Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Michigan 82, Minnesota 74: Deja vu in the old barn

Williams Arena has been kind to John Beilein -- and with the Wolverines looking for a palate cleanser after back-to-back home blowouts, what could be better than a trip to the friendly confines of The Barn?

Looking to move to 6-1 in Minneapolis as Michigan's head coach, Beilein's squad, simply for the sake of hope, optimism and confidence, needed a decisive performance tonight.

Behind a flurry of first-half threes and Minnesota's typical cold shooting, the Wolverines reprised their performance in the first meeting against the Gophers, building a large lead only to see it disintegrate like a snowball made out of the wrong kind of snow. But, behind Derrick Walton's career-high 26 points, Michigan (18-8, 8-4) defeated the Gophers (6-18, 0-12), 82-74, Wednesday night in Minneapolis.

Walton concluded a firecracker of a first half by schooling Joey King off the dribble and burying a buzzer-beating trey, his fifth of the half on six attempts, to take Michigan into the break up 42-28.

Walton finished the opening half with 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting, plus 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Needless to say, it was the best half of basketball he's played this season.

Another positive sign for Michigan? Aubrey Dawkins, who has seemingly struggled to expand his arsenal of basketball attributes, had a nice half, too (8 points, 3-for-5 shooting). Speaking of Dawkins, he was the beneficiary of a nifty no-look pass from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman in transition, setting him up for a two on the block. For Abdur-Rahkman, who has been known to have the ball stick to his hands, the playmaking touch there is a nice, albeit small, thing to see.

Unlike the first meeting between these two teams, when Michigan struggled from the field, they went 9-for-16 from beyond the arc in the first half (56.3%). Meanwhile, Michigan held the Gophers to a sub-1.0 points per possession mark in the first half -- unfortunately for Michigan, that says more about Minnesota than it does Michigan's defense.

To start the second half, two buckets at the rim by Mark Donnal, a Walton steal and score, and an Abdur-Rahkman corner three extended the lead to 19.

Looking back to that first game, Michigan built a big lead then, too, only to see that margin deteriorate, making for a closer-than-necessary finish.

And once again, Minnesota didn't crack.

Michigan's once-sizable lead shrank to just seven with five minutes remaining after a 11-0 Gophers run. The stretch was bleaker than a Minnesota winter for Michigan:

Then, putting a stop to Minnesota's then 13-1 run, Duncan Robinson work around a screen to bury his fourth three of the game. But, as is often the case, when Michigan didn't make threes, it often didn't do much of anything. And defensively, Michigan continued to allow free rides to the basket.

The Gophers cut it to two with 90 seconds remaining. Luckily, Abdur-Rahkman had an answer, putting his shoulder down like De'Veon Smith on a safety to convert an and-1.

Abdur-Rahkman didn't stop there. After a Walton turnover, he recovered with startling speed to disrupt the Minnesota transition and give the ball back to Michigan.

And that was essentially all she wrote.

Once again, Michigan saw its big lead against a poor Gophers team evaporate. In both situations, Michigan did what it needed to do late in the game to eek out the win. Still, the slides are concerning, due to the level of the opponent and the fatal flaws that are only further exposed.

Michigan is what it is: a team reliant on the three and unable to consistently defend dribble penetration, challenge shooters at the rim or check bigs of any consequence.

Flawed, vulnerable, dynamic, simultaneously captivating and frustrating: this is Michigan basketball.

And on paper, Michigan is fine, at 18-7 and 8-4 in the league. Just a couple more wins and Michigan should be comfortably in the tournament picture (or somewhat comfortably).

Michigan welcomes Purdue to Ann Arbor this Saturday -- at this point, asking for an upset might be setting the bar high. After the Indiana and Michigan State games, simply keeping their collective head above water has to be the starting point.

Complementing Walton's career night, Abdur-Rahkman scored 16 on a perfect night from the field (5-for-5) and Robinson added 14 on 5-for-9 shooting.

As for Minnesota, the struggling Gophers fell to 0-12 in the conference. Minnesota is scheduled to face Rutgers (currently 0-11 in the Big Ten) on Feb. 23. Assuming the Gophers and Scarlet Knights lose their games before then, it'll set up a matchup between teams that are a combined 0-28 in league play.

Hello, must-not-see TV.

No comments:

Post a Comment