It took 10 minutes for a Michigan player other than Charles Matthews to score on Monday night, but the Wolverines escaped with an ugly 59 possession win over Northwestern thanks to an impressive defensive showing.
The Wolverines scored 21 points in the first half, but Northwestern only scored 19. The Wolverines pitched a shutout over the final seven minutes of the first half and made the necesary second half adjustments to score against Northwestern’s pesky zone defense. d.
“We didn’t make shots, we didn’t make foul shots, but we held them and that was the key,” John Beilein said of the first half defensive performance.
Charles Matthews led the Wolverines with 14 points, but the defense was the story. The Wolverines help a league opponent below 50 points for the second time in three tries and won their fourth game of the year while scoring under a point per possession — something they did just once last year
Michigan’s offense was a disaster in the first half, managing to score just 21 points in 29 first half possessions. Northwestern’s zone took Michigan out of its comfort zone and the Wolverines either missed open shots or allowed the ball to stick before failing to get a good look. John Beilein and his team figured things out at the break as the Wolverines scored 37 points in 30 second half possessions — an impressive 1.23 points per possession.
The ball started moving and the shots started falling in the second. Michigan’s coaches were also able to be much more involved with the offense heading toward the bench as you could see assistant coach Deandre Haynes writing up play calls on a white board during late-game offensive sets.
Michigan went just 3-of-15 from three in the opening half, but hit 4 of their first 7 attempts in the second and were able to get the offense moving. The Wolverines also did a masterful job of utilizing different actions to overload Northwestern’s zone and generate open looks or find cutters along the baseline for layups and dunks.
Northwestern isn’t a good offensive team, but this was a great performance by the Michigan defense (Bart Torvik’s site calls this Michigan’s 2nd best adjusted defensive performance of the season). Northwestern scored 14 points in the first 10 possessions of the game. The Wildcats only managed to score another 33 points in the final 49 possessions of play — which spanned the final 33 minutes of play — that’s just .67 points per possession. The Wolverines held the Wildcats to several long field goal droughts and held them scoreless for the final seven minutes of the first half.
The Wolverines’ defensive rebounding effort was on brand against a very good offensive rebounding team, grabbing 78% of Northwestern’s misses, but they did a much better job of forcing misses than they have in other non-Rutgers games of late. Northwestern shot just 45% on twos and 25% on threes in the loss.
Michigan’s ball screen rotations on defense were some of the best that I’ve seen from a John Beilein coached team. The Wolverines made the proper rotations and helped in the right places and that was a major reason that Northwestern turned the ball over on 27% of its offensive possessions. Michigan turned those 16 Northwestern giveaways into 16 points which helped jump start an offense that struggled at times.
It wasn’t pretty, but an winning a 59 possession game by 11 points is a very solid performance. Northwestern’s zone gave Michigan some pause, but the Wolverine offense got the job done in the second half. Next up for Michigan is a home date with a Minnesota team that has lost 6 of its last 7 games.
- Charles Matthews: Charles Matthews led Michigan in scoring despite finding himself in foul trouble. He made 4-of-8 twos and 2-of-3 threes and was solid defensively. Both of Matthews’ made 3-pointers came from the right corner, where he’s now 7-of-13 on the season compared to shooting just 30% from the opposite corner. Matthews recorded 3 steals and 7 rebounds and is one of the major reasons why Beilein continues to hint that Michigan’s defense improvement comes down to personnel.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman is just that constant presence in Michigan lineups that makes winning plays. His quietly finished with 11 points, 3 assist, 4 rebounds and 0 turnovers in 38 minutes. He didn’t do a ton offensively, and fired up a few shots early that looked like heat check carryovers from Purdue, but he was there to hit late free throws and score on a critical driving layup. Abdur-Rahkman is also earning Michigan an extra two or three possessions per game at this point with his ability to draw (or
flopsell) offensive fouls, especially off the ball or on rebounds.
- Jordan Poole: Between Matthews’ foul trouble and Abdur-Rahkman point guard looks, Poole played a career-high 24 minutes off the bench as Michigan needed his offensive playmaking. He was just 3-of-10 from the floor, but handed out 3 assists (to 0 turnovers!) and was aggressive looking to try to make plays with the ball. Beilein put it best after the win: “He just makes plays that we can’t teach.” He still gambles far too often on defense, but he’s improving on that end of the floor.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner seemed to be rushing everything early on and didn’t make a shot in the first half. He settled down in the second, going 3-of-5 from the floor including a triple in a solid showing. Wagner’s defensive rebounding has surpassed really the wildest expectations that anyone could have had entering the season and he grabbed 8 boards on the night.
- Zavier Simpson: Zavier Simpson hit a pair of late free throws and then missed a pair. Michigan did make an adjustment to move him to an inbounding role late in games. He had a quiet offensive night, but I thought his defensive presence was critical all night and he was a major reason that Bryant McIntosh was 3-of-10 from the floor with 3 turnovers. Simpson also had a few nice transition lookahead passes that jumpstarted the offense when Michigan just needed a basket.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson had some really good moments in the first half to jumpstart Michigan’s offense including a few nice passes, defensive rotations and transition leak outs. He also just can’t make a three and missed all six of his attempts from long distance despite getting more wide open looks than he’s seen in weeks.
- Isaiah Livers: Beilein opted to roll with Duncan Robinson against the 2-3 zone, but kudos to Livers for stepping into the game in the second half and knocking down an open three when he was back on the floor in the 2nd half. It was an otherwise quiet 14 minutes for the freshman forward who seemed to have a bit of ‘tape delay’ on a few defensive communications.
- Jon Teske: When Wagner struggles or picks up an early foul, Teske provides stability with his defense. It is a completely different look than Wagner at the 5, but Teske gave Michigan 11 solid minutes of production with 2 points, 5 rebounds and a steal.
- Eli Brooks: Against the zone, the backup point guard was Abdur-Rahkman sliding to the one next to Poole, then Brooks got the next chance after watching from the bench over the last few games. He didn’t attempt a shot, missed the front of a one-and-on, passed Matthews into a charge, and recorded an assist in 5 minutes. There were some awkward moments involved, but despite all of that Michigan went on a 10-0 run when brook