'It was tough': Michigan's Hunter Dickinson tied up in fits with Minnesota's double-teams
Over the past month, all Michigan did was win as the offense operated at a high level and freshman center Hunter Dickinson racked up one double-digit scoring performance after another.
That was highlighted by Dickinson’s 28-point outburst against Minnesota on Jan. 6 where he dominated the big man battle and thoroughly outplayed Liam Robbins in the 25-point victory.
But that run of good times came to an end when Robbins and the Gophers flipped the script in Saturday’s rematch. Robbins scored a game-high 22 points and was the best player on the floor, while Dickinson was held to a season-low nine points, committed five of Michigan’s 20 turnovers and struggled against Minnesota’s nonstop double-teams.
"What I saw was there were times where he was trying to make plays that were not there,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said after the 75-57 loss. “This is a good learning tool for him to go back, watch film and get his input on what he saw out there on the floor and how he can make better decisions with the basketball.
“Every game is a learning experience.”
Several opponents have tried to slow down Dickinson with double-teams, but to no avail. However, this time was different as he couldn’t solve Minnesota’s method.
On Michigan’s first two offensive possessions, Dickinson committed turnovers on a traveling violation when doubled on the block and on an offensive foul. That set the tone for a long day that left him flustered, frustrated and not as effective as usual.
He had an errant pass that went out of bounds and another pass out of a double-team that was deflected, intercepted and left him shaking his head down the court. Dickinson played only 23 minutes — his fewest since moving into starting lineup — and sat for a long stretch in both halves.
“He could've always handled it better. As a freshman, that's part of the mistakes that come with it,” senior forward Isaiah Livers said. “He's not perfect. He's not going to know what to do in every situation. He's probably never been in that frustration spot. He's always been the dominator, the centerpiece, the guy who has the most points, rebounds, blocks, the focal point.
“It was tough. Robbins, (Eric) Curry, (Sam) Freeman all gave him different looks. They gave him double-teams, bothered the hell out of him. Hunter is a smart kid, though. Like everybody else on this team, he’s resilient. He's going to get back, watch film. He’s going to shake his head like we all are going to do at our performances and keep digging and keep grinding."
Dickinson’s prowess in the paint has been a staple of Michigan’s offense, generating easy baskets at the rim and clean looks on the perimeter. But the Wolverines, who were already without senior guard Eli Brooks (foot injury), didn’t have an answer when Dickinson was taken out of the equation.
He attempted a season-low five shots as Michigan scored a season-low 57 points on a season-worst 39.3% shooting (22-for-56).
“We were swinging the ball. We had good shots (in the first half) that didn't fall, good takes,” Livers said. “Credit them for guarding without fouling. We were trying to draw some free throws in the first half and attack them, but they did a great job moving their feet and keeping their hands up.
“It was definitely tough without Hunter down there dominating the post like he usually does. That usually opens up shots for us. They double-teamed the hell out of him, and he's probably never seen that look before. They went right away. Usually it's on the second or third dribble they go get him and he has time to be patient and see.”
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said his team did a better job of ratcheting up its ball pressure as well as trapping and rotating out of the traps on Dickinson.
Robbins added the defensive plan was simple: Don't let Dickinson get to his spots and make the shots he normally makes.
“Personally, I didn't want him to get 28 again but it was a whole team effort," said Robbins, who shot 8-for-13 from the field and made all three of his 3-point attempts. "We had Brandon (Johnson) and Isaiah (Ihnen) come off doubles. Our guards were great digging and helping out on the pick-and-rolls.
“We were embarrassed about what happened in Ann Arbor and we were going to make sure that didn't happen on our home court.”
Dickinson isn’t the only one who was handed some lessons in Saturday’s romp. Freshman guard Zeb Jackson had a brutal second-half stretch that turned a six-point deficit into a 13-point hole. Grad transfer guard Mike Smith didn't score in 37 minutes. The Wolverines couldn’t stop turning the ball over on offense.
The outing brought Michigan back down to earth and showed everyone, including Dickinson, there’s still work to be done.
"Some of the new guys, it's their first loss,” Livers said. “I felt that we handled it very well in the locker room. Nobody was pointing fingers. There was no negativity. Guys were positive. Guys had their heads up.
“We're going to move on and learn from it.”