For the second time in a little over a week, Michigan played one good half of offense and one terrible half of offense against Northwestern. That got the job done at home last Monday, but it wasn’t enough in Chicago tonight.
Michigan scored 32 points in 28 first half possessions, then managed just 20 points in 29 second half possessions. That’s just .69 points per possession in the final 20 minutes and not enough to a win a league game on the road.
When things have gone south for the Wolverines this season, it has generally been the offense that gives in. Michigan has scored 21 points or fewer in five different halves of Big Ten basketball:
- 19 points in the second half at Ohio State
- 20 points in the first half vs. Maryland
- 21 points in the first half at Nebraska
- 21 points in the first half at home vs. Northwestern
- 20 points in the second half at Northwestern
The Wolverines have been lucky enough to win two of those games, but it is not a sustainable habit.
Michigan has shot worse than 30% from 3-point range for three consecutive games. It is hard to win basketball games when you shoot worse than 30% from deep and 70% from the free throw line.
The Wolverines ran some great action against the zone in the first half and created several easy baskets, but it was hard to shake the feeling that they should be ahead by more. A stretch of four turnovers in a handful of possessions let Northwestern back into the game and erased a quick 13-3 Michigan start.
I’m not sure exactly what Northwestern tweaked with its matchup zone in the second half, but they seemed to be trapping more heavily inside and sagging off of Zavier Simpson a bit more. Simpson had five first half assists and the Wolverines were doing a great job finding cutters, in the second half he didn’t record an assist. Michigan could never adjust and the offense seemed to just spin its wheels through most of the second half.
Northwestern’s zone also slowed the game to a crawl — just 59 possessions — and the token pressure consistently forced the Wolverines to get into their offense late and constantly attempt to run shot clock offense. At this point, Michigan just doesn’t have that guy who can go and get you a bucket in those situations. The Wolverines are just 4-9 in 63 possession or slower games this year and six of their seven games below a point per possession are in that subset.
Northwestern turned the ball over on 27% of its possessions last week, but just 10.5% of its possessions in this game. That was critical not just for the Wildcats’ offense, but also for taking easy opportunities away from Michigan. When Michigan can’t create easy transition offense, it can’t score consistently.
The Wolverine defense had some great moments against the ball screen in the first meeting, but Bryant McIntosh got comfortable in the second half of this one and started picking things apart. The senior guard finished with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting with 5 assists. Northwestern’s ball screen game was breaking Michigan’s defense open and the Wolverines were constantly recovering late to shooters and giving up dribble penetration.
Northwestern took (46% of shot attempts) and made (8) more 3-pointers than Michigan generally gives up in any given game. This was only the fifth game that the Wolverines have allowed 8 made 3-pointers or more all season.
There are very real problems for Michigan to address coming out of this loss, but some of the reactions will inevitably be over the top. Michigan lost a road game against .500 Big Ten team that is only about 3 points per 100 possessions worse in efficiency margin in league play. Northwestern has now won 4 of its last 5 games and is playing its best basketball of the year. These two teams played four halves and split the difference, both home teams pulled away late in both meetings.
But the Wolverines do need to win some games down the stretch and the next two games — at Wisconsin and home against Iowa — are now all the more important.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner was the lone bright spot for Michigan’s offense, finishing with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. The Wolverines had an array of great looks — a screen by Poole in the paint, creative slips, dribbling into the post against the switch — to get Wagner involved in the offense and he finished effectively. Wagner was solid on the glass (other than a late free throw) and he largely contained Dererk Pardon (5 points on 5 shots) for the second consecutive meeting.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman hit a couple of tough drives and a big three in the first half but largely floated through the second and missed his only two shot attmepts. It feels like he should be Michigan’s option late in shot clock situations, but for whatever reasons he just seems to drift in and out of games. Beilein has talked about dialing up his senior guard more and more, but that wasn’t the case tonight.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson has made 1 of his last 14 3-pointers after making 9 of his first 19 threes in league games. I get that there are shots that he needs to take to keep defenses honest, but they can maybe be a bit closer to the line and at a slightly lower volume. I’m not sure what changed for Simpson in the second half as he really did make some great reads and passes in the first, but just couldn’t seem to adjust in the second.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews mind and body move at different speeds and sometimes it seems like his legs are just along for the ride. As far as where the ball is, that’s anybody’s guess. Matthews was just 2-of-7 from the floor with 3 turnovers in his homecoming game in Chicago and everything seemed to look forced or uncomfortable. Teams are loading up on him in different ways and that process of figuring out the counter and then actually trying to make a play is taking too long for him to be effective.
- Jordan Poole: Poole was just 1-of-6 from the floor off the bench and did have a nice assist to Wagner through the zone. Michigan is looking for some kind of offensive spark, but the freshman guard couldn’t provide it either.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson hit an early three, but missed every other shot he took from the floor. He was forced into playing 36 minutes with Livers’ injury early on and he couldn’t provide the offensive spark that Michigan needed. Right now he seems more aggressive trying to make plays out of his comfort zone — like trying to Euro-step through several Northwestern defenders in transition — than he is to just rise and fire. It seems like he’s passing up potential shooting chances only to drive into traffic.
- Jon Teske: Teske only 4 minutes off the bench as Michigan rode Moritz Wagner for 36 minutes. Michigan needed Wagner’s offensive threat against the zone and rode with the offensive weapon.
- Isaiah Livers: Livers sprained his ankle early in the first half and wasn’t able to go after attempting to warm up in the second. Beilein was optimistic due to the fact that Livers attempted to warm up, but his health moving forward is to be determined.
- Eli Brooks: I didn’t like Beilein’s decision to play a Brooks-Poole backcourt in the first half. I’d rather see Brooks next to Abdur-Rahkman or Poole next to Abdur-Rahkman and stagger those substitutions. That felt like a point in the first half where things seemed to go sideways a bit and Michigan just seemed a bit out of sorts on both ends of the floor.