When final exams and a cross country flight get more attention in the game preview than any player on the opposing team it has the makings of a long night. Michigan’s easy 97-53 win over Central Arkansas was only competitive for about five minutes.
The Wolverines started the game 1-of-7 from three-point range and only led 7-5 at the first media timeout. Then the shots started falling and the lead snowballed in a hurry. Michigan kept scoring like it was still in Westwood and made last Tuesday’s 53-50 grinding win over Texas feel lightyear’s away.
The Wolverines set single-game records with 19 made three-pointers and 45 attempts as nine different Wolverines made a triple, including freshman guard Ibi Watson who hit his first of the year to set the single-game record.
At the end of the day, the Tuesday night blowout was much more of an indictment of Central Arkansas than any meaningful sign about Michigan. It also proved that a switching match-up zone defense designed to funnel an opponent into taking three-pointers might not be the best strategy against a Beilein-coached team.
You can’t fault Michigan for its performance, even against an overmatched opponent, as it posted season-bests in offensive and defensive efficiency in the victory. All the Wolverines could do tonight was show up, play well and win and they did that while building off of the offensive confidence that they built at UCLA.
This was Michigan’s best offensive performance and best shooting performance of the season despite emptying the bench with over five minutes to play. Central Arkansas entered Tuesday night’s game allowing opponents to attempt 43.8% of their shot attempts from long distance (325th) and it was clear why. The Bears packed the lane with their matchup zone and over-helped on any sign of penetration, leading to wide open threes with any semblance of dribble penetration.
Michigan shot a lot of threes, taking what the defense provided, but it also almost all of its twos. The Wolverines shot 76% inside the arc and didn’t miss a two-point jumper until Mark Donnal missed a face-up jumper with 15 minutes to play.
The Bears entered this game with one of the worst half court offenses in the country and it showed. Michigan kept Central Arkansas out of transition and held it to just .78 points per possession. That’s basically the floor for how bad any offense can play and there wasn’t much to complain about from the Wolverines as they forced turnovers on a fifth of possessions, rebound 87% of Central Arkansas’ misses and won the free throw battle.
Michigan will repeat this exercise on Saturday when it hosts Maryland Eastern Shore, one of the 17 teams in the country with a worse defense than Central Arkansas.
- Moe Wagner: Wagner’s offensive skill was on full display as he scored 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds in just 19 minutes. He scored from the post, he knocked in a mid-range jumper and hit a pair of threes. Wagner’s ability to put the ball in the basket is basically a given at this point and I’d expect to see the Wolverines continue to feed him the ball in spots where he can make plays as long as he stays on the floor. He’s shooting an incredible 73% on twos and 54% on threes for the season.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin was efficient and had the three ball working (4-of-6), but the key (as always) with his jumper is that he was getting predominantly good shots: off of dribble penetration kick outs. He also grabbed 6 rebounds, tossed three assists and picked up a steal in a complete performance. We’ve harped a lot on Irvin’s consistency in the past, but right now he’s really only had two bad games (Texas, South Carolina) out of 11 and his three-point percentage is up to 40%.
- DJ Wilson: There doesn’t need to be anything fancy to DJ Wilson’s game: rebound, defend and score around the hoop. He grabbed 7 boards, blocked a pair of shots, handed out two assists and finished with 11 points. Perhaps he was a bit three happy (1-of-4), but if Michigan gets an effort like this from DJ every night it’ll be in a good spot by year’s end.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: As the discussion shifted to the importance of Abdur-Rahkman attacking the basket, he turned around and made 4-of-8 threes in the easy win. The threes were almost all open for the most part and they should help restore some confidence for the 6-foot-3 guard who was shooting just 25% from three entering tonight’s game. Attacking the basket is important, but this wasn’t the kind of game where Abdur-Rahkman was going to put his head down and get to the rim.
- Xavier Simpson: Simpson tied a career high with 18 minutes and made some nice plays including a corner three in the first half. His active hands were obvious defensively (3 steals) even as he continues to learn how to play off the ball. It was nice to see him throw a few very nice passes in extended run as well: a baseline drive kickout, a sharp pass to Jon Teske who was fouled and a late dime to Sean Lonergan. At this point I think he needs as many live game minutes as he can over the next two weeks because he figures out ways to make plays, even if he makes a mistake first.
- Derrick Walton: Walton was one of the only Wolverines to struggle with his shot (1-of-6 from three), but he did hand out 6 assists in the win. I thought he played better in transition than he has in some recent games, but there are going to be times that Michigan needs him to score beyond the three-point shot and I’m not sure how that’s going to happen. The best news for Derrick Walton? He only played 25 minutes and can hopefully continue to get some rest before Big Ten season starts.
- Duncan Robinson: Both times that Robinson checked into the game off the bench he hit back-to-back pair of threes — exactly what the Wolverines need. After that initial burst, he usually got caught a little bit in between trying to do too much and just doing what he’s best at. He missed his other 5 shots and had two assists and two turnovers in 14 minutes.
- Mark Donnal: One of the only Wolverines not to score, Donnal played a quiet 14 minutes and missed both shot attempts.
- Ibi Watson: It was great to see Watson finally hit a three, but he’s going to have a hard time playing himself into the rotation at this point beyond spot minutes.
- Jon Teske: Teske had a few awkward moments after checking into the game, but closed things out with a nice turnaround shot on the block. He’s going to have a hard time earning minutes because Wagner is playing so well and Donnal has been very solid off the bench.