone in the first half because the man-to-man defense didn’t work and it actually provided a bit of life, but I hated the decision to stick with it down the stretch late in the half — especially out of timeouts. Bryn Forbes ended up killing the Wolverines with a pair of late threes against the zone that featured perfect execution by the Spartans.
Offensively, Michigan scored 1.06 points per possession mostly because its reserves were able to pad the stats against Michigan State’s reserves. When the game was close to competitive, or starters were on the floor, Michigan’s offense bogged down once again. Tom Izzo made a smart move to just switch every 4-5 pick-and-roll with Zak Irvin, which took away any of the roll options and forced Irvin to fire up mediocre jumpers over longer defenders.
Michigan was shooting hopeful shots rather than shooting to make shots all night and made just 8-of-28 three-pointers in the defeat as Duncan Robinson was held without a triple for only the second time of his career.
This team is down and beaten and headed to Minnesota next to face a win-less team that gave it a game on its home floor. The Golden Gophers have won one game since November, but will be riled up to face Michigan. The Wolverines are going to have to do some soul-searching this week because a loss at the Barn could send their season off the rails headed down the stretch.
- Derrick Walton: Walton is Michigan’s best perimeter defender, but the simple fact is that he got beat too many times defensively against Bryn Forbes. He did hit three triples, two of which were off of a nice flair screen action, but only recorded two assists and didn’t make a two-pointer. Walton is facing a lot of responsibility, but he’s been up-and-down over the last month without LeVert.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Earlier this year, Abdur-Rahkman was shooting the three with confidence and it was making him far more dangerous off the jump. At this point, his confidence in his perimeter shot has evaporated. He’s made just 1 of his last 11 triples over the last four games after starting 7-of-14 from three in league play.
- Duncan Robinson: The scouting report is out on Duncan, but he’s also missing open shots. I think there has to be a tired legs factor there because there was a point this season — even against Maryland a few weeks back — that he was almost automatic. Michigan State played great defense against him, holding him to 5 shot attempts proves that, but sooner or later he has to start hitting the open ones.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin’s final statistics were fine, but a majority of his production was late when the game was out of hand. As previously mentioned he struggled to attack the 4-5 ball screen after MSU started switching it. The fact of the matter is that Irvin just isn’t the most consistent player despite the fact that he’s the most important factor in Michigan’s offense without LeVert. Irvin only had 1 assist and the Spartans’ took away his ability to create for the bigs rolling to the hoop with the switch.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal was fairly solid early on, but Matt Costello took it to him in the second half. Michigan State threw the ball in the post repeatedly to open the second half and Costello just dominated Donnal on the low block. Offensively, he missed back-to-back threes late in the first half which were hard to argue with considering how poor Michigan’s offense was, but turned out to be very costly.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle scored 4 points on a tip-slam and a nice hustle play, but also missed a tip-slam and still struggles with positioning defensively at times.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins notched 14 points with some late game stat padding as well. He also had three assists in 17 minutes, again many of which came late. His defensive miscues weren’t as noticeable against the Spartans, and he provided a bit of offensive spark with Robinson struggling.