Michigan’s exhibition win over Armstrong State was about routine as expected, but the Wolverines looked like a team with plenty of preseason kinks left to iron out.
The Wolverines coasted to an early lead and led 40-23 at halftime, despite junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman missing the contest due to a minor ankle injury suffered on Thursday night. But the Pirates put a mild scare into the Wolverines early in the second half, cutting the Michigan lead to 11 points in less than 4 minutes and forcing John Beilein to call a timeout.
His message during the stoppage seemed to resonate and the Michigan defense buckled down and held their Division II foes scoreless for the next 7 minutes and coasted away with a 28 point win.
Offensively, Michigan never quite seemed to get in sync. The Wolverines scored 1.05 points per possession which isn’t an impressive total and speaks to the helter-skelter, up-tempo and turnover plagued flow of the game. While Michigan had some good moments and stretches, there were too many giveaway plays that the coaching staff and players will want back when they watch film on Saturday.
Michigan only made 6-of-19 threes and didn’t hit a triple until late in the first half, scoring more points on post entries than on threes for the early stretch of the game. I’m not ready to say that the fast pace (73 possessions) is a product of some stylistic change by the Wolverines as much as it may just be the nature of the game.
Defensively, I thought there were some notable shifts. Early on I noticed Michigan guards, specifically Derrick Walton, icing more ball screens (preventing the ball handler from using the pick) than I ever remember Michigan doing in the past. It will be interesting to follow if that trend continues into the regular season and how effective it is.
Overall the defense held Armstrong State to 33% two-point shooting and 19% three-point shooting. Both of those are obviously good numbers, but it’s almost impossible to adjust for the level of play. One thing worth pointing out is that the Wolverines allowed Le Moyne to score 1.06 points per possession and a 47.1 eFG% in last year’s exhibition game. The turnovers stand out as the Pirates gave the ball away once every four possessions, but I would say there were as many live ball turnovers as careless giveaways.
When Michigan struggled defensively, the problems started on the glass. The run that Armstrong State put together early in the second half featured several second chance baskets on rebounds that Michigan needs to get against inferior competition. To the Wolverines’ credit, they answered the run and held the Pirates scoreless for over 7 minutes after a Beilein timeout.
- Derrick Walton: Walton didn’t look confident or assertive with his shot in the first half, but he made 2-of-3 shot attempts in the second. He also did all of the things we expect Walton to do with 6 rebounds (all in the first half) and 7 assists — all impressive, but almost taken for granted at this point. I’d like to see him continue to be more aggressive and hunt his shots, because there were times that the offense seemed to bog down a bit where the senior point guard just needs to make a play.
- Zak Irvin: This was kind of a vintage Irvin game where you take some of the good with the bad. He had 4 assist to 1 turnover, two steals and scored 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting. He also missed a breakaway dunk, shot 2-of-5 at the free throw line and didn’t look all that confident on this three-point shot. The inconsistent shooting is a bit troubling as there are times that Irvin’s shot looks great — like a mid-range curling jumper in the first half — and others that it just looks off.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson struggled with foul trouble, picking up a few cheap ones for boxing out with his hands, but the far bigger concern is that his shot isn’t falling. He was 3-of-7 form the floor, but missed most of the jumpers he took. Per Beilein, this is a struggle that he’s been battling in practice over the last couple of weeks. Beilein attributed it to some bad habits he picked up from over practicing this summer and while he was confident that Robinson would shoot his way out of it, it would have been more reassuring to say that hear that Robinson had been shooting the ball great in practice.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner got the start and played 25 minutes with just two fouls. I don’t see him losing the job any time soon. His offensive skill can create some real opportunities for Michigan and he was very aggressive putting the ball on the floor and taking it to the rim — even against a team that had mostly smaller players. The key will be Wagner utilizing this playmaking ability without getting sloppy, but he scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and only had one turnover in 25 minutes.
- DJ Wilson: Robinson’s struggles gave Wilson plenty of opportunity and he scored 10 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in 24 minutes. Wilson had a couple nice moves down low, but still seems to settle for a turnaround jumper rather than going strong to the hoop. He knocked in a three, picked up a pair of blocks and was pretty active overall. He grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and that’s promising as well.
- Ibi Watson: Watson made plenty of plays in his debut and appeared to be the first freshman in the rotation. He played his minutes at the three and Zak Irvin would slide to the two (offensively) for stretches when they were both on the floor. Watson was very involved scoring 7 points on 8 shots, grabbing two rebounds, handing out four assists to two turnovers. It was great to see him make an impact, but he also has some kinks to work out in his game. Like Simpson, I was impressed with his length and ability to get deflections and steals (3) defensively.
- Sean Lonergan: Lonergan got the start in Abdur-Rahkman’s absence (sprained ankle last night in practice, but sounds like he’ll be okay) because he was able to play every possession on the floor — something that Beilein wasn’t confident that either of the freshmen could do. He had some bright moments early on with an assist and a basket, but his stint early in the second half wasn’t as productive.
- Mark Donnal: The No. 2 big man off the bench, Donnal grabbed 4 boards to Wagner’s 2 despite playing fewer minutes. He also had a block and a steal in an otherwise quiet showing.
- Xavier Simpson: Simpson played 14 minutes and scored 2 points to go along with five boards. He didn’t quite seem comfortable in the offensive flow of the game, but his ability defensively was obvious. He played good defense on the ball and used his length and timing to pick up deflections.
- Jon Teske: Teske appears to have the No. 3 big man spot locked up, playing in both halves. He scored on a turnaround jumper on the baseline and a putback dunk in four minutes.
- Austin Davis: Davis didn’t see the floor until late in the game, but he picked up a basket as Beilein continues to laud his hands and rebounding.