I only really started getting into basketball in my high school years, and until I attended the University of Michigan, my attention was mainly fixated on the NBA. When my freshman year coincided with Trey Burke and the Fresh Five’s magical run to the NCAA Championship, I acquired a love for the Wolverines as well, one that has persisted through the various heartbreaks that have beset Michigan’s program. My playing experience is limited. I made my high school’s JV team as a sophomore after never playing much organized ball. We went 3-17, and while I started about a third of our games, I only scored 6 points the entire season (hence the record). I played plenty of IM ball throughout my undergraduate tenure, but whatever insight I have into the strategic and analytic aspects of the game come from reading Zach Lowe, following NBA twitter, and watching as many games as I can without actually owning a TV or subscribing to cable.
Despite being relatively under-credentialed, I still want to contribute something to the vast wealth of Michigan sports content available to satisfy the needs of even the most desperate Wolverine junkies. MGoBlog, UMHoops, MaizeNBrew, MLive, and many other outlets provide excellent coverage of the team; I hope to supplement the information they provide with a more focused, analytical look into the play of each player that contributes to the Wolverines’ efforts.
As of right now, I plan on choosing one player to hone in on before watching Michigan play. Throughout the game, I will take notes on as many significant plays involving said player until the game is over. Afterwards, I will watch a replay of the game (shoutout to mgovideo) and attempt a more detailed breakdown of his play. Aside from that, I’m not sure what else to offer, and that’s where I would appreciate feedback from anyone who would take an interest in this sort of thing. Any suggestions pertaining to the structure of my article, my writing, my basketball analysis, or anything else would be valuable. I see this as being something I would likely be able to sustain throughout the entire season, if not for every game, so hopefully this can become a useful resource for basketball fans everywhere. As of right now, the notes will be interspersed with links to pictures that help illustrate my analysis; hopefully in the future I'll be tech-savvy enough to actually put the pictures in the body of the piece. For now, the captions will be in parentheses preceding the link.
19:50: Irvin takes a handoff off a screen from Wagner, draws Mo’s defender out of the paint, and dumps it down to Mo, who is wide open for an easy layup. The first of many disorganized defensive rotations against Michigan’s high ball screen offense.
19:32: Irvin grabs a board, pushes the pace, and hands it off to Walton, whose pass to MAAR in the corner is tipped out of bounds.
19:00: Irvin, alone against a Marquette fastbreak, elects to give up the easy 2 instead of defending and risking a foul. Wagner doesn’t get the memo, and fouls anway.
18:32: Irvin slowly drifts away from his man’s peripheral vision to the corner on a Walton-Wagner pick-and-roll; Walton fakes a cross-court pass his way, Wagner’s man is helping on Walton, so Zak’s defender must choose between defending Zak and helping on Wagner. Zak’s man bites on the fake, freeing up Wagner for an open trey. Zak’s court awareness probably helped to free this one up. (Sneaky Zak) 1h_1832.png
18:01: High ball screen/handoff from Donnal to Irvin, Donnal rolls unguarded to a wide-open paint, and the touch and accuracy of Irvin’s pass allow Donnal to catch and finish in the air. Marquette again demonstrates clueless rotations against a simple high ball screen, perhaps distracted by Walton and Wilson’s movement off the ball.
17:46: Irvin gets screened guarding Jajuan Johnson, who blows by Donnal, pump-fakes, and finishes. Michigan switched heavily on defense throughout this game, so Irvin’s probably more responsible for tracking Donnal’s man into the paint than fighting to stick with Johnson over the screen.
17:27: Irvin is fronted in the post on the left wing; his man hedges hard onto Walton in the corner once he blows by his defender. Irvin flashes out of the post to the 3-point line. Walton finds him, and he gets a clean catch and hop off Walton’s bounce pass before the contest arrives. Irvin knocks down the 3.
17:12: Johnson, guarded by Irvin, zips an inch-perfect pass inside from the top of the key for an and-one. Zak puts his hands down and out of the passing lane because he anticipates a screen, but he should probably read a flat-footed Johnson’s intentions better here and make the pass a bit more difficult. (Hands up!) 1h_1712.png
17:00: Zak gets a handoff from Walton on the left wing, rolls right off a Donnal screen, Donnal rolls to a paint that is yet again wide open, and Irvin lobs it just over the outsretched hand of Donnal’s man for an easy finish.
16:14: Irvin, flatfooted, tries to find a cutting Wilson inside. Irvin’s man reads the difficult pass and deflects it for a turnover.
15:43: Irvin goes right off a high screen from Donnal and tries a long off-drible 2-point jumper over a double team. Donnal rolls to the paint where he is guarded by 6’0” Traci Carter; Irvin should have found him for another easy assist. Instead, he clangs the jumper. (Zak nooo) 1h_1544.png
14:38: Irvin loses the ball in at midcourt trying to push the pace in transition; he gets bailed out by a trailing Donnal, who narrowly avoids a backcourt violation.
12:53: Carter, guarded by Walton, gets a high ball screen from Luke Fischer. Donnal hedges hard and Fischer rolls to the rim unopposed; Irvin sags off of Johnson in the corner to contest a pass inside. Carter swings to Haanif Cheatham on the right wing. Cheatham drives baseline; Irvin sticks with Fischer until Donnal can rotate back. Cheatham then tries to find Johnson in the corner, but Irvin has read this and sags off of Fischer to make this pass difficult, and Cheatham throws it out of bounds. Zak demonstrates good off-ball instincts on this possession. (Zak reads Cheatham's eyes) 1h_1253.png
12:31: Irvin, coming off a staggered screen from Wilson and Donnal, gets matched up with Donnal’s man. He tries a dribble-drive to his left; Donnal’s man sticks with him. Zak tries a 10-foot fadeaway jumper just inside the left elbow and bricks it. Not the best look with 15 seconds still left on the shot clock.
12:18: Zak gives a light shove to his man before setting an off-ball screen for MAAR on the right wing, ensuring that neither can contest Rahkman’s open 3. Rahkman misses anyway. (None shall pass) 1h_1216.png
11:55: Zak, guarding Cheatham, gets caught watching Katin Reinhardt attempt a dribble-drive on Wilson. Cheatham back-cuts, and should have an open layup, but Wilson’s rapid help and massive wingspan force a miss at the rim. Irvin pushes the ball up the court before swinging it to Rahkman, who initiates Michigan’s halfcourt offense. This isn’t the only time Zak will get caught ball-watching; he’s never been a player with a high defensive motor, and is somewhat prone to these kinds of mistakes. Defensive inattentiveness has been a pretty common theme on Beilein’s teams over the past two years, and Irvin is no exception. (Where'd you g... oh.) 1h__1155.png
11:38: Zirvin subs out after a MAAR interception and and-one. Michigan leads 20-15, pending the free throw.
Irvin’s activity on the offensive end was a big reason for Michigan’s fast start to the game. While he wasn’t perfect on defense during his first shift, he still committed fewer defensive indiscretions than several of his teammates.
10:34: Zak checks back in with Michigan leading 24-15.
10:05: Zak gets a screen from Donnal at the top of the key and drags his and Donnal’s defenders all the way into the right corner. All five Marquette defenders are staring at him now; meanwhile, Duncan Robinson has drifted into the left corner. Zak hits him right in the chest with an off-balance, one-handed dart, and Duncan nails a 3 that’s essentially a layup for him. Really impressive vision and execution. (Zak, falling out of bounds) 1h_1005.png
9:45: Jajuan Johnson, guarded by Irvin, gets a screen from C Luke Fischer and drives to the rim. Donnal switches on to Johnson and gets bowled over; Johnson misses the shot through the contact, but Fischer snags the offensive board over Zak and hits a second-chance layup. Irvin is never going to out-jump Fischer; he really needs to get a body on him once Johnson’s shot goes up.
8:39: Robinson finds Irvin on the left wing in transition after grabbing a defensive rebound; Irvin feigns a dribble-drive, then hands off to Robinson, who only breaks stride to hesitate and draw an overzealous closeout before attacking the rim and drawing a foul. Zak’s quick decision-making helps Robinson take advantage of a not-yet-set Marquette defense.
8:10: Zak runs PnR with Wagner off a handoff from MAAR, draws a touch foul, and makes both FTs.
7:45: Zak finds a cutting DJ after coming off a high PnR with Donnal; DJ fumbles with the pass, but finds MAAR in the opposite corner, who drives and scores. Wilson’s backdoor cut is probably open because his man has drifted into the path of Donnal to compensate for Marquette’s earlier failures against the PnR.
6:55: Zak’s man sets a screen for a Marquette G defended by Wilson; Zak anticipates a switch, but DJ sticks with his man through the screen. Zak’s man is thus open, DJ’s man passes to him out of the double team, and he bricks an open 3. Defensive miscommunication on the part of Zak and DJ.
6:32: Irvin catches cutting hard to his right off an off-ball high screen from Donnal, takes one dribble, and nails a contested 20-footer. Awful shot selection, but at this point, it’s just part of the Zak Irvin package. When they’re going in, it doesn’t matter.
6:17: Zak lobs to Wilson in transition; DJ bobbles the catch, which results in an effective touch pass to a trailing Donnal, who gets the layup. Wilson apparently carries on the recent Doylian tradition of Michigan big men with subpar hands.
6:03: Irvin quickly sags off his man to help against the roll man in a high PnR; Cheatham instead gets it on the right wing, and tries a wild cross-court pass to Irvin’s man which sails about five feet too high. Irvin was closing out hard anyway. He seems locked in on both ends at this point. (Zak reads this) 1h_604.png
5:26: Donnal fakes a screen at the top of the key and then fades to the perimeter; Zak hesitates briefly coming around the screen, then jets to the rim for an open layup. Marquette’s defense is making things way too easy for him.
4:27: More PnR success for Michigan, as Irvin passes over two defenders to hit a rolling Donnal, who gets fouled at the rim.
4:22: Zak checks out of the game after Donnal hits the first FT. Michigan leads 43-24.
3:37: Irvin checks back in after the final media timeout with Michigan up 46-24
3:11: Late in the shot clock, Donnal screens for Irvin and fades to the left wing. Zak passes to him out of a double team. Donnal hesitates before making the extra pass to Ibi Watson in the corner; as a result, his 3 is contested and clangs off the back rim.
2:02: Marquette inbounds from under Michigan’s basket. Irvin fights through a screen to contest his man in the corner, forcing a pass. Irvin follows his man to the top of the key, sagging off to aggressively swipe at a JaJuan Johnson dribble drive. Zak helps to force an early pickup and a tough runner over Donnal. Irvin grabs the board, gets his eyes up immediately, and overthrows MAAR in transition. Love the energy from Zak here even if the result wasn’t ideal.
1:35: Zak grabs another defensive rebound. Nothing coming easy for Marquette at the end of the half.
0:52: Another high PnR with Donnal. Irvin sees Wilson’s man sagging into the paint to help on Donnal and instantly fires a pass his way, and Wilson misses an open 3. Irvin’s vision and decision-making on the offensive end have been impeccable aside from a couple forced shots and turnovers.
0:35: Irvin gets switched onto Jajuan Johnson, fights through a screen, and shuttles him into Mo Wagner at the rim. Wagner tries to draw a charge when vertically challenging would make this look far more difficult; Johnson contorts his body around Wagner and banks in a tough runner.
HALFTIME: Michigan leads 50-26. Zak’s fingerprints are all over Michigan’s offensive explosion. He’s been scoring effectively, but the majority of his impact lies in his facilitation. If Michigan gets this version of Zak (or, frankly, this version of everyone) throughout the season, they will beat a lot of teams.
19:20: Zirvin grabs a board, pushes the pace, then pulls it back when nothing materializes.
18:17: Irvin’s man sags to the paint to help with a Walton-Wagner PnR. Walton fires to Irvin, who splashes a 3. Too easy.
17:22: Irvin helps Wagner on a bounce pass to the post on the right block; he’s worried about leaving Johnson open in the left corner, but if he gets there sooner or helps more aggressively toward the baseline, he might prevent the ensuing and-one.
17:09: Johnson reads a perimeter pass from Wilson to Irvin, intercepts it, and streaks down the court for a dunk. DJ shouldn’t make this pass, but if Irvin is less lackadaisical in coming to the ball, he might prevent the turnover (Go get it, Zak!) 2h_1709.png
16:19: Zak cuts baseline from the left wing as all five Marquette defenders watch a MAAR drive. MAAR doesn’t find him, instead hitting a difficult floater in the lane after an uncalled travel. Good off-ball movement from Zak even if it’s not rewarded.
15:57: Zak spots Cheatham stumbling and tries to cheat the passing lane between him and Johnson, but the pass gets through, and Johnson drives and draws a foul. It was unsuccessful, but probably a good gamble from Zak.
15:26: Irvin turns away from a Donnal screen, creates a ton of space with a stepback, and leaves an 17-foot jumper short. It’s a wide open look, but still an off-dribble long 2 with 15 seconds left on the shot clock.
15:11: Zak swipes at and maaaaybe affects a missed layup from Johnson.
14:50: Irvin takes a handoff from Donnal, who sets a screen; Donnal rolls to the rim, and Irvin finds him for another easy layup. Wash, rinse, repeat.
14:15: Zak gets his hand on a defensive rebound that he or Wilson should probably corral. Instead, they tap it right to Fischer, who collects and gets fouled on the second chance. Donnal actually does a good job of sealing Fischer under the basket once the shot goes up, all for naught.
13:53: Zak cuts out from the paint off a screen from Wilson, catches a pass from MAAR, and misses an open 3. Hard to tell but looked like he leaned forward more than usual on his jumper.
13:05: Zak gets lost on defense, and ends up defending an already-guarded Fischer. He’s responsible for Markus Howard, who’s open in the left corner, and doesn’t close out by the time the ball swings his way. Howard’s a freshman with only 1 3PA on the season heading into the game, but he nails a 3 over Irvin with no hesitation. (Defensive miscommunication) 2h_1305.png
12:38: Irvin fires a skip pass to DJ in the right corner after a left-wing PnR with Donnal is covered. It’s a smart pass that serves to further stretch the Marquette defense, and Michigan’s ensuing crisp ball movement results in an open MAAR 3, which misses short. At the other end, Marquette runs a PnR and Zak, instead of sagging off to help on a rolling Fischer as he has done throughout most of the game, sticks with Cheatham as he moves toward the ball. As a result, Fischer gets an open dunk. As with most unsuccessful defensive possessions, the blame could probably go several ways, but Zak deserves his share for not doing enough to prevent the pass inside. (Zak, leaving the paint open) 2h_1238.png
11:56: MAAR and Zak misread each other, and MAAR bounces a pass past Irvin’s outstretched hands and out of bounds. Zak subs out. Michigan leads 59-39.
10:54: Zak back in. Michigan leads 62-39.
10:48: Irvin drives left after an overzealous closeout and gets fouled on a tough hop-step floater in the lane. Duncan Robinson has drifted to the left corner and is wide open; Irvin is looking to score on his drive, but I was internally screaming at him to find Robinson, who had been heating up. (HE'S RIGHT THERE, DUDE) 2h_1048.png
10:10: Moe Wagner kills a dude. Irvin has nothing to do with it, but it’s still worth noting.
9:21: Irvin, consistently the first guy back on defense in transition, slows down an odd-man break and forces a miss with his verticality. Robinson is late contesting the putback and fouls. Irvin plays this about as well as he could have
8:51: Zak tries to sag in and swipe at a dribble drive, per usual. Problem is, he’s helping one pass away off of Jajuan Johnson, who shot 39% from 3 last season. Johnson punishes the mistake, knocking down a 3. (Sag off, swag's off) 2h_854.png
8:02: Another roll man is open after setting a screen and handing off to Irvin. This time, it’s Wagner. Irvin finds him, and he can’t finish over a 6’5” Cheatham. It’s solid rotation this time from Marquette, but Wagner should do better.
7:51: Zak lobs an alley-oop to DJ, who is wide open. Marquette’s defense is a tire fire.
7:38: Johnson, guarded by Irvin, arcs in from the right wing, gets a pass, and flies into the lane for a tough floater over DJ. Irvin, fearing a jumper, is leaning toward the perimeter too heavily when Johnson catches the pass, so he can’t stick with Johnson after a quick burst toward the hoop (Caught him leaning) 2h_738.png
6:57: Zak’s initial help on a Marquette PnR is good, as he cuts off a quick pass inside Wagner’s man as he rolls to the paint. Marquette’s guard drives and wraps a pass around Wagner to the big down low, who finishes despite Irvin’s help. Irvin didn’t pick up a foul all game in large part because he never really challenged aggressively at the rim.
6:26: Zak gets his pocket picked trying to strip through and drive baseline, away from a Donnal screen. Looked like a good idea, he just wasn’t strong enough with the ball in his hands.
5:47: Another turnover by Zak, as he he badly underthrows a crosscourt pass to DJ off a PnR with Donnal.
4:40: Irvin overdribbles for ten seconds, can’t find anything, gets a screen from Donnal late in the shot clock, and clangs home an off-dribble 3 over two defenders. Zak gets a home-court bounce in Madison Square Garden, which bails out a Michigan team on the verge of letting their lead get cut to single digits.
3:38: Zak gets switched on Wilson’s man following some off-ball action; this forces him to help from an unfamiliar position on Marquette’s ensuing PnR. He’s a bit late, and Fischer finishes over a decent contest at the rim.
3:00 Same thing happens; M gets hands in the passing lanes.
2:58: Zak picks up a DJ Wilson block and shrewdly turns down an even-numbers fastbreak, allowing Michigan to run some clock.
2:23: Marquette’s just passing back and forth around the perimeter; Zak’s man catches, Zak sticks with the jab step, and his man lifts his pivot foot. Zak comes out of the game for the final time, with Michigan up 75-57.
Final Statline: 16 pts, 5-9 FG, 3-4 3pt, 3-4 FT, 0 OReb, 7 DReb, 5 AST, 4 TO
Zak’s performance shone brightest amidst a brilliant team showing by the Wolverines. This game showcased further development in his passing ability, an upward trend that has continuously progressed since his freshman year. He still fell into some old habits from time to time, and he may never be a dynamic scoring threat, but even if his jumper never returns to its freshman-year form, his prowess as a playmaker bodes well for this Michigan team. He was hit-or-miss on various defensive possessions, but I expect that with more experience playing under Billy Donlon, some of the mental lapses will be shored up. Aside from a stretch where the team as a whole unraveled late in the 2nd half, Zak was engaged and effective on both ends. An offense with Zak as its highest-usage player could do very well if his play this season resembles his 1st-half form.