1. The second half was the worst half Michigan has played in a long, long time ... at least offensively.
It's a cliché, but this really was a tale of two halves.
Michigan seemed to be clicking in the first half. No, it wasn't perfect due to some sloppy turnovers and rushed shots, but the Wolverines had somewhat rediscovered their mojo. You see, in the previous five games, there was a stretch where Michigan had made only 29-of-124 threes (23.4 pct.). I don't think I need to tell you how awful that percentage is. However, from about midway through the second half against Illinois to halftime against Purdue, Michigan seemed to have found their outside stroke, draining 14-of-24 threes (58.3 pct.). Add in that the Wolverines had played solid defense, holding Purdue to 0.833 points per possession in the first half, U-M was en route to a 2-0 start in Big Ten play.
Unfortunately, for Michigan, there was still a second half that needed to be played:
What we saw from the Wolverines' offense in the second half was some of the ugliest basketball I've seen from Michigan in a long time. And, honestly, Michigan's numbers are boosted by meaningless possessions in garbage time. In the first 17 minutes of the second half, the Wolverines scored only eight points in 25 possessions (0.32 PPP) thanks to 2-of-17 shooting (11.8 eFG%), including 0-of-6 from three, no offensive rebounds, and four turnovers. In fact, at that point, Michigan had scored only one more field goal for itself (2) than it had scored for Purdue (1) because Aubrey Dawkins accidentally tipped in a Boilermakers' miss. Seriously. This wasn't the first time we've seen Michigan's offense fall face first -- its field-goal drought of 12:34 was its fifth longer than seven minutes this season -- but nothing before was as bad as what we saw from Michigan yesterday.
2. Another rough second half on the road.
Speaking of bad second halves, Michigan has really struggled in both second halves it has played in true road games. The Wolverines were outscored, 83-46, in their second halves against Arizona and Purdue. Is this because these young Wolverines aren't mentally prepared to compete for 40 minutes in a hostile environment or because the Wildcats and Boilermakers were able to use their size mismatches to wear down Michigan around the block? I don't have the answer now, but we may have a better idea on Tuesday when Michigan travels to Happy Valley to challenge a Penn State team that isn't very big.
3. Michigan was manhandled in the paint.
Purdue manhandled Michigan in the paint. This was never an area Michigan was supposed to win, but, if the Wolverines were to walk way victorious, they needed to somewhat neutralize the Boilermakers' size advantage. Other than frustrating talented 7-foot-2 freshman Isaac Haas (0 points, 1 rebound, 4 turnovers, 4 fouls), Michigan did not. Purdue scored 32 of its 64 points in the paint as its other seven-footer, A.J. Hammons, tallied 15 points (6-11 FG) and 12 rebounds, whereas Michigan scored only six of its 51 points in the paint. Purdue's length pestered Michigan's penetration attempts, and, once again, Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal did not set the screens necessary to run an effective pick and roll -- U-M really misses Jordan Morgan here. And, when Michigan had opportunities to finish around the rim, the Wolverines blew them, converting only 2-of-11 layups or dunks. If Michigan had made five of those missed layups, which is more than reasonable, Michigan likely would have had the chance to win in the final minute.
4. Missing in Action: The Big Three.
Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Jr., and Zak Irvin are considered Michigan's "Big Three," but they did not live up to their nickname yesterday. LeVert, Walton, and Irvin combined for only 22 points on 6-of-29 shooting (20.7 pct.), 12 rebounds, six assists, and six turnovers. They were only 4-of-20 (20.0 pct) inside the three-point line and missed seven layups, five of which were missed by Irvin. It'd be one thing if this was just a one-game outlier, but all three of them have been missing in action during Michigan's lengthy skid:
All three's scoring production has significantly declined in recent weeks, and no one has experienced that more than LeVert. What he's averaged in his past six games is less than half of what he averaged in his first eight games. He has not been able to slither his way to the tin often, as evidenced by his lower free-throw rate, so he has been relying on contested jumpers in isolation to get his points. His eFG% indicates that this strategy has not been effective whatsoever. Neither Walton nor Irvin have been effective, too, with Walton still suffering from a sprained toe and Irvin seeming to have lost all confidence in his usually lethal jumper. Michigan will slide until The Big Three get back on track.
5. Spike Albrecht busted out of his slump.
The only positive that emerged from Michigan's loss to Purdue was that Spike Albrecht busted out of his slump. Since Albrecht shredded Syracuse's 2-3 zone to the tune of 11 points and nine assists on December 2nd, he had been a ghost off the bench. In the six games thereafter, he had scored only a total of 16 points, made just one of his previous 12 triples, and owned an A:TO rate of 14:8 after having a 32:5 rate in his first seven games. But, against Purdue, Albrecht provided Michigan some early energy, closing out the first half with three straight three-pointers to give the Wolverines an eight-point halftime lead. Albrecht would finish with 17 points, which matched the career high he set in the national championship game two seasons ago, two assists, and no turnovers, but Albrecht needed help from his fellow Wolverines that he did not receive. Michigan may need Albrecht to provide this type of production consistently for the rest of the season if Walton continues to flounder due to his nagging injuries.