Michigan picked up its first road win of the season with a wire-to-wire victory over the Indiana Hoosiers on Sunday afternoon.
The win was the second in a row for a Wolverine team that has teetered back-and-forth on the NCAA Tournament bubble. While the game felt critical for both teams’ postseason hopes, Michigan looked to be the sharper and more engaged team from the opening jump.
Derrick Walton buried his first three-point shot of the game and led the way throughout. The Michigan senior reached 20 points for the fifth consecutive game and finished with 25 points on 13 shot attempts while getting some help from his frontcourt.
Sophomore big man Moritz Wagner recorded his first career double-double with 11 points and 10 boards while DJ Wilson put together a few dazzling stretches to finish with an all-around stat line of 13 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks and two assists.
Michigan’s offense experienced a few classic road woes — the Wolverines were stuck on 35 points from 3:25 to play in the first half to 15:43 to play in the second — but in the end they managed 1.17 points per possession, a hair above their conference-leading average. This is the best offense in the conference by an increasingly impressive gap and now the 9th best offense in the country.
While the offense was efficient in both halves, the script flipped from at the break. In the first, the Wolverines missed some easy looks inside (7-of-17 on twos), but made their threes (6-of-10 on threes). In the second, the easy shots inside the arc started falling (11-of-15 on twos) while the perimeter shots went cold (2-of-12). As always, those easy twos are a barometer for the Wolverines and they were critical in the 2nd half.
Michigan’s defense got the job done once again and was the reason that Indiana was never able to come all the way back. The Wolverines held Indiana to .98 points per possession and looked prepared, engaged and active on that end of the floor. Indiana took advantage of 1-on-1 matchups in the post, but the Wolverines forced turnovers on 23% of Indiana’s possessions which led to 20 points in the other direction. Michigan has forced turnovers on at least 20% of its opponents possessions in 5 of their last 6 games and that has allowed a defense that still doesn’t force many misses to succeed.
Michigan also took away the three-point shot, holding the Hoosiers to 0-of-6 from deep in the first half and 4-of-19 for the game. Crean might disagree, but this was a good performance by the Wolverines. James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson combined to score just 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting and didn’t get many quality attempts.
The last two wins have definitely righted the ship, evening Michigan’s conference record at 6-6, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. There aren’t any gimmies left on the schedule, and Michigan still needs at least three more victories to feel decent about its NCAA Tournament chances. A Thursday night win over Wisconsin would help, but beating the league’s best team is no easy feat — even at home.
- Derrick Walton: If it wasn’t clear already, Walton is the outlier that John Beilein was searching for a couple of weeks back. He scored 20 points for the 5th consecutive game (also his 5th straight ‘KenPom MVP’ performance) and was the best player on the floor all night. He opened the game with a quick three, he attacked the basket, racked up three steals, four assists and carried the Wolverines before knocking in 9 clutch free throws late. He got sped up for a couple of possessions in a row twice in the first half, but 25 points on 13 shots is yet another incredible performance.
- DJ Wilson: There are moments when Wilson looks like a pro and others where maybe he forgets there’s a game going on. The good news is that those moments are tending in the right direction. Wilson continues to struggle when combo forwards drive right at him, but his length can be so disruptive in help situations and it was today (3 steals, 3 blocks). Offensively I loved the wrinkle to play more 1-4 (Walton-Wilson) pick-and-pop action. Wilson did a great job of driving off of pass/shot fakes in that action and finishing at the rim. His turnaround jumper from 15-feet? It still feels like he overcomplicates it, but the result was beautiful.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner only made 2-of-7 shots inside the arc and was 1-of-3 at the free throw line, but his energy was all over the game. This was his first career double-double and the rebounding motor on both ends of the floor was as impressive as I’ve seen from him.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Quietly, Abdur-Rahkman has emerged as a very efficient offensive option. He picked his moments and finished with 7 points on 2-of-3 shooting, four rebounds and two assists. Perhaps the most surprising stat is that Abdur-Rahkman is 14-of-27 (52%) from three-point range in Big Ten play.
- Xavier Simpson: For the second game in a row, Simpson showed some encouraging flashes. He had a great drive-and-dish to Donnal and followed it up with a drive all the way to the hoop on back-to-back possessions. The fact that Beilein was confident enough to give him solid minutes in both halves is a real endorsement of his progress and could be a big boost down the stretch.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson gave Michigan exactly what it needed off the bench: quick strike offense. He finished with 8 points on 3-of-5 shooting in 13 minutes. He’s shooting the three well, but he’s also consistently creating baskets inside the arc with great cutting and had another of those today.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal knocked in a 12-footer and finished a ball screen layup, scoring 4 points in 8 minutes, but he struggled in man-to-man post defense against De’Ron Davis. I was surprised that Michigan didn’t bring the double, but Donnal’s struggles caused Beilein to go quickly to Teske in the first half.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin’s slump continued (5 points on 1-of-8 shooting) despite a great and-one layup that looked like it might get him settled in. Many of his missed jumpers weren’t even close to going in and at some point the Wolverines are going to need his offense. He played 32 minutes and was +16 while on the floor (2nd best on the team), and did manage to contribute 2 rebounds and 3 assists.
- Jon Teske: Teske got a first half shift, but promptly demonstrated why he’s still trying to work his way into the rotation with a wild miss off of a ball screen.