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MnBBall Roundtable Makes A Last Gasp

Home stretch of the regular season. Can Michigan make a charge?

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of game recaps to go over. Close losses to MSU, Indiana, and Illinois and a not-so-close home loss to Iowa. What'd you see in these games that looked better and what do they still need to work on?

Drew: At first, I was just pleased with Michigan's effort. A team with a lineup of Spike Albrecht, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins, and Max Bielfeldt isn't supposed to take teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Indiana -- with the latter two played outside Ann Arbor -- down to the wire. There wasn't anything in particular that Michigan did better in these games. It was more about different Wolverines stepping up when the team needed them to do so -- whether it was Abdur-Rahkman and Albrecht dropping 18 points apiece against the Spartans or Irvin and Ricky Doyle combining for 38 points against the Hoosiers. There have been plenty of opportunities for the Wolverines to quit on the season, but they keep fighting and competing.

However, the same problems Michigan had before Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. went down with injuries still plague this team. The most prominent one is Michigan's shot selection. The Wolverines continue to suffer long spells without making a single field goal because they cannot consistently get good looks at the rim. Their pick-and-rolls are ineffective, and the only Wolverine who can finish in traffic is Abdur-Rahkman, though he's struggled in his past two games. This leads to Michigan settling for tough mid-range jumpers or contested three-pointers, which in turn leads to lengthy scoreless streaks that kill Michigan's chances of a victory. Michigan needs to find a way to attack the rim with greater success -- I'm looking at you, Irvin. If Michigan can do this, the Wolverines will start earning actual victories, not just moral ones.

John: Drew hit the nail on the head, Michigan needs to have better shot selection. There have been too many scoreless streaks that have crippled Michigan. Irvin needs to learn to find his own good shot, instead of settling for prayer threes and impossible layups. Aubrey Dawkins continues to show potential (see awesome dunk vs Illinois) but until he or Rahk develop into consistent scoring threats, the offense still has to run through Irvin to a degree. This Michigan is team is definitely dangerous when everything goes right, but they will never consistently win if they can't improve their shot selection.

Overtime appears to be a curse for this team. Any identifiable coaching adjustments to actually score points in the bonus period?

Drew: Who needs overtime? File a motion with the NCAA to shorten regulation to 35 minutes or declare games in which no team leads at the end of regulation to be ties. Boom. Problem solved.

John: Miracle injury cure from Russia? I feel like it's more a depth issue than it is any coaching. It just seemed like Michigan gave everything it had to get Wisconsin and MSU to overtime but had nothing left to give for the extra five minutes.

Drew: John is right. It's depth. This stat says it all: in the second half at Illinois, four Wolverines played all 20 minutes without subbing out once. They simply had nothing left for overtime.

A see-saw effect seems to be happening with Michigan's scorers. Albrecht has reduced his turnovers and is scoring more; Irvin has gone through dry spells, while Dawkins and Bielfeldt seem to be making the best of their playing time. How close is this team to having it all click at once?

Drew: Michigan is not that close. The Wolverines have players that can cobble together great single-game efforts, but what makes great players great -- and great teams great -- is the ability to produce at a high level every game. With Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. out, Michigan doesn't have a player like that available right now. Entering this season, we thought that Zak Irvin would be one of those players, but his outside shooting has been spotty at best, particularly in the corners, and he cannot compensate by finishing at the rim. Until Irvin can be a consistent performer -- or anyone else for that matter -- this see-saw effect will endure for Michigan.

John: Again Drew nails it, this team has to be consistent. Dawkins, Rahk, Doyle and Chatman have all shown flashes of greatness but none of them are consistent enough to provide stability for the team. That being said this Michigan team is pretty deep, given they've been competitive despite being out 3 starters (Walton, LeVert and Wilson). With all the youth Michigan has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about it all clicking eventually, I'm just not sure it will click this season.

Michigan has five games left coming off the loss to Illinois. What's the best outcome/ceiling heading to the conference tournament, assuming they'll need to win that to even be an NCAA bubble team?

Drew: The only way Michigan potentially could receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team would be to win each of its five remaining regular-season games and then add on at least one Big Ten Tournament win for good measure. In such a scenario, Michigan would have a 19-13 (11-7 B1G) record with a few top-50 wins and could maybe sneak onto the right side of the bubble. However, the odds of that happening according to KenPom: 0.9 percent.

It's "Win the Big Ten Tournament or Bust" with regards to Michigan's NCAA Tournament hopes.

Therefore, Michigan's goal for the remainder of the regular season should be at least to place itself in a position to head to the NIT if it doesn't win the Big Ten Tournament. To do this, Michigan will need to win three of its next five games because it would ensure that Michigan would have a .500 or better record -- something every team invited to the NIT has had. And participating in the NIT -- though not the intended goal at the start of the season -- would be great because these young Wolverines would earn even more practice and game experience that will be beneficial when they attempt to rebound from this turbulent season in 2015-16. Can Michigan win three of its next five games? Sure. It's helpful that the Wolverines will close the regular season with games against Northwestern and Rutgers. So, if the Wolverines can pick off at least one of their rivals, Michigan State or Ohio State, at home this week, they'll be in business.

John: Fortunately, Michigan is a big name and should get the benefit of the doubt during NIT selection, but I think the only ticket to the big dance will come through the Big Ten Tournament. That being said, Michigan has hung a banner in Crisler three years in a row and I doubt Beilein plans on ending that streak. If Walton comes back in time for the tourney, Michigan could upset everyone.

Against the Spartans at Crisler later this evening...what might Beilein change to avenge the close loss in East Lansing?

Drew: Michigan has become more a zone defensive team in recent weeks, but I wouldn't be surprised if John Beilein has his team play primarily man defense against Michigan State. Led by the crazy-athletic, 6-foot-6 Branden Dawson, the Spartans are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. In Michigan's first meeting with Michigan State, Dawson, Gavin Schilling, and Matt Costello combined for 10 offensive rebounds and killed the Wolverines on the glass. Michigan's best chance to stop Michigan State is to keep the Spartans off the boards, and the best way to do that is to play man defense. This will make locating and boxing out the Spartans' front court once the shot is in the air a much easier task. The concern, of course, is whether Zak Irvin or Aubrey Dawkins can be physical enough to keep Dawson away from the glass or prevent him from muscling them out of the way when he has the ball on the block. It's certainly a risk, but it's less of a risk than Michigan not boxing out Dawson and allowing open threes in its 2-3 zone.

John: I think John Beilein will give the entire Maize Rage espresso and secretly shrink Izzo's coaching area. The crowd will drown out the Spartans as they miss every free throw, while Michigan will get at least three technicals from Izzo standing on the court. All scoreless streaks, bad shot selection and inconsistency aside, MSU will go down on Tuesday.