It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t quick. Amidst an avalanche of foul calls, Xavier outlasted and outworked Michigan in the Wolverines’ first legitimate test of the year, winning by a score of 86-70.
Coming into this one, it was apparent that Xavier would be a challenge for Michigan. Forward Jalen Reynolds, the Detroit product, would give Michigan’s bigs a physical battle and we would finally get to see consensus-top-50 player Trevon Bluiett (of whom Michigan was a serious contender for) go head-to-head with projected lottery pick Caris LeVert. Quietly one of the nation’s most consistent and toughest programs, the Musketeers looked to batter Michigan inside and dominate the glass.
After a 7-0 Xavier start in which it became immediately clear that Mark Donnal guarding Reynolds would be a problem for Michigan, the Wolverines found their footing. The teams traded haymakers throughout a tightly contested (and tightly officiated…) first stanza.
Led by the Indiana-transfer Remy Abell (remember him?), Xavier was able to slash to the basket from the perimeter enough to keep Michigan within arm’s reach. Yet, the focal point of the half was LeVert, who was dead set on proving his worth to the NBA scouts in attendance. The Ohio native drilled threes, grabbed rebounds, and induced more than a few wet spots for Xavier defenders. The Crisler crowd was loud at times tonight, the sum of the Maize Rage and Xavier’s ostentatious and shameless contingent, and the intensity carried on to the floor. Jalen Reynolds pinned LeVert to the frame of the basket after foulding him on the way up, then received a tech on the next possession for hanging on the rim after a missed put back. When the dust settled, LeVert nearly tallied a double-double in the first half alone (16P, 7R, 2A) but Xavier led going into the locker room 45-36, creating some distance with a 15-5 run to end the half.
The early stages of the second half were defined by Michigan’s missed opportunities; be it a botched alley-oop exchange, a missed open layup by Aubrey Dawkins, or generally not capitalizing on the few stops they could get. Minutes later with Michigan was approaching the danger zone, down eight and near the ten minute mark, it went to Duncan Robinson who drilled two threes and woke up a tired stadium in the process.
As the half progressed, Michigan drilled a few big shots, including an impressive Zak Irvin and-one, but Xavier always had an answer until they finally pulled away after the eight-minute media timeout. The Wolverines got within two, but never closer as the forwards hedged, and hedged, and hedged, and got burnt time after time. Xavier got the rim at will as Michigan simply ran out of gas in a poorly-officiated contest. It’s a shame that the effort of LeVert (29P, 7R, 3A) was wasted, but outside of that, there’s little positive to take away from this one.
Michigan simply disappointed tonight but it’s important to remember this is only game three. John Beilein has a lot of work to do, primarily settling on a rotation (Michigan won't play twelve men all year, that's for sure) and figure out a way to mitigate the issues his forwards faced tonight. Nobody said it would be easy. UConn awaits.