Monday, November 16, 2015

Michigan 88, Elon 68: Sharpshootin'

Michigan moved to 2-0 with a relatively breezy 88-68 win against visiting Elon tonight in Ann Arbor.

Derrick Walton led the Wolverines with 24 points on 8-for-10 from the field (6-for-7 from three, plus seven assists and six rebounds).

Funny enough, though, the point guard wasn't even Michigan's most accurate shooter.

Transfer Duncan Robinson went a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, and 5-for-5 from downtown. If you aren't used to it already, get used to the phrase "he just doesn't miss."

I didn't have a chance to watch this past Friday's Northern Michigan game, so I finally got to see him in action for the first time tonight. I read some of the offseason practice reports with skepticism -- after all, we've heard flowery praise like that before about so many players, some of whom turned out to be pretty good but maybe not quite as good as such praise indicated.

But, so far, Robinson's outside stroke is as good as advertised. Obviously, we'll need to see it against real competition before he gets thrust into the Nik Stauskas Honorary Ring of Sharpshooters, but early returns are promising, to say the least.

In any case, there's not much use overanalyzing this game too much. Elon offered more size than NMU, but not so much to overwhelm. (Elon grabbed 33.3 percent of its misses in this one, which seems a little high, but it is what it is.)

Defensively, it wasn't a strong performance, but it's still early, obviously, and guys like D.J. Wilson are still getting their sea legs, not to mention Zak Irvin, who is still working his way back from injury and didn't start.

Elon shot 39.1 percent from beyond the arc, but Michigan made up for that by turning the Phoenix over 17 times. On that front, Caris LeVert (3-for-8, 11 points), flashed his length and general disruptiveness in the passing lanes and on the ball. He might not be a defensive stopper, per se, but he's good for at least one scoop and score a game.

In this one, he notched four steals, with at least a couple resulting in scores going the other way.

And not to sound like a meathead, but Michigan is going to need that sort of perimeter defensive intensity, because interior physicality is once again likely to not be their forte. On one play late in the first half, Elon's Brian Dawkins backed down Mark Donnal with startling ease, putting up an easy layup.

Ricky Doyle is the best option Michigan has on the physicality front. He picked up a ticky-tack foul outside of the three-point line on a hard hedge in the first half. That is something to watch out for going forward; if that continues to be called tightly, Michigan could be looking at some quick two-foul outings for the sophomore big man.

Overall, though, nothing has really been too surprising so far. Defense is a work in progress, the Wolverines can shoot the lights out and the frontcourters have a long way to go, even Doyle (who actually had a nice game, going 3-for-4 for eight points).

As for the others, Kam Chatman still seems to be searching for his outside shot, and he did get some good looks tonight (0-for-3 from downtown, 3-for-5 overall). At some point, some of those have to start falling for him.

Aubrey Dawkins had a relatively quiet night (3-for-5, 7 points) and Spike Albrecht wasn't much of a factor -- not that he needed to be -- although he did take a nice charge in the second half.

Moritz Wagner has a long way to go, obviously, physically and otherwise, but did have a nice strip that led to a transition opportunity. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, the subject of much "guy who is going to possibly be lost in the shuffle" talk, didn't do much, but had a nice strong take to the basket for two, just the sort of explosive slashery we saw from him in his Michigan debut season.

Michigan won again, and comfortably. The defense wasn't great, and several possessions ended in long jumpers at the buzzer (some ended with makes, but still), but expecting a well-oiled machine in November is far from reasonable.

The competition will pick up, and eventually we'll be able to make meaningful observations about these performances.

For now, though, the most encouraging things are clear. Walton, who has already been excellent in his career to date, looks ready to round into elite college point guard form. It's a long way off, but the matchup against Indiana's Yogi Ferrell on Feb. 2 is going to be one of the best position-to-position matchups of the conference season, in my opinion.

Walton's ability to get the transition game going is paramount: on one sequence in the first half, he threaded a beautiful bounce pass from the back court to hit Robinson in stride for two going the other way. Every assist only counts as one, but that's a super-assist right there.

Otherwise, Robinson's shot appears to be as ridiculous as advertised, and LeVert continues to do LeVert things when he's not having a particularly exceptional night from the field.

With these first two preseason-esque games out of the way, Michigan gets set to face Xavier, UConn and NC State in its next three. The competition picks up -- so does the chance to see some of these guys in meaningful game situations, in which mistakes matter and deficiencies can't be covered up by talent mismatches or a barrage of wide-open threes.

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