There were no signs of jet lag or looking ahead to Wednesday’s game at North Carolina as Michigan dismantled UC Riverside on Sunday afternoon.
The Wolverines jumped out to an early 17-7 lead in the first six minutes and played their most complete performance of the season in a routine 87-42 victory.
Michigan’s go-to scorers led the way as Charles Matthews finished with 17 points and a career-high 12 assists while Moritz Wagner had 21 points 9 shots, making every shot he attempted from the field in the second half. They were joined by Duncan Robinson (13 points) and Jordan Poole (11) in double-figures while five other Wolverines found their way to the score sheet.
Giving Michigan opportunities to score in transition isn’t a winning recipe. The Wolverines got a few easy baskets early on thanks to UC Riverside turnovers — 9 fast break points, 21 points off of turnovers –and then never looked back. Michigan scored 1.26 points per possession in the routine victory despite emptying their bench with over 3 minutes to play.
Michigan recorded 24 assists on 34 made baskets and the offense flowed as well as it has all season. Of course, everything looks better when the three-point shot is falling and the Wolverines made 13-of-28 long range attempts on the night. UC Riverside’s decision to hedge every ball screen opened up quite a bit for the Michigan offense. It provided Moritz Wagner with the time to make plays off of the pop and everything else flowed into place from there.
The scouting report on UC Riverside was that the Highlanders couldn’t make threes and struggled to hold onto the ball. They made just 3-of-14 threes and gave the ball away 15 times in 69 possessions and only managed to score 42 points. Michigan’s defense was sharp and deserves credit for recording 10 steals, but this performance came against a UC Riverside team that just didn’t have the ability offensively.
This wasn’t a match up that was ever going to teach Michigan much about itself, but handling business in a guarantee game at a tough time is a good sign. The Wolverines were struggling through these games earlier in November and looked like a well-oiled machine today. The test that awaits in Chapel Hill will be significantly more difficult. The Tar Heels have been playing great basketball and have reloaded despite turning over much of the roster.
- Charles Matthews: Things continue to come together for Matthews and he finished with 17 points, 12 assists and 4 rebounds in the win. Matthews is nearly unstoppable in transition and he’s looking for rip-and-run opportunities with more aggression. He’s also showing a real feel for playing out of the high ball screen game — a connection that Wagner said is still a work in progress — and had some terrific feeds out of that action. Posting up smaller guards? He can do that too. Right now, he’s the focal point of Michigan’s offense and he knows it. Defining that role seems to have helped accelerate his growth and it is clear that his ceiling is still a ways off.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner scored Michigan’s first three baskets of the game, he also allowed UC Riverside’s first two baskets. Teams are going to go after Wagner on the block until he proves that he’s an adequate post defend in one-on-one situations. On the other hand, few big men are going to want to chase him around on the other end of the floor, defending his ability to stretch the floor and then drive. When Wagner gives you 21 points on 9 shots, then you roll with it. He’s an elite scorer (and grabbed 10 rebounds) but he needs to continue to improve defensively.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman only attempted two shots and missed his only three, but he had 5 assists and 4 rebounds in the win. He has recorded at least 4 assists in Michigan’s last six games and has only turned the ball over twice all season. Last year he recorded only three games with at least 4 assists in 38 games.
- Duncan Robinson: Quiet 13 points on 5-of-8 (2-4 3pt) shooting games from Duncan Robinson are just fine. Michigan doesn’t need him to do much more in a game like this and he wasn’t just hitting shots in transition, he also was aggressive cutting and driving to the basket.
- Eli Brooks: Brooks did a great job of pushing the ball early on and getting Michigan into their sets. His best sequence was a block followed by transition dish for a corner three. Then a few possessions later he knocked in his own corner three in transition. Can he stay in front of high-major guards? Can he create enough offense? Right now that might not matter if he can play a cog in the offense and hit open shots.
- Jordan Poole: Poole got some extended action in the second half and made it count. He scored with his back to the basket, knocked in three triples and had a highlight block at the rim. He’s a big time shooter with range (and swagger), but I think there’s still a ways to go before Beilein trusts him to play regular minutes. He seems to be edging closer to that point though.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson had two boards in 3 minutes but didn’t make a shot or record an assist. His defensive intensity is still there, but he hasn’t elevated his game offensively.
- Isaiah Livers: Livers is stuck in that one-step forward, one-step backward cycle. He knocked in a mid-range jumper and had a couple of dunks, but he also still gets pushed off of rebounds or gets stuck with the ball in no mans’ land. Michigan badly needs him to develop into a legitimate rotation player and it was good to see him play some extended minutes today.
- Jon Teske: The rim protection that Michigan gets from Jon Teske is a great change of pace an option off the bench. He needs to continue to finish the ball more effectively and stay out of foul trouble and he missed his only three-point attempt. He’ll face an intriguing test on Wednesday against an inexperienced but talented UNC frontcourt.
- Jaaron Simmons: Right now, you just can’t play Simmons significant minutes. He checked into the game in the first half and surrendered a layup and turned the ball over twice. His confidence is completely shot and Michigan needs to figure out a way to rebuild it moving forward. How best to do that is anyone’s guess at this point. Before the season, I had predicted that Simmons would be Michigan’s starting point guard by December. Now I’m not sure he’ll even see the floor for more than a handful of minutes on Wednesday at North Carolina. Beilein said after the game that he’s going to play every game and sooner or later he’ll snap out of his struggles.
- Ibi Watson: Watson hit a nice pull-up jumper from 18 feet out of the pick and roll in the first half and knocked in a floater in the second after grabbing a 50-50 offensive rebound. The question here is whether the backup minutes at the wing are going to end up going to Watson or Poole.
- Austin Davis: Davis is struggling to keep up with the speed of the game and Beilein said afterward they are trying to get him back to where he was last year in practice. Until then, Teske should play the majority of the backup minutes at the five.