What a difference a week makes. Michigan has grown up over a grueling month of early season basketball and proved it over the last two games.
The Wolverines didn’t score before the first media timeout in Austin, but they also got three stops of their own. Eventually the offense started clicking and they jumped out to a lead.
Every bump along the way — situations where the Wolverines have faltered at one point or another this season — Michigan had an answer. The Wolverines didn’t let Texas back in the game late in the first half, instead they closed the half on an 8-2 run to extend their lead to 12.
They didn’t fold when Texas trimmed that 12-point lead to just 3 points midway through the second. Instead Charles Matthews and Moritz Wagner combined to hit three consecutive 3-pointers for a response.
When Moritz Wagner went down with an ankle sprain with just over 7 minutes to play, Texas rattled off another run and cut the lead to six. This time, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman answered the challenge with a floater in the lane to ice the game in the final minute.
It is easier to answer those runs or adversity when you are getting stops consistently and that is something that Michigan did for 40 minutes tonight. Texas was playing without its only legitimate perimeter shooting threat and it showed. The Wolverines sagged off the Longhorn guards — only guarding Dylan Osetkowski as a shooting threat — and Texas responded by making just 5-of-20 3-pointers.
The Wolverines also held Texas to just 44% shooting inside the arc and made the Longhorn bigs work for every point. Osetkowski and Mo Bamba combined to score 27 points, but they needed 21 shots and 4 turnovers to get there. Overall, it was the worst offensive game that the Longhorns have played this season at .84 points per possession.
Michigan consistently cleaned up the mess as well, rebounding 83% of Texas’ missed shots and allowing just 8 second chance points. Texas wasn’t a great rebounding team, but had significant advantages in size and strength at the four and five spots and Michigan held its own. Nine different Michigan players grabbed at least one rebound and the guards led the way with Abdur-Rahkman grabbing 10 boards and Matthews grabbing 8.
Michigan played a 2-3 zone on probably a dozen defensive possessions and I thought it worked well. This group is more aggressive forcing turnovers and the Longhorns never really looked comfortable against the 2-3. I’d expect to see Beilein continue to roll that look out given some of this team’s other defensive weakness.
Offensively, Michigan wasn’t consistent but was good when it needed to be. The Wolverines scored just 8 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, then scored 24 in the final 14 possessions of the first half — that’s 1.71 points per possession over a ten minute period. That was enough to pull away and hold on with defense despite scoring just 35 points in the other 30 minutes (or 48 possessions) of the game. Michigan shot 44% on twos and 32% on threes and only 9 of 22 baskets were assisted, but it manufactured just enough offense to win.
As things stand today, Michigan’s adjusted defensive efficiency is actually ranked higher at 33rd than its offensive efficiency at 45th. That hasn’t happened under Beilein since 2011 and the Wolverines have actually recorded wins in their two worst offensive performances of the season (Texas, UCLA).
Texas is shorthanded, and the loss of Andrew Jones is really going to hamper this already limited offensive team, but Michigan went on the road and won a game as a 6-point underdog. The win was also enough to leapfrog Michigan to 36th in KenPom’s rankings — No. 3 in the Big Ten — and rescue the non-conference resume
The last 65 minutes of basketball that this team has played has been the best we’ve seen all season and clear sign of progress across the board. The Wolverines are learning how to win and how to respond and look like a different team than the one that collapsed against LSU in Maui or self-destructed in Columbus. Now they’ll fly back to Ann Arbor overnight and start to prep for a game against Detroit at Little Caesar’s Arena on Saturday afternoon.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman snapped out of his slump in a big way to the tune of 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting with 10 rebounds. He was aggressive in looking for his offense and consistently got into the lane and attacked the basket despite having to cope with the length at the rim. Michigan only made two shots after Wagner’s injury and they were both by Abdur-Rahkman. I wrote about how he had struggled in ball screen situations earlier this week, but he really answered the challenge and made plays when Michigan needed them.
- Charles Matthews: It took Matthews a while to get into the game, but he had some great takes and was really key to how Michigan closed the first half and opened the second. He was just 4-of-10 from the floor, but his rebounding and ability to attack was critical. The three-pointer he hit to start Michigan’s 9-0 second half run was one of the biggest shots of the game and he shot it with a lot of confidence. Matthews needs to stop committing silly fouls that end up with him in foul trouble though — especially on the offensive end or after a miss.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner couldn’t seem to hit a three until he hit the two in a row that helped Michigan pull away. Those are the shots that he needed to hit to pull Bamba away from the basket, then he promptly injured his ankle. The big news here is the injury and Beilein referred to it as a minor ankle sprain and said that he’s day-to-day. We’ll be tracking that closely and it could be good news that Michigan has an easier stretch of schedule ahead.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson seems to be turning the corner over the last few games. He wasn’t efficient (2-of-6 from the floor) but he was disruptive defensively and looked to attack when necessary on offense. He might get overpowered on a few drives to the rim, but he never seems to let an opposing guard get comfortable and his presence seems to bring Michigan together on that end of the floor.
- Jon Teske: Teske couldn’t finish around Bamba (0-3, 2 turnovers) but he blocked two shots and recorded a steal. He also was forced into critical action late in the second half after Wagner’s injury. One underrated part of his game that I’ve noticed of late, he sets very good screens in the pick and roll and Matthews seems really comfortable attacking when Teske is the screener.
- Jordan Poole: Come into the game and hit singles. That should be Poole’s mindset and he accomplished it today. Poole had a nifty finish in transition and also hit a beautiful pull-up jumper after pump faking and spinning past the defender. I do think that he’ll continue to earn more playing time, but it is a tough spot when your primary role is backing up Matthews. Zero turnovers and zero poor shot attempts is a good start.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson hit a three and had a finish over Mo Bamba, but defense was an issue for him yet again. Beilein was bristling about Robinson continuing to bring his arms down and foul players driving to the basket. He played only 19 minutes due to foul trouble and Michigan still needs to get more out of him one way or another. His 5-of-5 free throw shooting was critical for a team that has struggled in that department.
- Isaiah Livers: Robinson’s foul woes forced Livers into a career high 22 minutes. The 6-foot-8 freshman played hard, but was also overmatched by Dylan Osetkowski’s strength at times. Livers was just 1-of-5 from the floor with a turnover and just can’t seem to find a rhythm offensively. The effort is there and it was important to just be solid in those critical minutes, and he was. But Michigan needs Livers to be a contributor and right now he’s the least efficient offensive player in the Wolverine rotation.
- Eli Brooks: Brooks only played 14 minutes and seemed to be perhaps the most affected by the Texas length. He missed his only 3-point attempt and also missed a layup off the side of the backboard. My favorite thing about his game right now is how effectively he can push the ball after a rebound and try to create some early offense.
- Ibi Watson: Watson returned to his rotational role as the backup off guard and played 4 minutes and recorded an assist in a quiet performance.