Michigan is rolling into March. The Wolverines have won 7 of their last 8 games and played their best half of the season in their regular season finale at Maryland on Saturday afternoon.
Michigan’s first half performance was nearly flawless. The Wolverines failed to score in their first four possessions and then rattled off 54 points in the final 29 possessions of the opening half. That’s 1.86 points per possession over the final 16 minutes, or 1.65 points per possession for the half. Ruthless, efficient offense and solid defense put the game out of reach as the teams went to the locker room to a chorus of boos from the home crowd.
Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman set a career high with 28 points in the final regular season game of his career. He scored 22 of them in the first half and added a team-high 8 points and 7 assists for good measure. The Wolverine bench scored 28 points, led by Jordan Poole’s 12-point first half, and Michigan coasted to its 6th road win of the season.
Michigan’s 1.34 points per possession of offensive output was on par with its best offensive performances this year — at Purdue, at Wisconsin — and the first half was scintillating. The Wolverines had basically been playing offense with one-arm tied behind their back given their shooting struggles early in the year, but now they are starting to fall. When those 3-pointers go in, Michigan made 15-of-31 this afternoon, the offense reaches new heights.
We’ve documented the 3-point volume gap that Michigan creates this season and it was obvious today. The Wolverines attempted 31 3-pointers to Maryland’s 18. Michigan made 15 of those and Maryland made just 3. The Wolverines would have had an advantage even if they didn’t make nearly half of their 3-pointers, but that volume can push a game out of hand quickly.
The Wolverines also did a great job of taking advantage of transition opportunities, scoring 13 points on the fast break and utilizing their defensive ability to force deflections and steals to trigger easy offense.
Maryland’s offense found some traction in the second half, but the game was largely out of hand by that point. The Terps scored just .73 points per possession in the opening 20 minutes, but did a great job of drawing fouls and getting to the line in the final 20 minutes. Michigan’s defensive rebounding performance was substandard — allowing Maryland to rebound 36% of its misses for 13 second chance points — but the Terps only shot 49% on twos and 17% on threes.
This Michigan hot streak started a walking pace with several home wins over bad teams — Northwestern, Minnesota and Iowa — but the work that the Wolverines have done over the last week has certainly elevated expectations for next week in New York City and in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan’s KenPom rank is up to 14th with the road win, the highest has reached all season, and it is quite clearly playing its best basketball of the season.
Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament seeding will remain in flux until Sunday night. If Penn State wins at Nebraska, the Wolverines will earn the double-bye and play on Friday afternoon (2:30 p.m.). If the Cornhuskers win, Michigan will play on Thursday afternoon (2:30 p.m.) against the winner of the 12-13 game before potentially facing Nebraska on Friday.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Perhaps this was Abdur-Rahkman’s real homecoming game. He has transitioned into the focal point of Michigan’s offense and he was on fire from the opening tip on Saturday. When he’s shooting the ball like that from the perimeter, the game really opens up for Michigan. Maryland was switching screens and Abdur-Rahkman had no problem attacking the Terps in those situations. Right now he’s Michigan’s best in those one-on-one or ball screen situations and it is clear that the coaching staff is ready to embrace that role for the senior.
- Jordan Poole: Poole has never seen a 3-point attempt that he doesn’t like and he buried three cold blooded triples in the first half and was fouled on another. When he adds that level of offensive playmaking to Michigan’s lineup, the offensive potential of this team goes through the roof. I wrote on Friday how we will see more time from Poole down the stretch and that trend is continuing. I still get just a sense of the Mitch McGary freshman year phenomenon where Michigan has spent all season trying to coach up a dynamic playmaker and is ready to ride with the good and bad.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson had a solid game and he really manages the team. He sets the tone at the point of attack for Michigan’s defense and then has really settled into finding his spots in the offense with a timely blow by drive. It was also great to see Simpson hit a late catch-and-shoot 3-pointer to start to break some of his cold streak. I’d love to see Michigan’s deflection stats because Simpson’s hands are so disruptive.
- Jaaron Simmons: Simmons seems to be finding a groove off the bench for the Wolverines and this was one of his best games. He came in and scored 7 points in 2 minutes including a 3-pointer and then handed out a great assist to Moritz Wagner for a layup. Simmons struggled to contain Cowan off the dribble, but he wasn’t the only one to struggle there, and he looks as comfortable as he’s been all season on offense.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews finally found his footing in the second half and that could be a great sign moving forward. He knocked in a pair of 3-pointers and had a couple strong takes to the rim. There’s no sugarcoating his struggles over the last few weeks, and as is tradition he started this game with a traveling violation, but Michigan needs his athleticism and ability on the floor and this was an important step.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner had a quiet 8 points and 4 rebounds in the win, but I thought he set the tone early on. He got to the free throw line when Michigan’s offense stalled out of the gate and had some of the best drive-and-kick action I’ve seen from him over the course of his career. Even when Wagner isn’t scoring the ball, there’s a gravity to the threat of what he can do on offense and what teams need to do to take him out of the game.
- Duncan Robinson: I think I wrote down the words “strong rebound by Duncan Robinson” in my notes more often than I have in any other game that Robinson has played. He continues to play with a foul-free (2 personals in 29 minutes) toughness on defense (1 block, 1 steal, 4 boards) that not only has seemingly came from nowhere, but gives Michigan a big lift. Robinson led the team in +/- today with a +28 in 29 minutes today.
- Jon Teske: Teske gave Michigan 10 solid minutes off the bench and did a great job affecting the game with his length around the hoop. He wasn’t credited with a block in the game, but he walled up well and forced a few missed dunks by Bruno Fernando.
- Isaiah Livers: Livers hasn’t really looked the same since his injury and just seems to be struggling to get back up to speed.
- Eli Brooks: Brooks was tossed into the second half after Simpson and Simmons both had been whistled for 3 fouls. He was 0-of-3 from the floor and doesn’t look as confident shooting or handling the ball as Michigan’s other lead guards.
Photo: Paul Sherman