Michigan had its first real test of the season on Friday night at home in the final matchup of the 2015 Gavitt Games. The game also added an extra hunk of significance when the Big Ten took a 4-3 lead in the Gavitt Games over the Big East on Thursday night. It meant a win would lock up a victory for the Big Ten and help to jumpstart the season for the Wolverines coming off a rough season.
Unfortunately, the Wolverines would have no answers for Xavier on the defensive end on Friday night. The Musketeers came out firing and never looked back. All told, Xavier won by a final score of 86-70, but the game was virtually over with a run by Xavier around the eight minute mark led by Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner.
With that, let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan's Defense Needs A Lot Of Work.
Easily, the biggest issue for the Wolverines the entire night was the team's performance on the defensive end. Overall, Xavier finished with 1.25 points per possession and that probably didn't even do it justice. The Wolverines couldn't slow down Xavier on the perimeter, inside, or in the paint. It was a dominating performance from the Musketeers.
Again, the thing to really note here is that it wasn't just one spot or one area. Michigan struggled to slow down Xavier in transition, failed to play quality on ball defense on the perimeter, and had big men failing to hedge well on the outside. It really was a team issue across the board.
Going forward, the big thing to watch will be how much better Michigan can defend on the perimeter. Xavier's guards got inside early and often without too much difficulty. Additionally, seeing how some of Michigan's young big men improve on defense will be telling. If players like Ricky Doyle and Moritz Wagner can hedge a little more consistently, that would be a big boost.
2. The Frontcourt Is ... Struggling.
This story is nothing new for Wolverine fans, but the frontcourt still remains a massive area of concern. Xavier dominated in the paint offensively and on the boards for most of the game. In particular, Xavier had a mind boggling .450 offensive rebounding rate and a .806 defensive rebounding rate. Overall, the Musketeers had 18 offensive rebounds on the game including a few possessions with multiple offensive rebounds.
To put these struggles in perspective, simply consider that Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle's performances. On Friday, Donnal and Doyle combined for 28 minutes of game action, but only had four points and two rebounds. Additionally, the two players combined for seven fouls, went 2-for-3 shooting from the field, and 0-for-3 from the free throw line. That's what you would call a bad night for each player.
Michigan's big men didn't just get outplayed, they got completely dominated. If the Wolverines are going to have any chance to compete against top teams and to make the NCAA Tournament, the big men simply must play better. It's not even about being great or even above average. Michigan just has to get mediocre production from the center position.
3. Caris LeVert Is Still The Guy For Michigan.
On a more positive note, Michigan did get some spectacular production out of Caris LeVert on Friday night. Overall, he finished with an impressive 29 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. For the stretches where Michigan did stay competitive with Xavier, it was largely due to the play of LeVert.
As such, the good news for the Wolverines is there is clearly a piece to build around going forward. Even in defeat, LeVert was probably the best player on the floor and came up big early and often. If Michigan can see some improvement around him, there's no reason to think that the team can't trend up going forward.
The Wolverines suffered a rough defeat on Friday night. Many were hopeful that Michigan could hit the ground running and push the Big Ten to a win in the Gavitt Games, but unfortunately, the team fell short. It was an impressive win for what appears to be a solid Xavier team, but did expose some real weaknesses for Michigan.
Now, Michigan will move on to the Battle For Atlantia, where the Wolverines will face Connecticut next Wednesday. It should be another challenging game and an opportunity to score a quality win.