There’s no such thing as a bad win, but I’m not sure that Michigan has won many less satisfying conference games than Saturday’s 76-73 overtime escape against Minnesota.
The Wolverines made just 12 of 28 free throws and blew a 5-point lead in the final 28 seconds of regulation — a turn of events that included two missed free throws and a traveling violation while Minnesota was attempting to intentionally foul — but they regrouped and figured out a way to win in overtime.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was the hero, connecting on game-winning layup through contact to win the game with four seconds remaining.
Michigan scored 1.05 points per possession despite shooting 25% on threes and 43% on free throws. Despite all of those ugly offensive numbers, Michigan’s offense was very effective attacking the basket. The Wolverines made 20-of-31 2-point attempts (65%) and consistently got to the free throw line. Of course those trips to the charity stripe weren’t all that helpful.
If Michigan shoots its season average — a mere 65.5% — at the free throw line then we are talking about a comfortable win and one of the better offensive performances of the year. But that didn’t happen and the free throw shooting was dreadful. Michigan made its first five free throws of the game and then went on to make just 7 of its final 23 attempts at the line. Charles Matthews led the way with 7 misses, but five other Wolverines missed at least 1 free throw.
Michigan was the 9th best free throw shooting team in the country last year and is ranked 341st this year — worst among high-major teams. The problems are mental, physical and everything in between and even if that doesn’t show up on Richard Pitino’s scouting report, it will be an issue moving forward.
The Wolverines did do some things well in this game, which is how they were able to win despite such a woeful free throw and 3-point shooting performance. Michigan kept Jordan Murphy off the glass and won the rebounding battle, grabbing 86% of Minnesota’s misses. The Wolverines were also fairly aggressive crashing the glass and scored 13 second chance points.
The difference in both team’s 2-point shooting was striking. Michigan was attempting layups and Minnesota was making tough pull-up jumpers. Here’s the shot distribution between both teams.
By that chart I have Michigan with 1 mid-range jumper (on just 5 attempts) and Minnesota with 11 (on 24 attempts). Those are the exact shots that John Beilein wants to allow, but the problem is that they were going in.
Isaiah Washington entered Saturday’s game shooting 27% on twos and 31% on threes in league games, but he finished with 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting. Nate Mason added 22 points of his own. Only six of Minnesota’s 28 makes were assisted and Richard Pitino’s offensive gameplan was simply to isolate on Michigan’s guards.
That meant that the Wolverines had to throw in a wrinkle midway through the second half and switch to a zone that we haven’t seen for more than one or two possessions all year. Michigan played that zone defense for the majority of the final 12 minutes and overtime and the switch worked. By my notes, I had Minnesota scoring 18 points in 25 possessions against the zone, which looked to have hints of some matchup action.
Michigan is a good team, but games like this are a reminder that the Wolverines are closer to bubble-plus than league contender. The Wolverines continue to trail in games late in the second half — they were down 10 with 11 minutes remaining today — and sooner or later than habit will catch up to them.
Michigan is outsccoring Big Ten teams by 4.9 points per 100 possessions, that’s a good but not great number. Teams like Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue are closer to a 20 points per 100 possession efficiency margin. Every game for Michigan is a grind at this point and there’s not much margin for error this week with trips to Northwestern and Wisconsin on the docket.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman iced the game with a driving and-one layup down the stretch and pulled himself off the hook after missing the late free throws in the first half that left the door open. I thought his shot selection was questionable early, but he was more aggressive putting the ball on the floor and driving in the second half and it paid off. He was 4-of-7 inside the arc with 3 assists in a solid 43 minute performance.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson was just 1-of-3 from deep, but he made a lot of winning plays in 28 minutes. He was a perfect 3-of-3 inside the arc and finished a couple of nice drives and he also handed out 2 assists and grabbed 4 rebounds (2 offensive). Eventually Michigan needs Robinson to figure out his shooting stroke, but he made several impressive defensive plays late in the game that should help earn him more minutes moving forward.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson was 1-of-8 from 3-point range but hit a huge three in overtime. He’s basically only shooting open (albeit deep) catch-and-shoot threes, but they looked more hopeful than anything today. That being said, I think those are just shots he has to take for the offense to flow. Simpson still made huge plays offensively and he was 6-of-6 inside the arc and had some great takes to the basket, especially in overtime. He struggled to get into the game early (3 assists to 2 turnovers), but those late baskets and a critical strip late in the second half were critical to Michigan’s comeback.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner fell in love with the 3-point shot a bit, but he was getting clean looks and the Wolverines ran some nice slip action to get him looks from deep. He had another strong rebounding night (10 boards) and largely contained Jordan Murphy. This felt like sort of a ho-hum game for Wagner, but his offensive production was critical early when Michigan couldn’t get anything else going.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews consistently beat his man off the dribble and got two feet in the paint — then the problems started. He was 4-of-10 on twos and 5-of-12 at the line. His six missed free throws early in the second half were all good plays, but they aren’t good plays if he can’t convert at the line. Matthews grabbed 11 boards and handed out 3 assists (to 0 turnovers), but he’s creating so many empty offensive possessions from his free throw shooting or inability to finish.
- Jordan Poole: The ‘Poole Party’ never got started as Poole was 0-of-4 from deep despite getting a few clean looks.
- Isaiah Livers: Livers has largely been quiet since stepping into the starting lineup, but he had 5 points and 5 boards in 17 minutes.
- Jon Teske: Teske only played five minutes and was whistled for two fouls in a game where he struggled to keep up with Murphy’s quickness in the paint.
- Eli Brooks: A goaltend by Teske negated what could have been Brooks’ first points since December 16th.