Michigan’s offense looked well-rehearsed and unstoppable when it took the floor on Saturday night.
16 points by 5 players in 8 possessions.
The Wolverine offense was so crisp it looked like it could have been a practice walk through of how they wanted to attack Ohio State. Moritz Wagner scored on a drive to the lane, DJ Wilson swooped into the lane and hit a turnaround, Derrick Walton hit a three in an unsettled break, Zak Irvin flashed to the basket with a great cut and knocked in a three off the catch.
The Wolverines quickly extended their early lead to 11 points with over 14 minutes to play in the first half and watched Ohio State’s leading scorer, Jae’Sean Tate, take an early seat on the bench with 2 fouls. Another home blowout felt inevitable, but the Buckeyes didn’t pack up and head home, they dug in.
Ohio State cut the lead to a single possession by the next media timeout and played volleyball on the backboard en route to a 1-point halftime lead. The Buckeyes seized control of the game with a quick start to the second half, watching Michigan’s frontcourt take a seat on the bench with 3 fouls a piece, and left the Wolverines to play catch-up for the rest of the night.
Derrick Walton gave Michigan everything he in the tank and then some, finishing with 25 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in 37 minutes, but he came up just one shot short in the end — missing a baseline pull-up jumper that would have tied the game with :25 seconds to play.
He also didn’t have much help. Zak Irvin played another poor game and Michigan’s big men battled foul trouble and inconsistency for much of the night.
Michigan’s offense was as three-point happy as its been all season. Many of the tropes that are thrown around with respect to Michigan’s three-point heavy offense miss the mark — three-point reliant offenses can be very good — but there were some major concerns on display tonight. Michigan only made 1 shot inside the arc in the second half.
The Wolverines only made 6 two-pointers all night and four of them came in the first five possessions of the game. That means the Wolverines made exactly two shots inside the arc in the final 36 minutes of the game.
I’m not sure what changed — especially given that the early makes were textbook cuts, drives and finishes that appeared to be relatively uncontested — but it didn’t work. Derrick Walton made three-pointer after three-pointer and willed Michigan to 1.02 points per possession but this was a broken offensive performance. Michigan turned the ball over twice as many times as it scored inside the arc and just wasn’t able to get anything going outside of Walton.
Of Michigan’s 35 three-point attempts, Walton made 6-of-9 for 67% while his teammates were just 7-of-26 from deep.
On the other side of the floor, the Wolverines were unable to overcome their inability to grab a rebound. Ohio State rebounded 48.5% of its missed shots — U-M’s worst defensive rebounding effort of the season — racked up 19 second chance points. Both Thad Matta and John Beilein commented on how Michigan’s aggressive switching on the perimeter seemed to take the Wolverines out of proper defensive rebounding position.
There were several offensive boards where Jae’Sean Tate or Trevor Thompson just overpower Wolverine defenders, but there were also plenty of Buckeye misses that seemed to bounce a couple times on the floor while the Wolverines were still trying to figure out who they were guarding. On the positive side of the ledger, this was Michigan’s best eFG% defensive performance of the Big Ten season and they forced turnovers on a quarter of Ohio State’s offensive possessions.
This loss and the Virginia Tech loss stand out as the most painful of the season. Two teams that Michigan clearly was capable of beating but just let slip away on its home floor. NCAA Tournament teams don’t lose those games and the clock is ticking. There are only so many more chances to get those critical wins.
Sitting at 4-6 in the league with only three home games — two of which come against the league’s top two teams — it’s starting to become now or never. I think the baseline target is probably 5 more wins — pushing the record to 9-9 in league. But it isn’t going to get any easier, a realistic path would look something like wins over Michigan State, at Indiana, Wisconsin, at Rutgers and Purdue at home. Possible? Sure, but there’s only so many more second chances.
- Derrick Walton: Walton has been playing incredible basketball, but it wasn’t enough. He made 2-of-7 twos, 6-of-9 threes, grabbed 10 rebounds and really was the only reason that Michigan had a chance in this game . He’s averaging 19.5 points per night over the last six and is playing like you would expect a senior down to his final eight regular season games to play. If Walton keeps playing this well, Michigan will gut out some more wins this season, but man somebody give the man some help.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin was 2-of-10 from the floor (1-6 3pt), grabbed 3 rebounds, had three assists and three turnovers. He was bad for most of the night and there’s not really any other way to put it. He made one great play to pick off a steal and assist a Walton three, but after making his first two shots of the night he missed his next eight and gave Michigan nothing for most of the game despite playing 35 minutes. It’s not about whether there are other options, this is a team that is, for better or worse, built around Irvin. If he plays like this, the Wolverines are going to lose more often than they win.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson is really struggling to contain any dribble penetration defensively. He struggles when he’s switched onto a guard and he struggles when he is matched up against someone like Jae’Sean Tate, who consistently got into his chest and finished at the rim. Wilson has had some good defensive games this year, but his last two showings on that side of the ball have been ugly. Offensively, he hit a couple of late threes but never really got involved as he battled foul trouble. Rebounding? One in 25 minutes.
- Moritz Wagner: Silly fouls limited Wagner to 22 minutes as some of his bad habits have been creeping back in defensively, but the bigger question is what exactly happened to his offense of late? He was 1-of-5 from the floor and his four three-point misses weren’t even in the same orbit as the basket. He’s hitting a rough patch offensively at a time when Michigan needs him and I think a turnaround will start with attacking off the bounce.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman was one of the only guys to give Michigan any offense other than Walton as he knocked down a couple of triples, but he also was 1-of-3 inside the arc and isn’t attacking the rim. Defensively, he seems to get caught ball watching as much as anyone on the roster.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal played 17 minutes and grabbed 1 offensive rebound and 0 defensive rebounds. He wasn’t the only Michigan player to struggle on the glass, but he’s high on the list.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson came out firing and looked confident with a couple of early triples, but he cooled off and only finished with 8 points.
- Xavier Simpson: 4 minutes and 2 steals, but Simpson still doesn’t look ready to make an impact offensively.