|Michigan vs #18 UConn
Wednesday, Nov. 25 | Paradise Island, Bahamas | 9:30 p.m. EST | AXS TV
|(79-164) 48.2||Field Goal %||51.0 (98-192)|
|(29-66) 43.9||3-pt FG %||36.7 (29-79)|
|(41-56) 73.2||Free Throw %||76.8 (43-56)|
|(67-167) 40.1||Field Goal %||33.5 (60-179)|
|(23-61) 37.7||3-pt FG %||30.9 (25-81)|
|Individual Returning Leaders|
|Caris Levert (19.3), Derrick Walton (10.7)||Points/gm||Sterling Gibbs (15.7), Rodney Purvis (14.3)|
|Aubrey Dawkins (5.0), Caris Levert (5.0)||Reb/gm||Daniel Hamilton (8.3), Shonn Miller (6.3)|
Coming off of an embarrassing home loss to Xavier, the Michigan basketball team earned the enviable task of spending the week in the Bahamas for the school’s first Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
The Wolverines already missed their best opportunity for a quality nonconference win, so now they’ll need to pull a big upset in one of these games to right the ship. The first round pits Michigan against the 18th-ranked Connecticut Huskies, who’ve started the season with a trio of home wins over cupcake opponents.
What will it take for John Beilein to get things moving in the right direction?
|1. Stop the bleeding|
For a team that didn’t really know what to expect heading into this season, Friday’s blowout loss was a huge wakeup call. Xavier is a talented, physical basketball team, but Michigan should never lose by 16 points in the Crisler Center.
There’s no way around it: As of now, Michigan is not an NCAA Tournament team.
But Beilein is the right guy to help the Wolverines learn from the loss and continue to grow. The most valuable resource for this group is time; time for everyone to learn their roles and develop a better rhythm. Injuries to Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht robbed this talented group of an offseason that most teams spent getting comfortable playing with each other.
What Michigan can’t afford is a nonconference slide like it experienced last season. After dropping consecutive home games to N.J.I.T. and Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines got blasted in Arizona and lost a fourth straight to SMU.
If Michigan hopes to get back into the field of 68, it’ll need to avoid another long losing streak and pick up a few quality wins in the nonconference. As I said last week, those opportunities are few and far between in the upcoming schedule.
|2. Find an offensive flow|
When you look at Michigan’s team on paper, you can’t help but think ‘this group could be an offensive juggernaut.’ It has everything a team needs to put up huge point totals: Sharpshooters, slashers, great passers, even a couple of strong offensive rebounders.
But the team we’ve seen on the court has been absolutely stagnant through three games. Yes, they can get out in transition and put together a few nice scoring runs, but that’s more representative of the pure athletic prowess of guys like LeVert and Walton.
Take Aubrey Dawkins as an example. He emerged as one of the team’s best players late in the 2014-15 season because he can shoot, he can finish and he can really clean up shots around the rim. But Dawkins was a complete nonfactor against Xavier, spending most of his court time standing in the corner around the three-point arc. Yes, he grabbed six defensive rebounds, but five points on 1-6 shooting? That’s indefensible for a guy as explosive as Dawkins.
Irvin was the other no-show. The junior is coming off a long layoff because of injury, but he doesn’t look ready to play on the offensive end. In February and March, Irvin looked like a new man, evolving into Michigan’s best passer and improving off the dribble. But on Friday, it was more of the catch and shoot that Irvin displayed early last season. Settling for deep jumpers is part of what got Irvin, and the Wolverines, in trouble.
It’s up to Walton, who struggled greatly against Xavier, and Albrecht, who’s trying to get back into game shape himself, to kick start this offense in the Bahamas. Everyone needs to be moving without the ball instead of standing around the outside while LeVert tries to make a 1-on-1 move late in the shot clock.
Barring another avalanche of injuries, I expect Beilein’s offense to get much better as the players settle in. Remember, most of these guys, like Dawkins, Kam Chatman, Duncan Robinson, Ricky Doyle, D.J. Wilson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, haven’t spent much time on the court with a healthy LeVert or Walton. It’ll take a big leap from what we saw Friday to come out on top of UCONN.
|3. Off the Mark|
If it wasn’t completely obvious last season, it is three games into the new campaign: Mark Donnal simply isn’t ready for a major role on this team.
I’m not going to crush the guy. He’s never done anything wrong off the court and he seems to be a quiet kid who just goes about his business.
But I think that’s part of the problem.
Michigan, which has a glaring weakness at the center position, can’t afford to be soft in the paint. And there’s no way to deny that Donnal simply hasn’t been the force inside that the Wolverines need.
Donnal started the game against Xavier but played only six minutes because he picked up four fouls. He gave up two dunks on defense and couldn’t hold on to a few rebounds that were basically right in his grasp.
On offense, he won’t go up strong at the rim. Even when he takes a pass off the screen-and-roll, Donnal flips it up toward the backboard and often gets blocked or, unfortunately, flat-out misses.
There was one sequence during the game on Friday when Donnal checked into the game in the 2nd half with Michigan on defense and trailing by a few possessions. When I saw him at the scorer’s table, I turned to my dad and said, “Here comes a dunk.”
Xavier inbounded the ball, missed a three-point shot from the corner, grabbed the offensive board, missed a short put-back and tip-slammed the second rebound. The second rebound wasn’t Donnal’s fault, but it struck me how the team lacked an inside presence with anyone but Doyle on the court.
The Big Ten isn’t a soft league, and Connecticut isn’t a soft team. Maybe Beilein needs to light a fire under Donnal to get him going. But for now, he’s not getting the job done and Doyle, Wilson and even Moritz Wagner have emerged as better inside options.