We look back at Michigan’s games last week and preview what’s ahead.
The Wolverines picked up two top-25 wins, defeating No. 11 North Carolina and No. 19 Purdue by a combined 36 points. Our Week in Review evaluates what went right, what went wrong, and what’s next.
What Michigan did well:
The Wolverines shot an even 50 percent from deep against the Tar Heels and Boilermakers, connecting on 24 of their 48 attempts. Michigan opened the Purdue game by hitting six of its first seven 3-pointers and finished 13-for-26. This team is so stingy defensively that even if they have a poor outing on the offensive end, beating the Wolverines is still an incredibly difficult task. When Michigan, leading the country in scoring defense at 51.8 points per game also makes half of its threes, there might not be a team in college basketball capable of winning in the Crisler Center.
Through their first six contests, the Wolverines were 32.6 percent from beyond the arc as a team. Now, that average sits at 37.2 percent. There is no way Michigan continues to shoot the ball as well as it did in these two games, but a 37 or 38 percent clip is absolutely sustainable. One of the most promising parts of this 3-point barrage is that is still only accounted for 45 percent of the team’s points. The Wolverines got good looks from deep and capitalized on them, but also found other ways to score. That balance is crucial, especially when the threes aren’t falling.
Defending Luke Maye and Carsen Edwards:
What the Wolverines did to Maye and Edwards, both members of the AP Preseason All-America team and preseason player of the year in their respective conferences, is nothing short of remarkable. The duo combined for 30 points on 33 percent shooting while going 2-of-9 from three and attempting a total of eight free throws against Michigan. Players as talented as Edwards and Maye are going to get their points, regardless of how good the defense might be. The key is limiting high-quality looks and making sure those points don’t come in an efficient manner. John Beilein has to be thrilled with the way his team guarded two of the ten best players in the country.
Michigan also displayed its defensive versatility in defending such different players at an extremely high level. Edwards is a quick guard who breaks down opponents by driving to the basket. Maye is a fantastic rebounder who can stretch the floor and go at defenders in the post. Having the ability to bother elite players with varying skill sets is a massive advantage in conference play and the NCAA Tournament. To make a deep run in March, teams have to face all kinds of different stars with limited time to prepare. The Wolverines got their first experience with that and passed with flying colors.
Where Michigan struggled:
For the second time this season, the Wolverines shot under 50 percent from the free throw line in a game, finishing 11-of-23 against North Carolina. After missing two of its first three attempts in the Purdue game, Michigan’s free throw percentage for the week sat at 46.2 percent, a terrifyingly low number. To the Wolverines’ credit, they made their last 10 free throws to end 11-of-13 from the charity stripe. Even so, they only managed to convert on 61.1 percent of their foul shots between the two contests, moving their season average down to 63.8.
When a team’s most pressing concern in early December is free throw shooting, there are not an awfully large number of obvious areas for improvement. If the Wolverines continue beating everyone they play by at least 17 points, as they have done so far, the fact they’re tied for 304th nationally in team free throw percentage won’t have any significant impact. However, should the poor shooting persist, there is bound to be a game or two where Michigan pays a real price for it. The 10-for-11 showing in the second half against the Boilermakers provides substantial hope for improvement.
Before facing North Carolina, the most offensive rebounds Michigan had allowed was 13, coming against Providence. The Tar Heels matched the Friars’ total, leading to 10 second-chance points. Purdue then grabbed 13 offensive boards of its own, which resulted in 11 extra points. The 21 second-chance points in the two games accounted for 16.9 percent of the total amount scored by the Tar Heels and Boilermakers. Without them, Michigan gave up 103 points in 80 minutes against ranked opponents.
Just like the free throw shooting, defensive rebounding is clearly not hurting the Wolverines yet, but it is something that can cause issues down the road. Ending a higher percentage of opponents’ possessions after one shot would take what is arguably already the best defense in the country to a whole new level. Getting into the habit of boxing out and controlling the defensive glass now allows it to become routine by February and March when teams need to be playing their best basketball. Half of Michigan’s opponents have recorded at least 10 offensive rebounds. Just imagine what this defense would look like if the Wolverines cleaned that up.
The week ahead: Dec. 4 at Northwestern (9 p.m.), Dec. 8 vs. South Carolina (12 p.m.)
Michigan opens the week by traveling to Evanston, Illinois, to face Northwestern its second Big Ten game and first on the road. The Wildcats are 6-2 on the season and lost their conference opener at Indiana, 68-66. Vic Law leads the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game while Evansville transfer Ryan Taylor is third, averaging 13.4. Michigan and Northwestern both rank in the top 30 nationally in scoring defense as of Dec. 2. The Wolverines then return home to face the 4-3 South Carolina Gamecocks. Nine different players on Frank Martin’s team average between 5.9 and 14.9 points per game. The Gamecocks were picked to finish 11th in the SEC preseason media poll and have yet to play a true road game. They went 1-1 in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament Michigan won last month, falling to Providence and defeating George Washington.