Well, that sucked.
There have been two versions of this Michigan team since Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. were sidelined with foot injuries. The first version is the team that has been resilient beyond measure with one or two Wolverines exceeding their ability in each game. This is the team that took Michigan State and Illinois to overtime and Indiana down to the buzzer, all of which took place in hostile territory. The second version is a team of a MAC-level caliber, which makes sense when said team is without its two best players one season after three players declared early for the NBA Draft. This is the team that permitted a bigger Iowa team to run layup lines all night in an 18-point home loss.
Michigan really needed the first version to appear tonight. The Wolverines had lost their previous four games, and, with rival Michigan State coming to the Crisler Center, a place where the Spartans hadn't won since 2010, they couldn't afford this losing skid to stretch to five games. Plus, Michigan needed a signature win in what's been a frustrating year.
But, alas, the second version took the floor tonight.
Much like what happened against Iowa, Michigan had no answers for Michigan State's offense in the Spartans' 80-67 win. Regardless of whether the Spartans attacked Michigan's man or zone defenses, they looked like an offensive juggernaut, scoring at a rate of 139.9 points per 100 possessions, because they constantly found Branden Dawson (23 points, 13 rebounds) and Gavin Schilling (10 points, 5-5 FG) down in the interior. Not all of these looks were open, as Dawson knocked down some contested ones in the lane he generally wouldn't make, but there were too many open dunks and layups to count. How else do you explain the Spartans making 25-of-32 two-pointers (78.1 pct.)? Oof.
Michigan State began to impose its will on offense seven minutes in thanks to two questionable calls when the Spartans owned a small 11-8 lead. The first was when Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was whistled for his second foul for a block when it appeared he beat the Spartan ball-handler to the spot on the baseline to take a charge. This led to a Bryn Forbes jumper. On the ensuing possession, it appeared Travis Trice (22 points, seven assists) traveled near the sideline before he launched a three from the wing. The referee nearby didn't call it, and Trice's three fell through the cylinder. Just like that, what should have been no more than a three-point lead for Michigan State was an eight-point lead. And, from there, the Spartans pounced, putting together a 22-6 run over the next 7.5 minutes to take a commanding 33-14 lead with 5:55 left in the first half.
Michigan never quit, though. For the rest of the game, the Wolverines tried and tried again to get back into it, constantly cutting the Spartans' lead to 10 and 11 points in the second half. This charge was led by Abdur-Rahkman (12 points, 4-6 FG), who scored 10 points in the first four minutes after halftime to energize the deflated Crisler Center, and Aubrey Dawkins (12 points, four rebounds), who scored 10 points after the intermission. In fact, Michigan's offense was stellar in the second half, scoring 44 points in 28 trips for a rate of 157.1 points per 100 possessions. Michigan had the juice to make a comeback.
But it didn't matter because Michigan could not slow down Michigan State's offense. The Spartans responded to every jab that the Wolverines threw with a counterpunch of their own, and Michigan never threatened to take the lead. The Spartans had total control.
I cannot stress enough that the turning point in this game was when Abdur-Rahkman was whistled for an iffy block in the first half, which led to John Beilein auto-benching him with two fouls. Abdur-Rahkman has proven himself to be a Spartan killer. In his two games against Michigan State, he scored 30 points total and had a plus-10 plus-minus rating. When he was on the bench, the Spartans outscored Michigan by 33 points. 33 points! This shouldn't be surprising because, when Abdur-Rahkman was out, walk-on Andrew Dakich was his replacement. Dakich gives it his all when he's on the court, but Michigan is playing 4-on-5 with him out there. And it shows in these numbers.
Does Michigan win if Abdur-Rahkman draws that charge? I can't say that.
But I'd be willing to bet the outcome of this game would have been much different.
Nonetheless, the blame of this game lies with Michigan's defense. Michigan State's offensive efficiency of 139.9 points per 100 possessions was the worst Michigan has surrendered in any game it's played in the past 14 seasons. It's the type of defense played by the second version of this team -- the one Michigan couldn't allow to show up.
As a result, Michigan State has swept the season series against Michigan, and the Wolverines now have lost five games in a row. And, with games ahead against Ohio State and Maryland, the possibility that this losing streak extends to seven games doesn't seem so far-fetched. One must wonder if, without LeVert and Walton, the Wolverines have any gas left in the tank. If they don't, a losing record and no postseason sadly seem inevitable.