There’s nothing fun about playing Rutgers, especially as the fourth game in eight days.
The Scarlet Knights are physical, methodical, and defend every possession. They control the tempo of a game and relish low scoring grind-it-out affairs, but they are also incredibly limited offensively.
There were ugly moments — Michigan’s second basket of the game didn’t come until the 13:45 mark of the first half — but Michigan survived with a comfortable 15-point victory on Sunday afternoon.
It wasn’t the sort of win that leaves you feeling great looking ahead, but it is the sort of victory that you need to navigate on a Sunday afternoon in late January.
This is the third game that Michigan has won while scoring less than a point per possession this season. The Wolverines only managed to do that once all of last year. That speaks to how well the defense has played, but it is also a reminder of this team’s offensive warts.
Rutgers is solid and physical on defense, but Michigan has scored just .97 points per possession combined over its three games since the win at Michigan State. There are real concerns about this team’s ability to execute on offense consistently. Duncan Robinson made 4-of-8 triples, but his teammates were just 4-of-17 from long distance. That lack of 3-point shooting pop is a concern and allows teams to pack things in and dare the Wolverines to beat them.
Beilein mentioned that he was frustrated with the ball sticking on offense noted that his team is getting stuck reacting to how teams are defending them and creating a bit of paralysis by analysis rather than just playing. That definitely seems to be the case as the Wolverines react the more well-scouted defenses in league play and it is a concern moving forward as the offense sputters.
Defending Rutgers amounts to defending a ton of isolation looks on the perimeter and bully ball in the post. There’s not a lot movement or creativity to the Rutgers offense, but players like Corey Sanders and Deshawn Freeman will test individual defenders. Michigan held up to the challenge and stuck to the script. Rutgers managed just a 35% eFG% on the game and Michigan rebounded an impressive 79% of the Scarlet Knights’ misses.
Perhaps the most telling stat of the afternoon is that Rutgers recorded just one assist on 17 made field goals in a 40 minute game.
It was a disjointed contest, but Michigan’s ability to force turnovers help sparked some easy opportunities. The Wolverines outscored Rutgers 7-0 in fastbreak points and Rutgers gave the ball away on 21% of its offensive possessions despite entering the game leading the Big Ten in turnover rate.
Michigan is 17-5 (6-3 Big Ten) with a win at Michigan State. The last week has been grueling, but the Wolverines are in a better spot than they were a week ago. I’m still not sure what this team’s ceiling is and it looks like there will be plenty more dog fights on the schedule, but a few days of rest before a rematch at Purdue on Thursday will be welcomed.
- Duncan Robinson: This was the best game that Robinson has played in weeks and he provided the scoring spark off the bench that Michigan needed. Robinson went 4-of-8 from deep, marking his most made 3-pointers in a game since before Christmas. Beilein noted that Robinson was “asking for permission” to shoot recently, but he hunted his looks this afternoon. That’s what Michigan needs and he also held in and really battled against Freeman down low with some solid defense.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson made things very tough on Corey Sanders — 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting, 3 turnovers, 0 assists — and eventually provided some key offensive plays when Michigan needed them. He had a great pick-and-roll feed to Wagner, knocked in an open three and attacked the rim when Rutgers was essentially daring him to. Simpson also grabbed a team-high 8 rebounds in an all around effort.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner led Michigan with 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting (2-6 3pt) and 8 rebounds in 31 minutes. It wasn’t his best game of the year, but he settled in during the second half with some nice rolls and slips to the rim and then hit a couple of triples to put the game away.
- Jaaron Simmons: Simmons is officially Michigan’s backup point guard (for now) as Eli Brooks didn’t see the floor. I thought he had some nice moments and was aggressive when he was on the floor. His only basket came on a transition layup, but he missed two open triples that he’s going to need to hit if he wants to become more involved moving forward. Overall, I liked how the ball moved when he was at the helm and thought he played one of his better defensive games in a Michigan uniform.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman did a terrific job of checking Rutgers freshman Geo Baker and he’s developed a real knack for drawing every sort of offensive foul from charges to grabs or moving screens, but he didn’t provide a lot of offense. But Michigan needs more from him on offense as he’s been held to single digits in 4 of thel ast 5 games. He had some nice moments getting down hill in the second half, but just seemed to float through the game early.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews needs to bridge the gap from incredibly talented basketball player to really good Big Ten basketball player. He was just 4-of-12 from the floor (1-4 3pt) and turned the ball over twice in 33 minutes. He’s the quickest slasher on the roster, but he got to the rim consistently today and left points on the board by failing to finish. He’s shown he has that ability, but consistent execution over a 40 minute game is what Michigan needs from the wing.
- Jon Teske: Teske played a great shift in the first half on both ends of the floor including a nice mid-range jumper. Teske can’t do quite as much as Wagner on offense, but his defensive presence turns out to be a net-even and he’s starting to develop a bit of consistency with that 12-foot jumper.
- Jordan Poole: Beilein has been giving Poole a bit more leeway lately, and I think he realizes how important Poole’s scoring ability is to this team’s season, but the freshman guard was whistled for a palming violation and threw an errant alley-oop pass in his first half shift. That resulted in second half shift for Ibi Watson, but Poole did make his mark with a smooth baseline drive and layup. Michigan needs one without the other and Poole has to strive to erase those mistakes from his repertoire.
- Isaiah Livers: Livers missed three shots and was whistled for two fouls before the first media timeout on Sunday afternoon. That earned him a long spell on the bench and he never really seemed to be able to catch back up to the game in the second. It was a freshman game by a freshman and one that Livers will learn from. He did have a pair of critical offensive rebounds in his 10 minutes of action.