There’s no play in basketball that John Beilein hates more than a travel.
He spends hours of practice time drilling catching, passing and pivoting. His teams aren’t supposed to travel and you’ll oftentimes see his most passionate arguments with referees come over traveling call he disagrees with.
On Saturday evening after a long holiday layoff, the Wolverines opened the game with a pair of travels from the same spot on the floor.
“That was unbelievable,” Beilein said after the win. “You probably can’t find that stat, but I want to know how many times we go two times up the floor and walk twice to start the game. And they were walks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in my life.”
Those turnovers were a constant thorn in Michigan’s side for the opening 20 minutes with 10 giveaways in just 34 possessions. They were distinctly un-Michigan in a performance that, according to the head coach, featured “a lot of gunk.”
Michigan eventually shook off some of the rust and eased its way to a 76-51 victory, but it was not the type of performance that Michigan needs if it wants to compete every night in the Big Ten.
Michigan’s offense ended up scoring 1.17 points per possession, but this wasn’t an impressive showing. The Wolverines shot the ball well — 72% on twos and 35% on threes — but they struggled to string consistent possessions together and turned the ball over on 22% of their offensive possessions. Nothing felt sharp and there was no rhythm to Michigan’s offense as Jacksonville switched between zone and man looks.
Defensively, Michigan was solid, but it is hard to get too excited about holding Jacksonville to .79 points per possession when the Dolphins really only had one player — JD Notae, who scored 22 points on 16 shots — who was an offensive threat.
“I see a lot of people who are missing shots that the Big Ten will make,” Beilein said when asked about his defense after the game. “That’s my assessment.”
It is tough to disagree with the Beilein’s candid assessment. There have been some bright spots on defense, and the advanced metrics are encouraging, but Michigan has to do it under the Big Ten lights against teams with competent offenses. Right now, the Wolverines are great at making bad offenses look bad. Eventually they need to make a good offense struggle.
Michigan will need to play better on Tuesday night to compete in Iowa City, but got the job done tonight and finished the non-conference season strong. Beilein noted that he was disappointed with the play of the bench tonight after being encouraged with their progress more recently. Moritz Wagner appears to be healthy, albeit incredibly rusty, and the Wolverines will have some important time to practice before heading on the road to resume league play.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: On a night when very few players looked sharp, Abdur-Rahkman looked smooth and efficient. He was perfect from the floor including a pair of threes and scored 20 points on just 7 shot attempts. Jacksonville didn’t have any answer for Abdur-Rahkman’s dribble drive game and he finished very well after struggling to finish consistently at times this year. Beilein noted after the win that they are working to tweak their actions to emphasize Abdur-Rahkman’s abilities and give him more opportunities to attack downhill. It feels a bit late after he’s manned the position for the better part of four years, but today was an impressive showing.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews is tough to stop with a head of steam toward the basket. When he sticks to the basics and focuses on the six or seven things that he does very well, he’s an incredibly efficient player. When he gets sped up and tries to be a bit too creative, he can run into problems. Today he had 4 turnovers and missed all three 3-point attempts, but he was 9-of-12 inside the arc and grabbed 7 rebounds in an 18-point performance.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson only made one shot (a driving layup early in the game), but he did hand out 5 assists to 1 turnover in 17 minutes. I thought this was a step back from how well he had been playing in recent weeks on both ends of the floor.
- Eli Brooks: Brooks played 12 minutes in the first half. He didn’t attempt a shot or record an assist. He attempted two in the second half and handed out an assist, but it was a quiet night from the freshman point guard. The offense has flow when Brooks is on the court, but he’s going to need to develop into a player who will take and make open shots moving forward.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson had a couple of nice drives to the rim off of pump fakes and he converted, but I’m not sure how confident he is to make those same plays against teams with more rim protection. He was just 2-of-6 from 3-point range, but grabbed six rebounds and was active offensively.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner hasn’t played since early December and it showed. He looked out of sorts early and his numbers are ugly (including four turnovers). Beilein said after the game that Wagner was struggling mightily in practice after the time off and a roundtrip to Germany and he wanted to play the big man until he at least saw the ball go in. Wagner eventually scored on an open layup, a circle cut, and an open three-pointer before calling it a night. His defense left plenty to be desired as he seemed to be rotating late and overhelping quite a bit.
- Jordan Poole: Poole padded his stats late in garbage time with a couple of deep threes and a fancy drive, but those masked an otherwise underwhelming performance. The freshman guard struggled on defense and missed several shots in the flow of the game in earlier shifts. Michigan needs Poole to develop into a spark off the bench, but he needs to hit singles not swing for homeruns. It does appear that he is going to be the first option at both the two and the three heading into league play.
- Jon Teske: Teske had 2 points on 1-of-3 shooting in 17 minutes. He missed a few easy bunnies (and a pair of free throws), but continued to play solid defensively. His consistency on offense has seemed to fluctuate significantly game by game, on some nights he looks surprisingly improved in his ability to catch, move and finish around the basket, but tonight was not one of those nights.
- Isaiah Livers: Livers saw limited playing time in the first half (just 3 minutes) and played 9 minutes in the second. He broke his offensive rebounding streak (at least one offensive board in 8 straight games), but did knock in a nice baseline jumper against Jacksonville’s zone.
- Ibi Watson: Watson knocked in an open three, but was otherwise limited in 4 minutes of playing time. Beilein mentioned him as one of the three Wolverines (along with Simmons and Davis) who are the next men up outside the 9-man rotation right now.
- Jaaron Simmons: Simmons didn’t check in until the final media timeout, but recorded two late assists.