Maybe we overreacted to how good Michigan was? After nearly upsetting Purdue, knocking off Michigan State on the road and storming back to beat Maryland, the Wolverines were looking like a very balanced and fearsome team. One that no team would want to see come March. However, after that magnificent three game stretch, Michigan came crashing back to earth. They were throttled 72-52 by Nebraska in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers were winless against Michigan since joining the Big Ten and in all eight of their Big Ten matchups there was never a point in which Nebraska led by more than one possession. Now stats like that don’t mean much when drawn out over many seasons, but it’s safe to say Michigan had dominated the series. However, the tables were turned Thursday night as Nebraska completely outplayed the Wolverines.
But before we start bemoaning Michigan and overreacting in the opposite direction let’s take a moment to R-E-L-A-X as Aaron Rodgers would say. There has been a plethora of upsets this season. No team has looked safe, it’s only safe to assume that as soon as Michigan gets some national attention they were bound to run into a team’s A-game. Here are a number of other factors that led to Michigan’s loss.
Slow starts have been a glaring weakness for this team. The Wolverines have been playing this way far too often. Against Purdue, they were down by 14 points before coming all the way back to take a short-lived lead in their one-point loss last week. On Monday, they were down the same amount to Maryland after a poor first half in which they scored just 20 points. Michigan was no better yesterday, as they managed just 21 points in the first half and quickly dug themselves a hole. The Wolverines can’t expect to get down by double-digits every game and hope to flip a switch in the second half to get back into the game – especially on the road. The comeback charges against Purdue and Maryland took place at Crisler. On the road, staring up at a huge deficit… forget about it. Michigan had been playing with fire and they finally got burned. The Wolverines need to limit the slow starts and come into games with a sense of urgency from the get-go.
Tired and uninterested
With the Big Ten tournament having been bumped up a week due to it’s being played at Madison Square Garden this year, the Big Ten has had to cram their games into a shorter period. This has led to much shorter turnarounds than we are used to seeing. As last week bled into this one, Michigan played three high-profile games in six days. They then had to travel to Nebraska, before they come home to play their third game of the week against Rutgers. Big games, lots of traveling, little rest makes for games when the Wolverines are not going to have that same bounce in their step. When a team desperate for a win (Nebraska) gets a chance for a quality win, it’s hard to match that intensity. Especially if the team is coming off a couple of its own signature wins. Michigan didn’t need this win, Nebraska did. The Cornhuskers wanted the W more and it showed. Going forward, Michigan is going to need to know they will face teams’ best efforts now that they have a number next to their name (although, that will most likely be gone this week). They will have to bring more energy, especially on the road.
Michigan still relies on the three
The Wolverines have done a good job of competing in games, even when they are cold from long range. They have relied on Charles Matthews and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman specifically to drive to the basket and get points. But when staring at deficits like they have been, if Michigan can’t heat up from behind the arc, they will have a tough time winning games. Against Maryland, Michigan stormed back thanks to a barrage of three pointers. Against Nebraska, Michigan was ice cold all night. They made just four of their eighteen attempts. Jordan Poole and Duncan Robinson, who have been big shooters for the Wolverines, combined to go 0-5 from distance. If Michigan can’t make threes for the entire game, they will have a hard time winning.
Michigan has a quick chance to bounce back: they host Rutgers on Sunday at noon. If Michigan gets out to a slow start in that one, they may need to make some more changes. However, I expect Michigan to get back on track and get back in the win column.
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