Michigan’s first 18 minutes against Ohio State looked more like a coaching clinic session on John Beilein’s ball screen offense than a Big Ten basketball game. The Wolverines picked apart Ohio State’s defense and scored 43 points in the first 28 possessions. That’s over a point and a half per possession and about as close to perfect offense as you can draw up.
Michigan led by 20 points late in the half and then Ohio State scored 5 points on one play — a simultaneous made three-pointer and off ball foul — and the game was never the same. That possession started a 26-3 Buckeye run that spanned halftime and flipped the game on its head.
There were adjustments along the way, mainly Ohio State’s decision to switch ball screens instead of hedging them with Kaleb Wesson, but Michigan looked lost from that point onward. When the going got tough, the Wolverines folded.
Michigan scored just 19 points in the final 35 possessions of the game. Ohio State scored 48. That’s just .54 points per possession and 5 made shots in the final 21 minutes of the game by a Wolverine offense that had scored at least a point per possession in every game since early last December.
Michigan’s seniors weren’t able to provide a lift, they were 0-of-9 from the floor in the 2nd half, and Moritz Wagner wasn’t either. The junior big man was just 0-of-6 from the floor with 3 turnovers in 15 second half minutes.
Michigan’s ability to score inside the arc evaporated at halftime. In truth, 2-point shooting tells the story of the game.
The Wolverines made 10-of-14 2-pointers in the first half and just 4-of-17 in the second. The Buckeyes made 5-of-15 2-pointers in the first half and 12-of-16 in the second. When teams switch everything, the first counter is to put the ball on the floor and attack individual matchups. Michigan tried to do that, but no one on the roster could drive and finish at the rim.
After the game Beilein said that he tried dialing up every option as the offense stalled. He wasn’t lying as nine different Wolverines attempted a shot in the second half, none made more than one or scored more than 4 points.
The Wolverines had a 68.3 eFG% in the first half and just an 18.9 eFG% in the second. The last time I can remember Michigan’s offense looking this inept for at least a half was when Eastern Michigan held the Wolverines to 42 points in 60 possessions back in December, 2014.
Ohio State opened the second half by attacking some individual matchups and finishing the driving shots that it missed in the first half. The Buckeyes also won the game by getting to the free throw line, attempting 29 free throws to 45 field goal attempts.
Michigan made an adjustment to roll out a 2-3 zone midway through the second half. The Wolverines played it on almost every possession that started off of a miss or a deadball and it worked for the most part. The defensive stops spurned a 9-0 run — with all 9 points coming at the free throw line — that gave Michigan a 4 point lead with under 5 minutes to play.
Then the same questions that have plagued the Wolverines all season reared their ugly head. Michigan had no one who could score and Ohio State did. The Buckeyes closed the game on a 15-2 run.
Michigan looks like a team that doesn’t have a clue how to win a Big Ten road game. The three players who played major roles on last year’s Sweet 16 team didn’t make a shot in the second half. All three of them have been benched for extended periods at one point or another during the first ten games of the season.
The Wolverines need to find answers during winning time — this is the third game things have completely unraveled — but I’m not sure that any coaches or players even know who is the right guy to answer them. There are another 21 games left on the schedule, but this team has a lot of work to do and a marquee home game against UCLA on the docket for Saturday.
- Moritz Wagner: Moritz Wagner is on this roster to score in close games when Michigan needs a basket. He wasn’t up to the challenge tonight. Michigan dialed up Wagner quite a few times in the second half but he couldn’t make a three and continued to pivot into Ohio State defenders as he forced the issue. I don’t think Michigan has a better option than going to Wagner in these situations, but Wagner obviously needs to be much better. He’s always been a snowball player. When he’s making shots he gets better and when he’s missing them he gets worse. That works as an explosive number three option, but not when your name is at the top of the scouting report.
- Charles Matthews: Right now Matthews is great when the game is on script. He can execute out of a ball screen, but he’s not comfortable attacking when defenses move out of their base looks. His handle is still tentative and Beilein criticized him for trying to play like a power wing when his strength is his quickness — essentially that he needs to blow by people not try to Eurostep through them. Similar to the North Carolina game, he had some great passes out of the ball screen early and then just couldn’t get back into the game after Ohio State adjusted. Matthews’ jump shot also looks completely lost and he seemed to attempt several off balance catch and shoot shots that weren’t close.
- Duncan Robinson: Duncan is 8 of his last 31 from three-point range (and 4 of his last 19) and it is no secret that Michigan needs him to make open threes to reach its ceiling. He’s not right now and that magnifies his defensive weaknesses. The problem is that no one behind him has really been beating down the door to take his minutes and if I had an open three, I’d probably still want Duncan shooting that shot. More than anything, Robinson’s struggles show just how important DJ Wilson was to last year’s success.
- Eli Brooks: Brooks had some hit a couple of threes, but he only played 6 minutes in the second half. He had an early second half turnover that John Beilein mentioned after the game as turning the momentum and that almost certainly limited his playing time in the second half.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson scored 11 points with a few strong drives to the basket and a catch and shoot three. He’s clearly the only point guard that Beilein truly trusts and he played 14 second half minutes. I see a lot of pining for one point guard or the other, but the truth is that all three are limited right now and Simpson is the one who can stay in front of his man and make defensive rotations.
- Jaaron Simmons: Simmons flashed some of his potential with three first half assists, but missed the front end of a one-and-one but then made a couple of costly defensive mistakes including the foul that led to the five-point play. He didn’t see the floor again.
- Jon Teske: Teske got pushed around a bit more in this game than we’ve seen recently. He had a three-point play in the second half, but was limited in his 9 minutes of action.
- Jordan Poole: Poole had a couple of strong takes curling to the basket and finished with 5 points, but he also missed a pair of critical second half free throws. He missed all three 3-pointers, but at least one of them was a late shot clock attempt.
- Isaiah Livers: Livers had a quiet 10 minutes with 3 rebounds and a missed three-pointer.
- Ibi Watson: Watson hit a three in the first half after Michigan rebounded his first miss on the possession. He saw first half playing time ahead of Jordan Poole, but that seemed to be more because Michigan needed a reserve at the two.