In the time since Michigan lost Caris LeVert to injury, it has been the same story: Michigan's unheralded youth and cast of role players both excite and ignite -- sometimes into flames.
Michigan has gone into overtime four times in the last ten games. All four of those have been losses, and embarrassingly so. This one spared Michigan the lopsided score after the first 40, but brought that much more pain as Michigan had the game all but wrapped up twice and let it slip away thanks to boneheaded plays for the Wolverines that Northwestern was able to capitalize on.
The Wolverines controlled things for a large portion of regulation. Michigan jumped out to a quick lead in the first half thanks to a hot start from Aubrey Dawkins. Over the first twelve minutes, Dawkins scored twelve points and dished out an assist to help put MIchigan up nine, but the Wildcats would continue to chip away at that lead thanks to a couple big three-pointers from Scottie Lindsey.
Michigan was able to hang on to the lead going into the half in large part because of a hot hand early -- and a very uncharacteristic . The Wolverines only took six first-half three-point shots, but hit three of them en route to 55 percent from the floor and a nine of ten mark from the line (both Dawkins and Zak Irvin were fouled shooting threes and hit all six of those free throws).
The Wolverines kept rolling out of the half, pushing the lead to a dozen before Alex Olah took over. The big man scored six of Northwestern's first nine baskets of the second half while MIchigan went through an all too familiar scoring drought. Olah's sixth basket of the half ended up being the one that put Northwestern up 45-44 with just under eight minutes left.
Over the next five minutes the Wolverines would again push the lead out to six, followed by JerShon Cobb scoring nine straight points for Northwestern. As time wound down in regulation, with MIchigan up three, Zak Irvin missed the front end of a one-and-one (after hitting four straight free throws on the previous two possessions). That was the ray of hope Northwestern needed, and Tre Demps would knock down the shot to tie.
The first overtime looked to swing in Northwestern's favor early, before Spike happened, hitting a three-pointer, assisting on a corner three for Aubrey Dawkins, and then hitting three of four free throws. The fourth would be the difference as Northwestern would tie again.
MIchigan put up a fight in the second OT, but two straight gut punches to end regulation and the first OT were just too much as Northwestern never trailed in the second OT.
Really, there isn't much to say. Michigan is playing its two freshmen wings over 30 minutes a game, and relies on Andrew Dakich to provide Spike Albrecht with pretty much all the rest he is able to get in a game.
There are certainly positives to be found. Dawkins didn't miss his first shot until 30 minutes into the game, and scored a career high 21 points. Zak Irvin scored 28 and pulled down ten rebounds, while flashing more of the kind of passing acumen that has largely been missing from his game (he would end the game with three assists). Spike is still Spike and does Spike things.
However, Ricky Doyle got neutralized by Alex Olah (and he performed the best out of all Michigan's bigs), Michigan's offense repeatedly stagnated against the Northwestern zone, and out of bounds plays down the stretch almost literally gave the game away.
Michigan can be good. It can be fun to watch. It can also be a maddening experience of watching a bunch of guys who most of us figured would be bit players walk into the starting lineup and have to lead the team.
It isn't fair, and it isn't always pretty, but Michigan is growing up before our eyes.
Just not fast enough for this season.