After six games this season, Michigan appears to be a team still looking for proven depth and confirmed identity. While the Wolverines were able to turn it around against a mediocre Mount St. Mary’s team, we’d be remiss to skip over the drubbing Michigan took at the hands of South Carolina on Wednesday night.
The Wolverines took their 4-0 record into Columbia to play a very talented Gamecocks team but were absolutely manhandled from the start. The offense was stagnant the entire game, and the horrid shooting from the field was a constant all game. 24-32 from the free throw line saved the Wolverines into finishing with 46 points, but ten made field goals in forty minutes is inexcusable.
It’s difficult to even point to any bright spots, as Michigan’s two best players, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. finished a combined 5-27 from the floor. Walton and Mark Donnal were the only two to finish in double figures, and recent stud D.J. Wilson was pushed around by the South Carolina wings all night, only grabbing four rebounds in 29 minutes.
Overall, it’s a game that Michigan was lucky to forget but one where lessons must be learned. First, even the best Division I team can’t win a game if it shoots 2-26 from 3-point range and makes ten field goals overall. The free throws are a positive sign, but Michigan will need to find some other offensive strategy if the shots are not falling.
After this lackluster performance, Michigan welcomed Mount St. Mary’s to the Crisler Center in the second most important Michigan sporting event of the day (by a lot). The Wolverines started slow again, but a late first half surge from Moritz Wagner ignited the Wolverines to a 33-16 first half lead.
Michigan finished strong as well, with Irvin (14 points) and Walton (12) joining Wagner (13) in double figure scoring, as Michigan coasted to a 64-47 victory. The three aforementioned players all had strong games, and the slight resurgence of Duncan Robinson (eight points and five rebounds in 23 minutes) are all positives.
However, Michigan is still sorely lacking depth. Only seven Wolverines played double digit minutes, while Xavier Simpson and Ibi Watson combined for one point and one assist in ten minutes of play. This is slight concerning, as Zak Irvin should not need to play 40 minutes against “The Mount” in a blowout victory.
Wednesday, Michigan welcomes Virginia Tech (7:15, ESPN2) to the friendly confines of the Crisler Center. The Hokies enter with a 5-1 record, and most recently beat Nebraska 66-53. It’s hard to tell how good this team really is, as they dropped their only other power five conference game to Texas A&M.
Through six games, their best offensive players has been Zach LeDay. The 6’7” senior is averaging 16 points and nearly 8 rebounds per game, shooting over 52% from the floor. LeDay is not really a threat from the outside with only one made 3-pointer on the year, so the Wolverines will have their hands full inside.
LeDay doesn’t start, but the Hokies have kept four guards in their starting lineup up to this point. 6’5” Ahmed Hill is the second leading scorer at just under 15 per game, and 6’1” guards Justin Robinson and Seth Allen are both averaging double digits as well. Khadim Sy is the Hokies’ starting big man, but only plays about 13 minutes per game.
Off the bench, Allen and LeDay play the majority of the minutes, and 6’6” guard Ty Outlaw is the eight Hokie to appear in all six games this season. The key for Michigan will be limiting Virginia Tech from the outside, as they knock down 40% of their 3s. They’re a pretty small teams besides for LeDay and Sy, and getting one or both of the big men into foul trouble could be extremely important for Michigan.
On Saturday, Michigan plays Kennesaw State (1:00, BTN Plus) and should have little trouble with the Owls. They’ve played seven games, compiling a 2-5 record. The only team that stands out is Iowa, who beat the Owls 91-74 in the first matchup of the season. Defensively, Michigan will likely have to focus on three players: Kendrick Ray, Aubrey Williams and Nick Masterson.
Ray has had a great offensive start, averaging 21 points on nearly 19 attempts per game. Williams isn’t the best scorer but has been a bully on the boards, finishing with at least eight rebounds in every game. Masterson is a streaky scorer, but he’s taken about half of his attempts from behind the arc and is definitely a threat.
Overall, Michigan welcomes a good but beatable Virginia Tech team Wednesday night and a weak Kennesaw State team on Saturday. Neither win will look particularly flashy a few months from now, but both are important to sustain Michigan’s resume and pick up any win in non-conference play.