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Michigan 53, No. 3 Arizona 80: Thumping in the Desert

Looking for a bounceback upset win on the heels of being upset in consecutive games, the Wolverines were demolished by a top-5 Arizona squad on the road.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

As I looked through SB Nation's photo database for something to accompany the tenor of this post, I found the one. Arizona's Brandon Ashley is pictured above, readying himself for a monster two-handed slam, as freshman Ricky Doyle, completely turned away from the play a la J.T. Floyd vs. Penn State in 2010, looks bewildered, staring into the camera lens and directly into our souls, as if to ask "Why is this happening?"

Well, that is the question, isn't it? It's not as if many expected Michigan to pull off a victory in Tucson against a potential Final Four team. In fact, I'm not even sure many pegged this for the "not necessarily close but respectable" variety of losses.

Even so, to lose by 27 points -- and it really wasn't even that close -- stings a little bit. That's not to say that Michigan is undoubtedly a bad team (I don't think they are) or that they'll miss the tournament for the first time since 2009-10. This loss is more a blow to: 1) pride and 2) the notion that Michigan is more or less impervious to the constant flux of NBA departures and incoming youth, that, no matter what, there would be enough left to keep Michigan moving, with accounted for room to ascend once the young additions round into form (as they've almost always done under Beilein).

Everyone with a bit of reason to them knew growing pains were on the way. You don't just lose Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary and expect to pick up right where you left off. However, this recent slide is a bit puzzling, especially after solid wins against Oregon and Syracuse, and a respectable performance against a very good Villanova squad.

With that said, things have looked rough, not just for Michigan's youngsters -- especially its posts, who, not unsurprisingly, look slower and less forceful than their opposing counterparts -- but Michigan's returning stars, too.

Michigan's "Big Three" hasn't been able to carry Michigan through, somewhat harkening to the Michigan defense and the motif of its breaking down late in games as a result of the offense's incompetence.

After shooting 11-for-18 against NJIT, Caris LeVert shot a combined 6-for-19 against EMU and Arizona. Yesterday, LeVert shot 2-for-9, committing five turnovers and grabbing just three boards. I don't know how worried anyone should be about that; Arizona is talented, big and fast, and expecting LeVert to do what he usually does against a roster like that would've meant expecting a borderline Herculean effort worthy of a future No. 1 pick in the draft.

Walton shot 41 percent from three last season -- he's currently at 33 percent for 2014-15. Dating back to the Syracuse game, he's gone 3-for-16 from downtown in his last four games. Simply put, he's missing looks that he often confidently knocked in last season.

As for Irvin, well, he's probably the one to worry about the most. While he's still at a very good 37 percent from three for the season (a mark 99 percent of college shooters would probably be happy with), he's gone 4-for-11, 1-for-8, 2-for-8 and 2-for 6 in his last four games, and picked up just two rebounds in three of those contests.

Whether it's a matter of just not hitting shots or Michigan simply being no match for a top notch Arizona squad, the recent slide is concerning, albeit not yet condemning.


I suppose I should at least touch on the game itself, right?

There's not much to say. Zak Irvin and the struggling Kam Chatman buried triples in the game's opening minutes, a promising sign for a team in a hostile environment. That was short-lived, however. A LeVert turnover with six minutes left in the half paved the way for a Stanley Johnson slam, giving the 'Cats a nine-point lead and balancing Michigan tenuously on the border of Blowout City.

Johnson added two more dunks a couple of minutes later, capping a 9-0 run that would extend Michigan's deficit to 16. Somehow, Michigan limped its way to the half down just 11. At that point, an early second half hot streak meant maybe, just maybe, the Wolverines could make it a game.

Arizona put the kibosh on that, launching a 12-0 run early in the second half to take a 48-25 lead with 15:50 remaining. It's not often that you can see Michigan is out of a game with that much time left, but that was the case yesterday.

The Wolverines went down by as many as 36 points before hitting a few shots late to push the deficit back into the more palatable 20s.

Whereas Michigan had no answer for EMU's active 2-3 zone, they had no answer for Arizona's size, length and skill. In terms of immediate causes for concern, the former is more worrisome; sometimes, you do just have to tip your cap and acknowledge when another team is better. You don't even have to acknowledge, actually, because the scoreboard says it all. But, when you're a shooting team that has problems shooting, let alone against a 2-3 zone that you had just seen not too long ago, then that's a problem.


Michigan shot 35. 2 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from beyond the arc (7-for-26). Arizona outrebounded them 40-26, while shooting 58.2 percent from the field. Four Wildcats starters scored in the double digits, with Johnson scoring 17 on a patently unfair 8-for-10 mark from the field.

When you're big, fast and athletic, the buckets you score often look far easier than what squads without those attributes can do. Now, that's not to say that Michigan is completely without athletes, but one team was playing chess yesterday, with the other playing checkers. It was not unlike watching just about any version of The Game over the past decade, with one team looking decidedly more talented, bigger and faster than the other.


So, once again Michigan sits at 6-4, just like last season. With that said, last year's 6-4 was infused with a tad more hope than this one is.

At 6-4 last year, Michigan traveled to Brooklyn and knocked off Stanford, the first win in what became a 10-game streak, cementing Michigan as a heavy favorite to ultimately come away with the Big Ten crown.

Michigan next takes on a currently 6-3 Southern Methodist squad, back in the recently-not-so-friendly confines of the Crisler Center. Will that game be to this team what the Stanford game was for last year's? No, probably not, at least not to that degree.

However, we've seen two very different versions of this Michigan team, the Oregon-Syracuse-Villanova one and the NJIT-EMU-Arizona one. Either way, we'll learn a lot about which way the pendulum will swing going forward as Michigan closes out its nonconference slate and begins what appears to be, on paper, a relatively forgiving four-game start to league play.

Uncertainty of this kind is never fun -- then again, it keeps things interesting. Think back to last year's 6-4, and the climb to get out of it.

That probably won't happen again -- but it could.