Michigan (20-10, 10-7 Big Ten) lost to the emerging Wisconsin Badgers (19-10, 11-5 Big Ten) by a final of 68-57 in Madison on Sunday evening.
Like they have in a few other losses this season, Michigan started well, hitting difficult jumpers and doubling on the post. Zak Irvin defended Badger star Nigel Hayes effectively, and, with a 54% shooting effort in the first half, the Wolverines were able to go into the locker room with a one-point lead despite some odd bounces in Wisconsin's favor. What stood out was Michigan's effectiveness in collapsing on Wisconsin's bigs and forcing outside shots.
Unfortunately, that trend ended at halftime.
Hayes and Ethan Happ went to work in the post and beat up Michigan inside like we've seen so many times before. That coupled with Michigan's shooting going cold was all it would take to turn this one into yet another missed opportunity.
That narrow lead the Wolverines held at half evaporated for good in the middle of the second period, and the story would ultimately be Michigan's critical mistakes. Be they defensive miscues leading to wide-open looks for Wisconsin or back-to-back missed layups by Irvin and Derrick Walton, another very winnable game slipped away from a team that badly needed one to get itself off the bubble.
Hayes finished with an impressive 16P-7R-4A line, Bronson Koenig had 19 points, and Vitto Brown knocked down 4-of-6 threes en route to 14 points. For Michigan, Irvin finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Walton and Duncan Robinson each chipped in with 10 of their own.
For Michigan, they are what they are. I'd venture to guess that they'll still make the NCAA tournament even with a 10-8 finish in conference play, but they certainly are running out of breathing room. An absence of bad losses only takes a team so far when it doesn't have many premier wins to show for itself. Fortunately, the Wolverines have another shot at one before the regular season ends -- next Saturday in Ann Arbor against an Iowa team that has now lost four of five.
With a week to prepare for an Iowa team that is seemingly free falling, getting a win on Caris LeVert's Senior Day will be of the utmost importance, even if he isn't playing in it.