Last week we saw how well Michigan can play on its best days, tonight we saw how poorly it can play on its worst as it dropped its first game of the season in a woeful 15 point loss at South Carolina.
The Gamecocks had the best player on the floor — 6-foot-6 senior Sindarius Thornwell finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds — and were just too athletic, too long and too aggressive for Michigan’s offense to adjust.
South Carolina extended its defense to play ‘no-catch’ on the perimeter — a move that John Beilein said the Wolverines didn’t expect — pressured the ball, and never allowed Michigan to get comfortable and into its offense.
The Wolverines turned the ball over 16 times and only made 10 field goals in 40 minutes. Forget about a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, Michigan had a negative basket-to-turnover ratio. That’s almost unheard of for a Beilein coached team (or any team) and the Wolverines had only two assists in a historically poor shooting performance.
Michigan has only posted an eFG% under 30% four times in the KenPom era (2002+) and 21.2% is by far the lowest mark in that time. You can’t beat anyone shooting 2-of-26 from three-point range and turning the ball over on a quarter of your possessions and the Wolverines learned that the hard way.
The Wolverine offense managed just .74 points per possession, a low water mark that it hasn’t seen since 2014-15 when it scored .76 points per trip against SMU and .70 points per trip against Eastern Michigan at home — bad memories to say the least. The only thing that Michigan was able to do well on offense was get to the free throw line, but that was more a product of just how aggressive South Carolina played.
The Gamecock performance was basically by the scouting report, although Beilein reported that the Gamecocks hadn’t shown any ‘no catch’ defense this season: great eFG% defense inside and outside, great offensive rebounding and the tendency to foul way too often.
The Wolverines didn’t lose the game with their defense. Michigan was 22-1 last year when it held opponents below 1.10 points per possession, and it held South Carolina to just .98 points per trip tonight — that should be good enough to win. This game was lost almost entirely on the offensive side of the ball. That’s not to say that there weren’t trouble spots on defense. South Carolina’s bigs were effective down low and rebounded 46% of their missed shots. The Wolverines also had no answer for Thornwell, who scored at ease against Walton, Irvin, Wilson and whoever else U-M threw at him.
Michigan has played a game like this in almost every non-conference season, but the question will be how does this group bounce back? The Wolverines clearly aren’t as quite good as they looked in New York, but they also aren’t as bad as they looked in South Carolina. At this point where they fall in between those two extremes is anyone’s guess. The good news is that Michigan’s next two high-major tests come at home which will provide a bit of a chance to regroup and gain some confidence.
- Zak Irvin: It’s no secret that Michigan goes as Zak Irvin goes so this stat line explains plenty: 5 points, 2-of-13 (0-4 3pt), 1 assists, 8 turnovers, 5 fouls. Irvin used 22 possessions and created 8 points — that’s not going to get it done. His teammates weren’t much better, but Irvin was the one that got everything going in New York City and could do nothing tonight. He lacked confidence in the ball screen game (throwing passes where other players weren’t), settled for bad jumpers, and just couldn’t get anything going.
- Derrick Walton: Walton didn’t turn the ball over and got to the line 8 times, but he couldn’t buy a shot and didn’t record an assist. He was just 3-of-14 from the floor and the majority of his shots were rushed, no-pass threes or tough shots attacking the basket (1-of-5 inside the arc).
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman had a couple of key drives that felt like run-stoppers and I thought it would make sense to get him more involved, but when Michigan did in the second half he settled for a couple of step-back threes despite being in the bonus. I still would have liked to see more possessions for Abdur-Rahkman, but he seemed to struggle against the USC pressure as much as anyone else.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson scored just 2 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, failing to record a block or a steal in 29 minutes. Wilson actually seemed to struggle more defensive when he got switched onto Thornwell, who he just couldn’t keep in front of him, but USC’s other bigs were also able to match his athleticism. We discussed the statement plays in NYC quite a bit, but the statement in this game was Wilson catching a backdoor cut and getting stuffed at the rim when going up for a dunk.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal has been Michigan’s most consistent big man, but he was also pushed around a little bit around the hoop. There were too many rebounds that seemed to slip out of his hands or get tipped away, but he’s still the most consistent defender and grabbed 4 offensive rebounds while attempting 9 free throws.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner’s defensive woes were glaring early on as South Carolina went with some high-low offense early on and Wagner was never able to make up for it on the offensive end, scoring 2 points on 2-of-4 free throw shooting and giving up a costly early turnover.
- Duncan Robinson: Duncan Robinson missed his first two (wide open) three-point attempts and then his game started to spiral. Once he misses a shot or two he starts to try to force the issue and try to make plays beyond hitting open threes. That’s not really his skillset or what Michigan needs from him, but they need Robinson to find his stroke to make up for his defensive struggles.
- Ibi Watson: Watson didn’t check in until late in the game and promptly had a three-point shot blocked — a sign that he’s not ready to provide an instant spark of offense off the bench quite yet.
- Jon Teske: Teske looked solid earning a couple of first half minutes and grabbing 3 rebounds and a steal in 4 minutes.
- Xavier Simpson: Simpson played 8 minutes and record an assist and a pair of free throws that he earned off of a late shot clock drive.