Michigan let one slip away against Virginia Tech on Wednesday night. There’s no good reason why and there was plenty of positive play in the first three-quarters of the game, but here are five plays that cost the Wolverines the game down the stretch.
1. Walton misses free throw, Wilson fouls
This is the moment in the game that I just can’t shake. Michigan had taken Virginia Tech’s best shot early on in the second half and regained a double-digit lead. The Wolverines were at the free throw line with a chance to extend the lead and Derrick Walton, a 92% free throw shooter (82% for his career), misses the front end of the 1-and-1.
DJ Wilson followed the miss up with a silly foul going after the offensive rebound, the same infraction that he was whistled for four times in the loss, and suddenly what could have been a 12-point lead was down to 8.
“It’s not an official thing, it’s a Michigan thing,” Beilein said after the loss. “A couple of our guys griping with the officials, well, they’ve been calling that all year long, and they’re going to continue to call it, so you can’t do it.”
2. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman misses, Wilson fouls
Here’s another play where Michigan could have pulled away just enough, but instead allowed the Hokies to creep even closer. On this play, Derrick Walton draws four defenders as he slashes into the lane and kicks to a wide open Abdur-Rahkman. You can’t be much more open than Abdur-Rahkman was on the wing as there weren’t any Hokie defenders outside of the paint when he caught the ball.
Abdur-Rahkman misses, which is fine in its own right, but again DJ Wilson compounds Michigan’s problems with a foul pursuing a rebound. Unnecessary and undisciplined, Wilson was fouled out of the game right after he had a terrific defensive possession against Zach LeDay on the other end of the floor.
This time what could have been an 7-point lead if Abdur-Rahkman’s shot went in was down to just a two-point lead.
3. Defensive breakdowns
There were plenty of clips that could have gone here. On an earlier possession, Zak Irvin gave up a blow by layup. On another, Mark Donnal never seemed to find the right cover and then closed out late and gave up a blow by layup. Duncan Robinson gave a weak foul on late help that resulted in an easy and-one layup. You get the picture.
But the two most critical defensive breakdowns appeared to fall on the shoulders of Abdur-Rahkman. Here we see Abdur-Rahkman give up what amounts to an uncontested layup that gives Virginia Tech its first lead. There’s nothing fancy here, Seth Allen just drives right by the 6-foot-3 junior without much hassle.
On the next play, which gives the Hokies a four-point lead, we see a completely botched switch on a dribble hand-off. It’s hard to say whether the blame here should fall on Derrick Walton or Abdur-Rahkman, but neither player thinks to check Allen and he buries the wide open three. I’m guessing that the confusion here stemmed from the fact that Walton was already switched onto Chris Clarke because on an earlier possession Duncan Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman switched the same dribble hand-off look.
“The last three it was a dribble hand-off, some guy assumed there was a switch coming,” Beilein said. “We just stopped on the play. Another time in post, I don’t know what we were doing. They just threw it in and scored. We didn’t even know where our post was. It’s stuff we need to get better at.”
4. Abdur-Rahkman misses the floater
While the next play is an example of a terrible possession in almost all facets, this is a possession where Michigan actually gets what it wants. The Wolverines move the ball well and Abdur-Rahkman comes open after Virginia Tech misreads a screen. Abdur-Rahkman draws Allen off of his feet with a pump fake and gets into the paint, he just misses an open pull-up jumper from the elbow.
“We got to the basket a lot today. So they weren’t as physical as some teams we play in the Big Ten,” Beilein explained. “But we still gotta get there more. (Abdur Rahkman’s) shot, it was point-blank seven feet away, and we wanted him to (take it) there because it was a seven-footer, and he missed it.”
5. Hero ball
This is just bad basketball. Michigan was lucky to be in this position, but the game was right there for the taking after a couple of big plays by Duncan Robinson.
Michigan, out of timeouts, doesn’t really get into any offense until there is about 20 seconds left in the game and then Irvin tries to use a Moritz Wagner screen a couple of times as Virginia Tech switches. In the end, he settles for a step back jumper going to his left — he usually seems to shoot the ball going to his right — which isn’t close.
“We were trying to isolate him, and they took him away a little bit, and we know what to do when they take him away and we didn’t do it,” Beilein explained. “It’s that simple. So now we got isolated, we got all gumped up there, we couldn’t call a timeout, and we got a bad shot. And we wanted to get some other action on that play — they took a little bit away, but not enough … we have a great counter for that, and we didn’t do it.”