A week ago, Michigan played one of its best games of the season and left the court trying to figure out how it lost.
Tonight, the Wolverines played good basketball for maybe 10 minutes and managed to escape with a win.
Welcome to college basketball.
I wrote a column earlier about how Michigan might have learned how to make those critical important plays in close games. They didn’t quite back it up on the court.
Michigan did just about everything possible to try to gift the game to Maryland despite doing all of the hard work. The Wolverines battled through a brutal first half to remain in striking distance. Then came back quickly in the second. Then came back again.
With what appeared to be a comfortable lead down the stretch, they managed to let things unravel once again.
The Wolverines had two empty possessions inside of 3 minutes (and two scores) and then Zavier Simpson missed a pair of free throws with a 2-point lead. Those misses gave the Terps a chance and Isaiah Livers failed to switch a screen and left Kevin Huerter wide open for a 3-pointer.
Michigan won the game with the half court pass set that I’ve seen John Beilein run, but that I don’t think I’ve ever seen it work. Isaiah Livers was a standout baseball player in high school and it showed. He found Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman in stride and heading toward the basket. Abdur-Rahkman didn’t force up a shot and managed to drive to the rim and get fouled.
The one Wolverine who has been nearly automatic at the line this season finished the job.
Scoring the basketball was a struggle for Michigan on Monday night. The Wolverines managed to score just 20 points in 28 first half possessions (.71 PPP) and that felt generous based on the performance. The offense was more effective in the second half and scored 48 points in 38 possessions (1.26 PPP), but that required 9 3-point makes including a stretch of five in a row.
Maryland did a great job of slowing the game down and forcing Michigan’s guards to beat it in the half court.
Michigan’s starters at the one, two and three combined to go just 7-of-31 from the floor for a 24.2 effective field goal percentage. While Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Charles Matthews and Zavier Simpson had their moments against Purdue and Michigan State attacking off the dribble, they just couldn’t make a shot tonight. Teams are going to dare that trio to beat them off the bounce and finish at the rim and it is tough to blame them judging by the results tonight.
Eventually Michigan found two things that worked: Jordan Poole doing Jordan Poole things and Moritz Wagner in the pick-and-pop. Poole and Wagner combined for 29 points on 10-of-14 shooting (7-of-10 3-point) and changed the game for the Wolverines in the second half.
At the end of the day, Michigan only scored 1.03 points per possession against a team that entered the game with the worst per-possession defense in the league. Maryland was probably never that bad, but we still aren’t quite sure how good Michigan’s offense can be this season.
Michigan’s defense was good enough to keep it close and eventually win the game. The biggest takeaway of the night is that if the Wolverines can grab every defensive rebound — they secured 83% of Maryland’s misses — then they can hang around in any game.
The defensive shooting numbers weren’t great — 53% on twos and 40% on threes for a 56 eFG% — but I’m willing to say that this is a damn good defensive rebounding team. The Terps had a few early offensive boards, but Michigan cleaned up the mess consistently for the rest of the night.
While Michigan’s offense missed some plays late to leave the door open, Maryland also bailed out its defense. The Terps missed the front end of two one-and-ones and Kevin Huerter had an uncharacteristically cold game from the floor on just 4-of-11 shooting.
Maryland’s gameplan seemed to be putting the ball in Anthony Cowan’s hands and watch him win the game. He almost did it. Cowan made his fair share of plays, but Michigan’s defense deserves credit for turning the Terrapin guard over 6 times.
While this game was played on short rest, and it showed early, the calendar doesn’t get any easier. The Wolverines travel to Lincoln for another game on Thursday against a Nebraska team that has been very tough at home, but a program that Michigan has been successful against.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner’s offense carried Michigan for the second game in a row and he was as hot from 3-point range again. He made four triples on the night and is now 7 of his last 10 from deep. Turgeon called Michigan “impossible to guard” with Wagner on the floor and Maryland’s ball screen coverage consistently left him wide open in the second half. I’d have to go back and watch the film to see what adjustment (if any) Michigan made, but his shooting kept the Wolverines afloat.
- Jordan Poole: Poole has basically bailed Michigan out of a pair of Big Ten games now. He came off the bench and lit the game on fire. He came into the game with 15:02 to play. He made his first 3-pointer 16 seconds later and in 3 minutes the Wolverines had hit five 3-pointers in a row (three by Poole) and turned a 7-point deficit to a 4-point lead. He plays with a ridiculous amount of confidence that can put him in some bad spots, but this is a Michigan team that needs that sort of brash playmaking — especially in the backcourt. His threes were great (and the transition step-back three was a vintage heat check), but his hesitation baseline drive for a reverse layup and his pocket bounce pass to Jon Teske off of a ball screen are the things that make eyes light up about his potential.
- Isaiah Livers: Add three-quarter court baseball pass to Isaiah Livers’ bag of tricks. Livers scored 7 points on 3-of-5 shooting (1-3 3pt) and blocked a shot in 20 minutes. He blew the switch late, but made up for it with a near-perfect pass. We’ve seen that pass before… and it doesn’t always work. Livers continued to provide a spark with a corner three and a couple of nice finishes in the paint.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman scored his 1000th career point on the game-winning free throw and hit a critical late 3-pointer that extended the lead. He also couldn’t make a basket all night long. He just looked flat and I’m not sure what to chalk the struggles up to, but it is hard not to look at the fact that he played a game-high 39 minutes at Michigan State on Saturday when he’s airballing threes short. But his leadership showed late with the 3-pointer to put Michigan up 5 with a minute left and then the late free throws to win the game.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson was 2-of-9 on 2-pointers and 0-of-3 on 3-pointers in a brutal night from the floor. I don’t have any major problem with the majority of the shots he took because they are the shots he was making in the last two games and they are the shots that he needs to take to keep defenses honest. To his credit, Simpson did rack up five assists to zero turnovers. Then there are the late free throws. Simpson missed both and they didn’t even look particularly close and that puts Michigan in a really tough spot because he does so many other things that Michigan needs from its point guard late in games. The easy answer is start making free throws, but the 50% number is going to be dancing around in Simpson’s head whenever he steps to the line.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews couldn’t buy a shot and scored 7 points on 3-of-8 shooting inside and 0-of-2 shooting outside. I actually thought he did a lot of the hard work, beating switches off the dribble or getting to the rim and then just botched the finishes. To his credit, he pulled down 7 rebounds, handed out 6 assists, blocked two shots and grabbed a steal in the win. That’s a whole lot of outside the scoring column production.
- Jon Teske: I love how Jon Teske has been playing on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass and thought that continued tonight. His catch and finish on the bounce pass from Poole (and the ensuing and-one free throw) was also an offensive highlight for a big man who hasn’t had too many of late.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson was 2-of-4 from 3-point range in 20 minutes and did provide an offensive spark. Defensively, Maryland attacked him on a couple of switches up top early, but Michigan got him in better positions in the second half which resulted in a couple of effective defensive plays from the senior forward who managed to be in the right place at the right time and wall up without fouling.
- Eli Brooks: Brooks played 4 minutes and missed a corner three and continued to struggle on the floor. He’s apparently reached the point where Beilein is going to give Jaaron Simmons another try and Simmons played the remainder of the backup point guard minutes.
- Jaaron Simmons: Simmons played 6 minutes off the bench and scored a critical layup to close the first half that cut the lead to 10. He didn’t do anything brilliant (and badly missed a corner three), but he held serve. Late in the game, we saw Beilein go with an Abdur-Rahkman and Poole lineup at the one two instead of his 3rd point guard.