This is the word that best describes the Caris LeVert-less Wolverines. Sure, there was the second-half surge against Nebraska and the layup lines Iowa ran all night this past Thursday, but these past few weeks have been about how the tremendous effort these undermanned Wolverines give just isn't quite enough. In games against Wisconsin and Michigan State, the latter of which was on the road and without Derrick Walton Jr., too, the Wolverines surprised folks by nailing game-tying buckets in the final seconds that forced overtime. However, a depleted Michigan team just didn't have enough left in the tank to finish strong in the extra session, falling short of landing huge wins both times.
It happened again against Indiana in Assembly Hall yesterday.
Michigan wasn't supposed to be in a position to tie in the final minute. For much of the contest, Indiana's offense rolled, scoring at a rate of 130 points per 100 possessions, and Michigan didn't have a solution to slow it down. In man defense, Michigan's perimeter players couldn't keep Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell (18 points, six assists, four rebounds) or James Blackmon Jr. (13 points, eight rebounds) in front of them as both penetrated into the paint for layups and lobbed up alley-oops for the uber-athletic Troy Williams (20 points, eight rebounds). When Michigan went zone, Indiana spread out the floor and found open shooters on the three-point line, where they knocked down 7-of-17 threes (41.2 pct.).
However, Zak Irvin (23 points) and Ricky Doyle (15 points, six boards) -- two players that had struggled greatly in recent weeks -- kept Michigan in it. Irvin finally looked like the Irvin we saw in the first few games of the season and the Irvin we expected to see all season. Irvin looked confident in his shot, burying six jumpers, including three threes, in all. Though Irvin once again wasn't strong around the rim, converting only 2-of-7 layups, Doyle more than compensated down low. The freshman center capitalized on the size mismatch he had over the diminutive Hoosiers and made all five of his shots at the rim. It was he and Irvin who prevented Indiana from extending its lead to more than 11 points.
Then, in the last five minutes, Michigan made one last run at a comeback in Assembly Hall, which has had a hex cast on the Wolverines for decades, once Indiana's offense finally bogged down, missing looks it hadn't missed all game. Spike Albrecht (12 points, seven assists) was the catalyst. He drained a key three to cut Indiana's lead to six points with 3:33 left and completed an and-one layup and one-and-one bonus in the final minute to bring the Wolverines within three points of the Hoosiers each time. Then, after a Williams flush, a clutch Irvin three, and only one Collin Hartman free throw, Michigan had possession, trailing by three points with 17 seconds left. While it will be argued that Michigan should have went for the quick two and extended the game (maybe) or that Indiana should have fouled intentionally once it was clear Michigan was going for the home run (definitely), the Wolverines swung the ball around the perimeter to a wide-open Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman in the corner. Abdur-Rahkman let it fly and ...
It's another moral victory for an undermanned Michigan team that's desperate for a flat-out victory. Credit must be given to the Wolverines, who, without their two best players, went into a hostile venue that's bothered even the best Michigan teams and gave the Hoosiers everything they had. But Michigan isn't happy. They want more than almost.
Regression to the Mean: Close Big Ten Games Edition.
Before Michigan hosted Wisconsin, the Wolverines had won 16 straight Big Ten games that either had been decided by fewer than 10 points or went to overtime dating back to last season. A streak like this is not only remarkable but also incredibly lucky. Such luck was bound to turn against Michigan, and it has as U-M has lost its last three such games:
|1||Jan. 2, 2014||at Minnesota||W, 63-60||+3|
|2||Jan. 9, 2014||at Nebraska||W, 71-70||+1|
|3||Jan. 18, 2014||at Wisconsin||W, 77-70||+7|
|4||Jan. 22, 2014||Iowa||W, 75-67||+8|
|5||Jan. 25, 2014||at Michigan State||W, 80-75||+5|
|6||Jan. 30, 2014||Purdue||W, 75-66||+9|
|7||Feb. 23, 2014||Michigan State||W, 79-70||+9|
|8||Feb. 26, 2014||at Purdue||W, 77-76 (OT)||+1|
|9||Mar. 8, 2014||Indiana||W, 84-80||+4|
|10||Mar. 14, 2014||vs. Illinois||W, 64-63||+1|
|11||Mar. 15, 2014||vs. Ohio State||W, 72-69||+3|
|12||Dec. 30, 2014||Illinois||W, 73-65 (OT)||+8|
|13||Jan. 6, 2015||at Penn State||W, 73-64||+9|
|14||Jan. 10, 2015||Minnesota||W, 62-57||+5|
|15||Jan. 17, 2015||Northwestern||W, 56-54||+2|
|16||Jan. 20, 2015||at Rutgers||W, 54-50||+4|
|17||Jan. 24, 2015||Wisconsin||L, 64-69 (OT)||-5|
|18||Feb. 1, 2015||Michigan State||L, 66-76 (OT)||-10|
|19||Feb. 8, 2015||Indiana||L, 67-70||-3|
Zak Irvin wasn't perfect, but that's the best we've seen him in awhile.
After looking broken for weeks, Zak Irvin performed like we thought he would all year. He carried himself like an All-Big Ten player would in such a hostile environment. He led the offense. He was confident in himself to make plays happen. When it seemed that Indiana was preparing to embark on a run that'd put Michigan in a precarious position in the second half, he hit big shot after big shot to quiet the Assembly Hall crowd, scoring 18 of his game-high 23 points after halftime. He even was active on defense, forcing three steals, two of which led to and-one layups in transition. Irvin needed a big game, and it was great to see the former Mr. Basketball of Indiana get it done in his home state.
Will this carry over to Michigan's next game at Illinois? I don't know. But what would help his consistency would be an improvement in his ability to finish at the rim. Yet again, Irvin struggled when he wasn't firing jumpers, making only 2-of-7 layups. A reason for this is that he's not blessed with the athleticism that a Glenn Robinson III has, meaning he doesn't play very high above the rim. Therefore, when Irvin gets into the paint, taller defenders have a vicious tendency to either swat his shot to the nearby seats or alter it enough that he throws a screwball off the backboard. Irvin needs to realize how helpful a shot fake can be because, if he can score points around the hoop and not need to rely on his outside jumper, Irvin will be a much more consistent scoring threat.
I would have been surprised if Ricky Doyle DIDN'T do this vs. Indiana.
It was nice to see Ricky Doyle awake from his slumber because, if he hadn't at Indiana, he may have remained in his basketball coma for the rest of the season. After Doyle tallied 12 points and six rebounds against Minnesota back on January 10th, he had averaged only 2.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in his next seven games, all of which he started. This was, um, concerning. Nonetheless, the Hoosiers were the perfect opponent for the 6-foot-9 Doyle because, with center Hanner Mosquera-Perea limited with injury, Indiana doesn't start anyone taller than 6-foot-7 and has no interior defense whatsoever. Accordingly, when Michigan fed the ball to Doyle on the block, he muscled his way to the rim for four layups and one dunk, making all five of his shots at the rim, because the Hoosiers had no one with the size needed to match up with him. Doyle finished the game with 15 points and six boards, which was a nice development, but, until I see Doyle record such production against a front line that isn't three inches shorter than him, I won't declare he's back.
I was very surprised Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman DIDN'T perform well.
I thought Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman would flourish, not flop. Abdur-Rahkman's best skill -- the ability to drive and finish through contact at the rim -- seemed like the perfect weapon against an Indiana defense without a rim protector, so I expected he would be good for 12-18 points. Instead, Abdur-Rahkman looked very uncomfortable when he had the ball, scoring only two points on 1-of-7 shooting -- his only field goal was a breakaway dunk -- and coughing up the basketball four times. I was way off.
And, on top of that, he arguably had the two biggest misses of the game. The first was when, with 10 minutes left in the second half and Michigan trailing by four points, Abdur-Rahkman picked off a pass and had a wide-open layup in transition that would have extended Michigan's 11-4 run and cut Indiana's lead to two. However, Abdur-Rahkman blew it, and Indiana proceeded to go on a quick 5-0 run to pad its lead while Michigan's offense spun its wheels in neutral. It was a pivotal moment that may have drastically affected how the last 10 minutes were played. Then, after Michigan clawed back into it in the final seconds, Abdur-Rahkman had a chance to redeem himself and drill what would have been the game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer. But it drew iron.
Abdur-Rahkman still did some positive things against Indiana, like register three assists and three steals, which is a great indicator that the freshman will find other ways to make an impact when his offense isn't there, but he was meant to thrive in this game.
Mark Donnal provided a nice spark off the bench in the first half.
Michigan's offense finished with a score rate of 112.6 points per 100 possessions, which was its second-best mark of the Big Ten season, but the Wolverines really struggled to put the ball in the net against the conference's worst defense in the first half. In fact, through the first 11 minutes, Michigan scored only nine points in 15 possessions for a rate of 60 points per 100 possessions. Yikes. As a result, the Hoosiers grabbed an early seven-point lead, and I began to wonder if Indiana and its dynamic offense would run Michigan out of the gym before both teams headed to their respective locker rooms for halftime.
However, Mark Donnal entered off the bench for his first meaningful action in four games -- he'd been dealing with an illness -- and provided a spark. He scored three straight field goals -- a layup, a quick putback after he tipped a Kameron Chatman miss to himself, and a three-pointer -- in a 3.5-minute span for seven big points. Though Donnal's points didn't dig much into Indiana's lead, it prevented the Hoosiers from pulling away and allowed Michigan to remain competitive for the remainder of the contest. With both Doyle and Donnal performing well and Max Bielfeldt receiving only three minutes, I'm interested to see how John Beilein divvies up their minutes at Illinois.
The Assembly Hall Hex endures.
Michigan dropped to 1-17 against Indiana in Assembly Hall since 1995 and 2-23 since 1988. This usually would be where I'd rant about the home-cookin' the Hoosiers received and how ridiculous it is that they benefit from an unmatched home-court advantage, but it wasn't *that* bad this time. Though there were still calls that made me want to pull my hair out -- like when Indiana wasn't whistled for shoving Aubrey Dawkins to the floor on a baseline out-of-bounds pass and turned the "steal" into a transition three -- but Michigan benefited from its fair share of terrible calls, too. The blocking foul and one-and-one free throws Spike Albrecht drew in the final minute stood out most.
But does Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman miss that fast-break layup in any other arena? Exactly, which is why the Assembly Hall Hex endures, even when the officiating is even.
Someone run into Tom Crean when he's standing on the floor. Please.
Tom Crean has an annoying habit of standing out on the floor even when the ball is in the end of the court adjacent to his bench. If you want an example, like this:
Or like this:
Or like this:
Even the official is motioning to Crean to get the heck off the damn court.
I know there isn't much space between the bench and the court at Assembly Hall, but it's ridiculous that Crean is allowed to be a sixth defender on the floor while an opponent tries to run its offense. I look forward to the day when an opponent thinks like Jason Kidd did here and runs into Crean while he's on the court, drawing a tech on Crean.
It's been a long time coming.