The competition was not at the highest level, but Michigan took care of business against Rutgers on Tuesday, rebounding from a horrid performance last time out. Coupled with the loss by Michigan State, the Wolverines could ill afford to drop back-to-back games given their quest for a conference championship.
Though the contest did not turn into a blowout, it was never really in doubt either. Michigan jumped out to a first half lead and successfully held off any Rutgers’ attempts to get back into the game. The Scarlet Knights have their flaws, but the takeaways are all positive from New Jersey.
When the shots fall
A 1.17 PPG performance is the offense’s best since January 13 against Northwestern. In ends what was easily Michigan’s worst stretch of the season on offense, and came with a solid, but not outstanding, 54.3 percent eFG. The team actually shot under its average from twos, although this is nothing new in recent weeks. Finishing remains a challenge at times, but for the most part the shot selection was better.
I am still not going to support the idea of jacking up threes, but 23 attempts is (sadly) fewer than the past four games. A 47.8 percent clip as a team cannot be criticized, but Charles Matthews and Jon Teske combining to go 1-for-6 suggests that there still is a disconnect in strategy.
On the positive, Zavier Simpson dished out seven assists, giving him a ridiculous 31 over his past four outings and 41 over his past eight. He did add an important 14 points as well, but his ability to distribute the ball has been holding the offense together in recent weeks.
Look to the rook
This season has seen multiple players take the lead on offense, and the torch has seemingly made a complete trip around the starting five already. It has somehow ended up in the hands of Ignas Brazdeikis yet again, who has been on a mission since his scoreless effort against Wisconsin. His scoring output since then: 18, 20, 14, 16, 23.
Fresh off an inclusion on the Wooden Award watch list, Brazdeikis looked dominant against Rutgers. For the second straight game, the freshman scored the first handful of Michigan points, and he led the team in scoring on a 75 percent eFG by the end of the affair. His 5-for-9 effort from deep puts him at 39.8 percent on the year, nearing the Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers territory.
Finding ways to lock down
The defense slipped down to No. 2 in adjusted defensive efficiency per Kenpom, but the margins are so close that the ranking will see more change. At 0.99 PPP, the Scarlet Knights were limited on offense, but not completely shut down.
Michigan did not force many turnovers (as usual) but held Rutgers to its lowest offensive rebounding rate in five games. The Wolverines were solid in the paint, keeping the home team to 50 percent shooting at the rim and 31.8 percent shooting from mid-range. Not conceding easy baskets was enough to frustrate a team less gifted on the offensive end.
The rest of the schedule is full of quality offenses. At times Michigan has looked closer to good than elite, but that will probably not cut it down the stretch. Big man defense is going to be a deciding factor more often than not, and that essentially means Teske’s ability to not foul. It was not an issue on Tuesday, and that needs to be the case every game going forward.