Michigan closed out its non-conference schedule with a 96-60 thrashing of Bryant at the Crisler Center on Wednesday night. Here are my five takeaways from the victory:
1. Michigan's Offense Torched Another Inferior Opponent
After the loss to SMU, Michigan substituted Duncan Robinson into the starting lineup for Aubrey Dawkins, and, since then, Michigan's offense has been a juggernaut. In these last four games, U-M has averaged 89.5 points per game and 1.36 points per possession and hasn't recorded an eFG% lower than 60.4 percent. And these numbers have been even better in the Wolverines' last two games against Youngstown State and Bryant, during which they scored 1.50 points per possession and posted a combined 71.5 eFG%. Essentially, Michigan is scoring at will, and the starting lineup of Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Robinson, Zak Irvin, and Ricky Doyle seems to be clicking on the offensive end.
However, this starting lineup hasn't faced a formidable defense. The best one that Michigan has seen in its last four games is Northern Kentucky's, which is 271st in adjusted defensive efficiency. The other three defenses? They're all outside the top 300. There's not one Big Ten defense as poor as the four against which Michigan just played, so next week is when we'll learn if U-M's offensive potency can translate to Big Ten play.
Though, the Big Ten opener against Illinois may not reveal much because the Illini have one of the nation's worst three-point defenses. And we know how Michigan is from deep.
2. Bryant Should Try Scouting Opponents before Games
I don't care if Bryant bases its defense on a 2-3 zone. Unless your team has tremendous length that can be disruptive and bother perimeter shots, DON'T ZONE MICHIGAN. THAT'S BASKETBALL SUICIDE. And it's not like the Bulldogs haven't tried it before. On December 23, 2010, Bryant ran a 2-3 zone against Michigan. The result? U-M set a school record by draining 16 three-pointers en route to 1.38 PPP and an 87-71 victory.
So what did Bryant do on the same date five years later against a Michigan team that's one of the best from beyond the arc? Bryant opened with a 2-3 zone, and it was déjà vu. U-M shredded the Bulldogs' zone and rained threes on them from all over the floor. By halftime, the Wolverines had connected on 12-of-20 threes (60.0 pct.), assisted on 17 of 21 field goals, and scored 57 points on 32 possessions (1.78 PPP). Bryant finally learned from its mistake when it switched to man defense after the intermission. Though Caris LeVert then regularly used ISO and pick and rolls to get to the rim or dish the ball to open teammates underneath, Michigan was a bit flustered at times, and its three-point tries were much more contested. Accordingly, the Wolverines' offense returned to normal levels, registering only 1.22 PPP in the second half. Maybe this game would not have been the blowout that it was if Bryant had scouted U-M and ran a man defense the whole time.
But Bryant didn't, so, of course, Michigan hit 17 threes and re-broke the U-M record:
3. Zak Irvin Hit the Two Biggest Threes of the Game
Speaking of threes, it was nice -- and important -- to see Zak Irvin get off the schneid from downtown. Before last night, Irvin had made only 7-of-41 threes (17.1 pct.) this season despite being a 38.1-percent three-point shooter in his first two years. Though Irvin has performed well in other areas like scoring inside the arc, distributing, and crashing the defensive glass -- he did it again versus Bryant, amassing 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting, six boards, and two assists -- his three-point slump visibly had been bothering him. So, when Irvin knocked down his first three-point try and celebrated more than usual after his second triple, you could see the weight being lifted off of his shoulders. I'm not saying all of Irvin's three-point issues are fixed now, but it was a positive sign.
4. It Was Another Discouraging Night for the Defense
This was not the defensive performance I wanted to see from Michigan before it begins the Big Ten season. Usually, permitting an opponent to score 0.94 PPP would be acceptable or lauded, but that's not what happens when the opponent is 322nd in adjusted offensive efficiency. I mentioned in my game preview that there wasn't one area on offense in which Bryant is remotely decent. Yet the Bulldogs had a 57.4 eFG% because they made 15-of-25 twos (60.0 pct.) and 8-of-22 threes (36.4 pct.). All three of those percentages were well above their season averages. Michigan's three-point defense wasn't as much of a concern because Hunter Ware (26 points), who made 6-of-15 threes, nailed some tough ones with hands in his face. Conversely, U-M's two-point defense was alarming. Michigan's closeouts and pick-and-roll defense provided too many lanes for the Bulldogs' dribble penetration, while U-M's centers, particularly Moritz Wagner, lost leverage too easily on the block to Marcel Pettway (15 points, 6-of-7 FG). This led to too many open looks, and Big Ten offenses will fully capitalize on those Michigan mistakes.
5. Now the Real Season Begins
After these past two weeks, I'm full on cupcakes. John Beilein is, too:
"We’re excited to be through the non-conference. I do not like…as much as you look at a 30-point game, these are tough days trying to keep your guys focused. I want to get on with the Big Ten and play. It’s going to be very challenging and we’re going to be as ready as we can be."