Saturday was a chance for Michigan to get back on track and regain some confidence before a big week and the Wolverines took advantage, rolling to a 82-55 win over Kennesaw State.
Michigan got a career-high 20 point scoring night from Moritz Wagner, a bounce-back double-double from DJ Wilson and efficient performances from its seniors, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, in the blowout victory.
Kennesaw State hung around early as senior guard Kendrick Ray knocked in seemingly every shot in the book over the first 10 or 15 minutes, but the Wolverines weathered the storm and closed the first half with a 17-2 run and never looked back. Michigan’s defense improved as the game wore on and the offense was never bothered by a Kennesaw State team that entered the day ranked 324th in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Michigan scored a season-high 1.36 points per possession in the win, getting basically whatever it wanted on that end of the floor. The Wolverines moved the ball well (15 assists to 7 turnovers), attacked the basket (20 3PA to 33 2PA), got to the free throw line, and rebounded a third of their misses for 10 second chance points. There was a noticeable effort to throw the ball into both Moritz Wagner and DJ Wilson in the post, a clear effort to attack off the bounce and there was little room for nitpicking overall.
This wasn’t a great defensive effort, but it was nice to see the Wolverines tighten the screws after some early lapses. Kennesaw State scored 27 points in the first 15 minutes, but only scored another 20 before Michigan’s starters were pulled from the game with 4:31 to play. The Owls shot the ball well — 50% on twos, 42% on threes — but Michigan controlled the other areas of the game defensively. Kennesaw State gave the ball away on a fifth of its possessions, was shut down on the offensive glass and only managed 6 free throw attempts (a point of emphasis after committing so many fouls against Virginia Tech).
What can you take from a guarantee game win over a team like Kennesaw State? Not a lot, but it was nice to see complete individual performances from Derrick Walton, DJ Wilson, Moritz Wagner and Zak Irvin ahead of a make-or-break week for Michigan’s non-conference season. The mid-week game against Texas — a team that is vastly underperforming its preseason expectations — is starting to feel like a must-win ahead of a trip to Pauley Pavilion to face a UCLA team that just hung 97 points at Rupp in a win over Kentucky.
- Moritz Wagner: The big man showed off his full arsenal of skills once again, finishing with a career high 20 points in 25 minutes. Wagner was 7-of-8 from the floor and knocked in three triples in four attempts. Perhaps most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over and his defensive play off the ball seemed improved. It’s not a surprise at this point that Wagner can score like this — he’s shooting 68% on twos and 60% on threes for the year — but he needs to continue to work to stay on the floor by playing good defense and staying out of foul trouble as his 25 minutes were a season-high.
- Derrick Walton: Walton flirted with a double-double, finishing with 13 points, 8 assists and three rebounds. I thought he moved the ball well in the offense and was relieved to see him hit a shot attacking the basket to close out the first half. It’s interesting to watch Walton and Wagner’s pick-and-roll chemistry developing because we can see some of the ups and downs in real time. On one play in the first half Walton was visibly frustrated with Wagner’s roll, but they connected for a few pops and a nice roll as well.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin played like he spent plenty of time watching film and hearing that he needs to attack the basket. He consistently drove baseline and finished at the rim with a nice scoop shot while splitting a pair of three-point attempts. This might be one of the rare games in Irvin’s career where he had more shots at the rim than he took jumpers.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson had was glued to the bench with foul trouble against Virginia Tech and hadn’t played well since the Wolverines returned from New York, so he needed a game like this. The 6-foot-10 sophomore finished with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, 11 rebounds and 2 assists in 28 minutes. Whatever he was doing out there wasn’t always conventional, but he rebounded, ran the floor and finished around the rim. Wilson also finally hit a three (from the left corner where he’s 2-of-2 for the season, not the right corner where he’s 0-for-9) and that shot is going to be key to Michigan’s offense being able to keep its spacing with DJ on the floor.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman only played 22 minutes and didn’t make a shot from the floor. He did move the ball well, tallying 3 assists to 0 turnovers, but he seemed to lack confidence with his jumper or when he attacked.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal had a quiet night and only scored 2 points in 10 minutes. He had a few good hustle plays and was solid, but when Wagner is playing as well as he was there just aren’t going to be many minutes available for him.
- Xavier Simpson: It was clear that Beilein planned to give Simpson some extended run, his 13 minutes were the second most he’s played this season, but he still has plenty of on-the-job training left to do. Simpson was schooled on a few flex cuts early on and he also had a couple of ‘high school layups’ that were pretty emphatically blocked. I think you have to keep giving him more minutes and hope that he can start becoming more comfortable heading into Big Ten play.
- Duncan Robinson: Duncan Robinson has one job: come into the game and make open threes. He split four attempts today and if he can do that every night, that is a boost for Michigan. When he tries to do too much, he still gets into tough spots from time-to-time as we saw when he turned the ball over for an easy layup the other way.
- Jon Teske: Teske didn’t play any minutes in the first half and it’s hard to complain about that because Wagner was playing so well. Late in the game Teske came in and showed off his shot blocking ability, but also showed that he can still get pushed around a bit when trying to finish around the hoop.
- Ibi Watson: Watson’s lone shot attempt was a reverse layup that was swatted away and he only played 7 minutes, most of which came very late.