Michigan knocked off Kennesaw State in an easy victory on Saturday afternoon, here are Five Key Plays from the win.
1. Zak Irvin attacks off the dribble
Late in the game against Virginia Tech, Zak Irvin reverted to some old habits. He stopped attacking the rim and started settling for tough mid-range twos. That’s a shot that Irvin loves, but it isn’t always the best shot to take.
He made a few of those tough twos on Saturday, but he spent the majority of the game driving to the basket and finishing. That’s an easier achievement against a below-average Kennesaw State defense, but it was an important step in the right direction.
Irvin is shooting 70% on all shot attempts inside of five feet this season and made 5-of-6 layups on Saturday. The 6-foot-6 senior is proving that he can get to the basket and finish, and he’s been showing off a new scoop layup that seems to be paying off.
Irvin has also been more aggressive attacking the rim over the last two games. He only took 12 shots inside of five feet over Michigan’s first 6 games of the season, but took 11 combined against Virginia Tech and Kennesaw State. This is a storyline to track as Irvin continues to diversify his offensive game as a senior.
2. Late first half run
Michigan put the game away with a 17-2 run over the final 4:29 and a 10-0 run over the final 1:25 to close the first half. Playing just a few days after letting a game slip away due to a failure to put the game away, John Beilein was pleased with the execution.
“Some times you have to have this. You get told not to touch the stove, you get burned, you remember not to touch the stove. We got it put to us there,” Beilein said of Michigan blowing its lead against Virginia Tech. “They know, as I said on Friday, if you take those two four minute segments from Virginia Tech, I think we figured it out, they were going to score 120 points if you just take those four and multiply it.”
There were a couple notable baskets down the stretch including a DJ Wilson corner three and a rare Derrick Walton two-point make. Both of those shots have been trouble spots for Wilson and Walton respectively. Strangely enough Wilson is 0-of-9 on three-point attempts in the right corner, where his position generally dictates, but 2-of-2 from the left.
For Walton, this was the first time all season that he recorded more than one made two-pointer in a game. He’s shooting 44% inside of five feet for the season and 25% on all two-point attempts.
3. DJ Wilson brings the energy
Early on this season the natural reaction to DJ Wilson’s play was ‘wow, where is this coming from?’ Now it is ‘wow, Michigan really missed this.’
DJ Wilson brought his A-game for the first time since Michigan played in New York City. When Wilson is playing well, Michigan is a much improved team.
He started simple by staying out of foul trouble and doing a good job on the defensive glass, but by the end of the game he had hit a three, threw down a few big dunks and disrupted the game with two steals and a block.
“What’s key right now is his development. He’s still awkward with a lot of things. It’s just everyday of just teaching him some fundamental things,” Beilein said. “How he’s landing, when he’s picking up the ball, landing on two feet, grabbing the ball with two hands. He’s probably younger in the game than you think because he’s just maturing like Mo is right now. I just like that he’s got some athleticism, he’s got some desire to get in there and mix it up.”
There’s no doubt that Wilson makes some awkward plays along the way, but his energy, length and bounce are critical to this team’s success.
4. Xavier Simpson learns on the job
Xavier Simpson played 13 minutes against Kennesaw State, the most game action that he’s seen since being thrust into action against Marquette in New York City. Beilein inserted Simpson into the game earlier than normal in the first half and left him on the floor alongside Derrick Walton to experiment with a bit of a two-point guard look.
Simpson is quite clearly still figuring things out at the college level and that was evident on Saturday. He probably didn’t face many Al Skinner flex offenses at the high school or grassroots level and he was burned pretty quickly by Kennesaw State guard Kendrick Ray for a pair of baskets. That was the downside, but the upside is that he kept battling and hung in there, picking up a steal on the next defensive possession and getting to the free throw line.
5. Moritz Wagner tallies career high
Moritz Wagner scored 20 points and is now shooting 68% on twos and 60% on threes (9-of-15). His per-40 averages would be 22 points and 7 rebounds per game on 12 shot attempts and there’s no question that Michigan needs to continue to find ways to get him involved offensively.
“He’s got to have a mix. I would assume people will switch those screens more if it’s a pick-and-pop, and then he’s just got to dive and bury this 6-foot guard. That will be a big point of emphasis,” Beilein said. “He’s got to prove that he can make these shots for people to have to switch. The next point, he won’t get those openings. They won’t leave him. So now we gotta find other ways to score.”
Right now, Wagner has scored almost all of his points on pick-and-pop threes or at the basket via cuts or off-the-dribble moves from the wing. Against Kennesaw State, he scored his first basket not at the rim or from the three-point line as he knocked in a nice baseline jumper. Teams are certain to adjust to Wagner’s tendencies, as Beilein warns, but his offensive skill continues to impress.