2023-24 Season

Game 18: Illinois at Michigan Recap

Illinois ran Michigan out of its own gym, 88-73, on Thursday night in what was one of Michigan’s most disappointing showings of the season. And that’s saying something, given it was the 11th loss of the season and fifth at home.

The Wolverines rode some hot shooting to keep pace in the first half, but the reality of this game was clear from the opening tip. Illinois got exactly what it wanted offensively for forty minutes, in Michigan’s building, and it was all in the scouting report.

There were no twists or wrinkles. No outlier performances or hot shooting. Illinois, a team playing without its best player, executed its game plan, and Michigan showed little interest or ability in making it difficult. The Illini posted up bigger guards, as they’ve done all season. They scored when Michigan doubled or when they didn’t. The Illini entered the game as the No. 2 offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten; they hauled down almost 40 percent of their misses.

It’s only mid-January, and Michigan has given up 1.27 points per possession to Illinois, 1.22 points per possession to McNeese State, 1.22 points per possession to Long Beach State4, and 1.15 points per possession to Minnesota — all on its home floor.

With six more home games, it would be a shock if there aren’t a few more data points on that list by year’s end.

Illinois executes its defensive scheme as well as any team in the country. The Illini won’t let you beat them with open jump shots. Michigan averages 1.06 points per play on 19.8 spot-up plays per game (catch and shoot or catch and drive) and only had 12 opportunities today — scoring a meager .583 points per play on those limited chances.

That is how the Illini keep opposing teams playing station-to-station basketball, and that’s exactly what Michigan did. There were stretches where U-M made good plays against Illinois’ drop ball screen coverage or got Olivier Nkamhoua or Tarris Reed Jr. good looks on the block, but there was nothing easy and nothing from three.

Defensively, there was no resistance from Michigan. There’s no real ability or desire to guard the ball. And no scheme in place to take away anything that Illinois wanted to do. Illinois is bigger, more athletic, and generally more talented at most spots on the floor — there’s no better example than Coleman Hawkins, who dominated the game offensively and defensively with 21 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 steals and a block — but Michigan didn’t manage to do anything to make the Illini adjust.

The Illini scored 1.39 points per play on isolations, 17 points on putbacks, and 1 point per play on post-ups.

Illinois only made 7 shots outside the paint all night (6 threes, 1 two) and still scored 1.27 PPP. It didn’t really matter what Illinois ran, Michigan let them back their way into to the paint, or secure an offensive rebound for easy scoring opportunities all night. Here’s every made basket from Illinois:

Michigan references “contest rate” as one of its defensive goals. According to Synergy, Illinois attempted 14 catch-and-shoot jumpers — three were guarded. Safe the say that the Wolverines didn’t hit their goal tonight.

Monday’s win over Ohio State, and even the loss at Maryland, provided at least a bit of encouragement that Michigan could compete at home with its home-only point guard, but this was a big step backward, entering a stretch where it’ll be hard to step forward. Michigan’s next three games are at Purdue, home against Iowa, and at Michigan State.

Player Bullets:

  • Olivier Nkamhoua: Nkamhoua had his moments on the block, but it was a disappointing night overall. The two plays I come back to are both in the second half: Ty Rodgers posting him up and scoring over him with ease and Marcus Domask blocking his attempt at the rim. Nkamhoua had 11 dunks in Michigan’s first four games. He’s had seven in the 14 games since. Almost everything he does offensively at this point comes from the post turnaround jumper.
  • Tarris Reed Jr.: Reed finished with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting and was more efficient with his finishing while continuing to show improvement at the line (4-of-4 tonight). While he was more effective around the basket than he’s been, the defensive end of the floor was still a struggle. He continues to chase blocks without blocking shots while taking himself out of position for defensive rebounds.
  • Terrance Williams II: Illinois takes spot up touches away, Terrance Williams is the spot up guy on Michigan’s roster. As such, he struggled. It felt like the threes he got were rushed and defended, and the ones that weren’t just didn’t fall. Overall it was a tough night on both endso f the floor.
  • Jaelin Llewellyn: Llewellyn made some nice plays in the first half, he had a nice drive for a layup, scored in transition and hit a three with the foul to close out the half. He also had a terrifically timed double team in the post, one of the few that U-M had all night. It was one of the better halves he’s played at Michigan, this year or last, but then it all came apart quickly in the second half but a bad turnover and a poor shift. It feels like he’s getting closer, but still has a long way to go. Next up, 30 minutes on the road at Purdue.
  • Nimari Burnett: Burnett had 3 bad turnovers in the second half and sat for the last eight minutes of the game. Like many player bullets, the things plaguing him are the same things that plagued him early in the year. Namely, he can’t figure out how to finish at the basket. He was 1-of-5 from two with a couple of point-blank misses/blocks/non-fouls, and his one make was a tough two from the elbow.
  • Dug McDaniel: Early in the year, I was writing in this space that it was a race to see whether McDaniel can improve his habits faster than his shot making regressed. The answer is clearly no. McDaniel is the most talented offensive player on the roster. This team is dead in the water without him, especially on offense. But he just isn’t playing winning basketball at the level required to lift this team. This was his fifth consecutive game with an offensive rating under 100 (all after Christmas, or more specifically, fall semester grades).
  • Youssef Khayat: Khayat got some extended playing time and didn’t do much with it, but we are rapidly approaching the “why not” phase of rotation analytics.
  • Jace Howard: Howard played ten minutes off the bench, grabbed a rebound, and wasn’t able to make much of a positive impact.
  • Will Tschetter: Tschetter had seven games this year where he played double-digit minutes and didn’t grab a single defensive rebound. As the only backup big on the roster, his ceiling is going to be limited by his defensive rebounding until he can get that figured out.


Notable Replies

  1. umhoops

    A little Torvik split for you guys:

    Michigan is ranked 52nd pre-Christmas, 107th post-Christmas.

    Pretty clear that the whole thing has kind of just gone into the bin since then IMO. Michigan was falling short but broadly playing like an NIT/bubble team… not anything close to that since.

  2. telekinetic

    I feel like I’m stealing valor a bit when I comment on these recently, since I haven’t been watching the games and I avoid the game threads but by virtue of my time zone I’m often one of the first!

    I went on a bike ride instead of this one, and it was nice. I think the thing I’m really struggling with is that it seems like juwan will come back almost no matter what; the team will be almost impossible to fix in one off-season; the team is so structurally unsound that even fixing things like “wow why does tarris reed suck at defense now” will only have like 5% impact or whatever. so it’s just a treadmill - after every game we have the same arguments because the team is constructed so poorly that they almost cannot win a game without playing out of their minds. if it’s not a perfect carbon copy every time, it feels every time like we’re just angry at stuff that happened six months ago. don’t get me wrong, I am upset at the stuff that happened then, it’s just exhausting to have every game be a new referendum on it, as if we don’t already know what this team is. the only real suspense is whether we lose 24 games or 26 games (or whatever, I have no idea what our record is).

    even for someone like me, who sees like 5% of sunlight through the clouds and thinks it’s not impossible that juwan somehow turns it around next year, it just makes me want to sim to the end of the season, because there’s literally nothing we can learn before the end of the season that will clarify anything and it’s impossible for the results to vary outside of a tiny range. Michigan will lose by some amount, we’ll be upset about the decisions that went into this team construction, etc. wish we could just get to April and see if it’s worth it for freaks like me and dmb and chip to spend the summer talking everyone into Michigan 2025 b1g champs. if he won’t get fired no matter what, the only pieces of info we need to know are where does the coaching staff go and who do we pursue in the portal. it’s not like I have high hopes for either, but it’s going to be far more 1. interesting and 2. impactful to Michigan’s future.

  3. umhoops

    I think what happened in November or December can be attributed to roster construction or portal stuff, but what’s happening now is different.

    We are quickly going from “not enough juice to get over the hump” to “the whole thing imploding.”

  4. telekinetic

    yeah, didn’t mean to say it’s the only thing - just that it puts a cap on what improvement can even accomplish, apparently. and whether or not they improved in that way would be relevant, but apparently it won’t have any impact on the coach, so I just don’t know what info there is to be gleaned

  5. harmon98

    1. I’m expecting Juwan to return
    2. I’m not expecting more than one staff turnover: S&C (perhaps Martelli retires)
    3. Doom.
      And it’s heartbreaking as Juwan is a “Son of Michigan” – in my eyes anyway. I think this ends poorly. We saw this in football with Hoke: a coach that’s in over his head. Pretty much everything beyond Xs and Os is beyond Juwan’s strengths. Beyond that several self-inflicted embarrassing events.
      I’ll watch most of the remaining games and try to have a positive outlook but there’s just not much here. The die is cast with this team.

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