With the NCAA Tournament right around the corner, Michigan sits on the bubble, looking to impress the committee with a few wins to close out the season.
Despite losing to #6 Maryland 86-82, the Wolverines did a lot today to show that they are a tournament-caliber team.
Playing in a hostile environment, Michigan went down by as much as 16 points in the first half. After recently getting blown out in games against Indiana and Michigan State, the Wolverines were in danger of getting embarrassed in yet another important game.
Rather than letting the game get out of hand, Michigan responded with a 10-0 run, and were only down by five points at the half.
In the second half, several Michigan players stepped up and kept the game close. The Wolverines hit their first eight shots to start the half, and had an outstanding shooting and passing game as a team. Mark Donnal was sensational, scoring 25 points and blocking five shots. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had his best game of the season, finishing with 16 points and nine assists. Duncan Robinson had nine rebounds, and Derrick Walton Jr. filled up the stat sheet before fouling out. Zak Irvin hit big shots late in the game as usual, and even Kameron Chatman came off the bench and hit two three-pointers. It was a complete team effort, but it still wasn’t enough for Michigan to come away with the victory.
After hanging with the Terrapins and even temporarily taking the lead, Michigan had the ball with less than a minute left, down by three. Walton drove to the basket but was called for an offensive foul, and Maryland went on to ice the game at the free-throw line.
The Wolverines didn’t play a perfect game, but the effort in the second half was promising. This team showed some fight, which has not always been a given. When the Wolverines play like this, they are capable of competing with anybody. They have struggled with consistency all year, so it will be interesting to see how they respond in their next few games.
Michigan’s dependence on the three-point shot can be both a curse and a blessing, but it was definitely a blessing today, almost carrying the team to victory. Beating a quality opponent like Maryland on the road would’ve almost certainly safely put Michigan in the tournament, but the loss keeps the Wolverines on the bubble. Michigan will have a few other opportunities to get quality wins, however, with games against Wisconsin and Iowa coming up in addition to whoever the Wolverines play in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Wolverines will end up splitting the season series with the Terrapins 1-1. Next, Michigan faces Northwestern at home this Wednesday in a must-win game. The Wolverines’ resume cannot afford a bad loss, so Michigan needs to take care of the Wildcats in order to have a chance at the tournament. It seems that Caris LeVert will be out for that game as well, and there’s a chance that he doesn’t return at all. The return of LeVert would certainly help Michigan’s tournament chances, but it looks like the Wolverines will be forced to finish the season without their best player. If they play like they did today, they should be competitive no matter who they play.