Michigan went shot-for-shot with North Carolina for 14 minutes, but never managed to go stop-for-stop.
Charles Matthews and Moritz Wagner carved apart the North Carolina defense to open the game, but North Carolina kept scoring. When the Tar Heels made a few defensive adjustments and the Wolverines missed a few shots, North Carolina kept making them.
Michigan had no defensive answer for Luke Maye, who finished with 27 points on 16 shots, or for North Carolina’s length and rebounding ability inside.
Senior wing Duncan Robinson missed a fastbreak layup that would have tied the game at 34 with just over 6 minutes to play. Instead, the Tar Heels saved the rebound from going out of bounds with a behind-the-back pass and took it the other way for a layup. That was the start of a 34-7 run that decided the game.
Michigan’s benched managed to reduce the final margin to a more acceptable range, but the Wolverines trailed by as many as 29 points and their two senior captains spent the last quarter of the game watching on the bench.
Defensively, Michigan had no one who could contain Luke Maye, no one who could contain the dribble drive, and consistently failed to box out the Tar Heels. That’s not a winning recipe. North Carolina only rebounded 36% of its misses on the night, but that number was over 50% midway through the second half when the game was put to bed. The Tar Heels hit a few threes early, but the story was how they exposed mismatches in the post.
The official game tracker shows that North Carolina made 13-of-15 dunks or layups and 24 of their 34 makes were assisted. The Tar Heels consistently broke down the Wolverine defense, drew help and finished easy bunnies around the rim.
Offensively, Michigan had a great first punch but it never had a counter. When the two-man game between Charles Matthews and Moritz Wagner is clicking they can be fun to watch, but this was one of the first times that Matthews had been fully scouted and had to deal with a ball screen adjustment. That will come in time, but after the game Beilein noted that his biggest fear was that the Wolverines don’t have a guy to slow things down and make a play after two or three negative plays. That was evident tonight as Matthews made several wild plays when they needed more.
If the players around Matthews and Wagner aren’t hitting threes, their effectiveness is limited. The threes were falling early, but they dried up midway through the game. Michigan made 7 of its first 12 threes and then missed 16 in a row. By the time it made another, there were only 6 minutes left in the game. Many of those shots were open, but they didn’t fall and those are shots that have to go against a UNC team that surrenders open threes.
This is a game that put a magnifying glass squarely over some of Michigan’s most vulnerable weaknesses, but North Carolina is more equipped to expose them than many other teams on the schedule. That doesn’t erase the fact that John Beilein still doesn’t have a rotation in a game of this magnitude. 11 Wolverines played in the first half and Beilein remarked afterward that he’ll keep playing that many guys until he knows which ones he can trust to make plays.
Michigan is still a work in progress, but the two games coming up over the next week will prove just how much work has to be done. Indiana and Ohio State have a lot of work to do as well and those two early toss-up Big Ten games could shape Michigan’s season to come.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews came out of the gate making threes and ball screen feeds to Moritz Wagner. When North Carolina started making adjustments, he started to get sped up and forced the issue a bit. After the game Beilein noted that players on the team have to make smart plays on this stage and not just try things because they might work. At times it feels like Matthews does a bit of the latter.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner can score against just about anyone and had his array of beautiful scoring moves driving to the basket. It was interesting to hear Beilein remark after the game that they thought he lost a lot of his pivoting ability and he’s been working on that in practice with Saddi Washington. He showed just about every pivot move in the book tonight. He’s not going to give you stops though and he’s not a dominant rebounder. That means that he has to score a lot of points and he only did that for the first 10 or so minutes of the game.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson was no match for Luke Maye on defense and he missed a lot of open shots on offense. Robinson is never going to be a good option to defend Maye so he has to hit open threes if Michigan has any hope of forcing teams to go small. He didn’t and that means UNC had no problem playing big all game long.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Michigan’s other senior wasn’t any better on the night. He finished 1-of-6 from the field and had a number of defensive breakdowns or blown switches. Michigan will lose to worse teams than North Carolina if it gets 5 points on 12 shots out of its senior captains and Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson had plenty of time to reflect on their performance as they sat for the last 10 minutes or so of play.
- Isaiah Livers: Livers played well in the second half when Michigan made the score respectable, finishing with 9 points and 5 boards. He also looked like the game was moving too fast for him when he was on the court in the first. Michigan needs a guy like what Livers can become, but right now he was no more able to guard Luke Maye than Duncan Robinson and that’s the problem the Wolverines have to solve.
- Jon Teske: Teske provided a bit of rim protection and caught a few rolls and drew fouls, but his free throw shooting is a concern. He only played 4 minutes in the loss and, as Beilein has indicated, the Wolverines aren’t ready to try Moritz Wagner at the four yet.
- Jordan Poole: Poole played with confidence but was just 1-of-6 from the floor (1-5 3pt). He’s more dynamic with the ball than Ibi Watson, but he needs to start knocking down those threes if he’s going to crack the rotation consistently (he was the first wing off the bench tonight).
- Eli Brooks: Brooks started, but never came back in during the first half as Beilein rotated through the three point guards in 1-2-3 order. He played much better in the first half than the second and you could see that first half flow behind Michigan’s offense when he was leading the team. In the second, he missed several open shots and looked much less comfortable.
- Jaaron Simmons: I thought Simmons had a few nice moments, but he could never quite string them together in sequence without a few more troublesome moments. That’s kind of been the story for all three point guards at this point. The problem isn’t so much that Beilein can’t settle on one, it is that none of them have proven they can provide what Michigan needs.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson, like Simmons, knocked in a catch and shoot three but I never thought he settled the game down in the way that Michigan needs when he was at the point guard spot. He seemed to force a few passes and wasn’t much of a scoring threat with the ball. Defensively he’s solid, but he still struggled to contain Berry, as did the other points.
- Ibi Watson: Watson scored a few baskets late, but struggled when the game was on the line including a key airball on an open second half three.