Last night, I wrote that we should never speak of Michigan's 68-57 win against Rutgers again. I meant it, but then I remembered I had to write my five takeaways:
1. This was déjà vu.
Michigan hosted a Wednesday night home game against a winless Big Ten opponent in which the Wolverines fired lots of open outside shots, missed them, and had trouble closing out the win. Am I referring to Michigan's 74-69 win against Minnesota on January 20th or the 68-57 win against Rutgers on January 27th? I'm referring to both.
These games didn't follow the exact same pattern. Against Minnesota, Michigan had a large early lead before allowing the Gophers to barge their way back into it. Against Rutgers, Michigan started slow out of the gates and didn't attain a double-digit lead until the second half. Nonetheless, the games had the same feeling, the same vibe. Michigan didn't have that sense of urgency, that sense that it needed to be at the top of its game. Instead, it felt like the Wolverines knew they could go through the motions and still win. Maybe that feeling changes if Michigan makes more than 9-of-31 threes (29.0 pct.) against Minnesota or 6-of-18 threes (33.3 pct.) in the first half against Rutgers, but that's not what happened. And Michigan was devoid of energy and that killer instinct.
There would be more of a concern if this had happened in back-to-back games. However, Michigan is fresh off an impressive 13-point win at Nebraska in which the Wolverines burst out of the gates. Thus, this seems more along the lines of Michigan playing down to its competition. It's not a good habit, but it'll still work against Minnesota and Rutgers.
2. Rutgers must have harmed Aubrey Dawkins in a previous life.
Aubrey Dawkins seems to enjoy his meetings against Rutgers. His first matchup with the Scarlet Knights also was his first career start last season, and he capitalized on the moment by scoring 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Near the end of the regular season, he followed that by dropping a career-high 31 points on them in Ann Arbor thanks to an 8-of-11 three spree. Then, on Wednesday, he had 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting off the bench. That's a three-game average of 17.7 PPG with an 84.5 eFG% in 29.0 MPG against Rutgers.
Plus, Dawkins shined at the perfect moment last night. With a bit more than seven minutes left in the first frame, Michigan couldn't generate offense and trailed, 16-12. But, in its next four possessions, Dawkins sandwiched two three-pointers around a cut for a slam dunk. It was Dawkins' personal touch that tied the score at 20-20 less than two minutes later and allowed Mark Donnal's ensuing two free throws to hand Michigan its first lead of the game and one that it wouldn't relinquish. Without Dawkins, who knows how much longer it would have taken the Wolverines to move head of the Knights?
3. Zak Irvin continues to demonstrate he's more than just a shooter.
Zak Irvin has scored only eight points in each of his past two games. Irvin wasn't as assertive as usual against Nebraska, attempting only seven shots, while his three-point shot was off (1-of-6) against Rutgers. Nonetheless, Irvin still found other ways to make his mark on the game. Against the Huskers, it was how he nearly single-handedly orchestrated a 16-3 Michigan run to open the second half and harassed Shavon Shields (11 points on 4-11 FG, 5 TO). Against Rutgers, it was how he fell just shy of joining Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton as Wolverines with triple-doubles this season. In addition to his eight points, Irvin matched a career high with 12 rebounds and tallied eight assists, and, if Michigan wasn't so cold from the field early on, he could have had a double-double. This was yet another data point that Irvin is transforming into an all-around player. In his last four games, he has averaged 8.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. And, the longer LeVert sits out, the longer Michigan needs this Irvin to lead the Wolverines.
4. Duncan Robinson is mortal.
It might be time to readjust expectations about Duncan Robinson, which is an odd thing to write given that he has scored a total of 39 points in his last two games. However, the expectations are with regards to his three-point shooting, which still is incredible but no longer automatic. For a long stretch this season, Robinson's three-point percentage was north of 60 percent, and it was long enough that Michigan fans and I began to think that regression to the mean wouldn't apply. We were wrong. Of course it applied. In eight Big Ten games, Robinson has connected on *only* 24-of-61 threes (39.3 pct.). That's still a great percentage, but it's not one that leads one to believe that every Robinson three-pointer will find the bottom of the net. What has been most interesting about this cold stretch, too, is that Robinson has had many wide-open looks that haven't fallen. It's almost as if Robinson needs the extra degree of difficulty before his threes drop. Either way, it'll be interesting to see if this will last or if he'll return to his scorching ways soon.
5. There might not be a play that's more Rutgers basketball than this.
Video: Rutgers player doesn't realize it's a one-and-one, throws live ball out of bounds for a turnover: pic.twitter.com/RZpFzUNr6n— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) January 28, 2016
And now we can never speak of this again.