Michigan picked up a bounce back win at Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, playing its second-best offensive game of the conference season.
The Wolverines scorched the nets early, making eight 3-pointers in the first half, and went to the break with a 22-point lead. That hot shooting cooled off in the second and the Badgers heated up. Ethan Happ poured in 18 second half points to cut the lead to 11 points on several occasions.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had just enough answers down the stretch to help the Wolverines escape with their fourth road win of the year.
The Wolverines were without Isaiah Livers (ankle) and didn’t play Eli Brooks, but 10 different players saw the court and nine of them scored. Moritz Wagner (20 points), Duncan Robinson (16 points) and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (15 points) led the way in a balance scoring effort.
Michigan shot 63% on twos and 45% on threes in its best shooting performance since the offensive explosion in West Lafayette. The 19-of-30 shooting inside the arc speaks to how well the Wolverine offense was clicking. Some of that action was downhill driving to the basket, but a lot of it was open cuts and ball screen assists for dunks and layups. The Badgers have struggled defensively this season, but Michigan did a great job of attacking advantages and exploiting their athleticism on the wings.
The Wolverines scored 1.33 points per possession which marks the worst defensive performance of the season by the Badgers. They have a struggling defense, but that is an elite offensive game by a team that hasn’t had many of them as late. Now the question is whether that strong offensive play can carry over and become consistent. Michigan has played its two best offensive games of the season over the last seven games, scoring over 1.3 points per possession against Purdue and Wisconsin. But the Wolverines managed to score just 300 points in 310 possessions (.97 PPP) in the other five games that surround those two offensive explosions.
The truth is always supposed to lie somehwere in the middle, but this offense has been feast or famine for quite a while now.
We saw a few interesting tweaks in this game including a rare sighting of two big men on the floor at the same time. The move stemmed from Wisconsin’s personnel and the fact that Livers was sidelined with an ankle injury. Beilein rode with that Wagner-Teske combination for three minutes in the first half and Michigan outscored the Badgers 7-6,
Michigan’s defense was as great in the first half (.79 points per possession allowed) as it was bad in the second half (1.42 points per possession allowed). That boils down to Happ being more efficient — he was 5-of-13 in the first and 7-of-10 in the second — and a couple of timely Badger threes falling. I thought the U-M defense did its best job against Happ when it didn’t double, but it is hard to praise an individual defensive performance when a guy goes for 29 points. The Wolverines’ effort on the defensive glass continued to be important as Wisconsin only rebounded 19% of its misses and Happ only grabbed a single offensive board.
This was one of those road games that Michigan just had to have to round out some of the bullet points on its resume and it got the job done. Wednesday’s home game against Iowa should be in the same boat before a difficult closing stretch vs. Ohio State and on the road at Penn State and Maryland.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner finished with 20 points on 8-of-14 (3-6 3pt) shooting, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks in 32 minutes of work. This was one of the best two-way games that the junior big man has played all season and I thought he did a tremendous job hanging in there and battling against Happ 1-on-1. Happ needed 23 shot attempts to get to 29 points and Wagner forced more than his fair share of misses. Wagner’s offensive game was also clicking as he had some strong takes to the basket, post-up scores and made three important triples. 14 games into the conference season, Wagner is now ranked 3rd in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding rate in league games. Wagner also had an absolutely critical tap out on one of Simpson’s missed free throws late that is easily one of the plays of the game.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: The answer man. Abdur-Rahkman was quiet for stretches of the first half, but he had the answers when Wisconsin made a run. He scored a great driving layup, found Wagner for an open dunk and hit a pull-up jumper from the elbow in a 3-minute stretch when the game got tight. Then he was there to clean up the mess at the free throw line down the stretch, making 7-of-8 attempts.
- Duncan Robinson: When Robinson is making threes, Michigan’s offense elevates to another level. He hit 4 on 5 attempts in the first half and that completely changed the complexion of the game from the start. The Wolverine offense needs that shooting from him if it is going to reach its ceiling down the stretch. While Robinson eventually cooled off, I thought he played a very solid game on both ends of the floor and played 37 minutes with Livers sidelined.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews turned the ball over 4 times in 30 minutes and continued to be plagued by some of the things that have bothered him this year: balance, playing with the off arm and driving into offensive fouls. He did still manage to produce, with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, 6 boards and two assists. He knocked in a jumper from the elbow, an always important shot against the Badger defense, and had a couple critical finishes late in the game.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson’s steal and transition assist to Matthews with under 5 minutes to play and the lead at just 11 was one of the biggest plays of the game, but all of the focus will be on the late intentional fouling that came next. Simpson was intentionally fouled with 3:09 and 2:15 to play and missed the front-end on both trips to the stripe. At this point I’d be shocked if Michigan doesn’t see this approach in any close game down the stretch and it is a problem that they’ll have to work around. That’s tough because Michigan really needs him on the floor for late defensive possessions, but I’m not sure there’s another option at this point.
- Jon Teske: A year ago, this is what I wrote about Jon Teske after Michigan’s home win over the Badgers: “Teske had a humbling 2 minute shift against Ethan Happ that serves as a reminder of why he’s not quite ready: his 2 minutes featured: a foul, a turnover that led to a dunk, a fumbled pick-and-roll pass, a Happ spin move for 2, a turnover and another foul.” Teske wasn’t perfect against Happ this time around, but he finished two ball screens (one a dunk, the other two free throws) and at least made Happ work for his offense in a productive nine minutes off the bench.
- Jordan Poole: Poole hit an early 3-pointer and made one of the prettiest up-and-under baseline layups that you’ll see all season, but he also had a costly turnover during Wisconsin’s big second half run and fouled a 3-point shooter in the final minute of the game. Welcome to the Jordan Poole experience. Michigan needs Poole’s playmaking ability off the bench and he provided that today, but there’s a next level in terms of making consistent winning plays that he’s still trying to reach.
- Jaaron Simmons: Up next in the backup point guard lottery, Simmons was back in the rotation and played 10 minutes, the most court time he’s seen since a December win over Detroit. Simpson knocked in a 3-pointer, but was also whistled for a carrying violation in the first half.
- Ibi Watson: Watson earned five minutes off the bench, matching his Big Ten high, and split four free throws while grabbing three rebounds.
- Austin Davis: Davis was thrown into the mix and had a similar experience to Teske a year ago. He’s probably not ready to contend with a player like Happ right now and was whistled for a foul in 2 minutes.