While no one is surprised that Michigan fell to Michigan State in East Lansing, what remained of the early season optimism faded on Sunday. That is not to say that everything is doom and gloom now, but reality has final sunk in after a hot start (read: three-day stretch) earlier this year. Michigan is a top-20 team; the polls and advanced metrics both agree on that. The ceiling, though, has been coming into focus.
This Wolverines squad is still awfully good. Kenpom ranks both the offense and defense in the top 30, and the resume speaks for itself. However, as Michigan continues to wade through the slog of the Big Ten this year, it is clear that the team has some shortcomings. The injury to Isaiah Livers has not helped this, but maybe losing three starters and settling in a new head coach actually does set a team back a bit.
There is basically no easy game in conference play anymore, so Thursday’s bout against Purdue will be another tall task for the maize and blue. The Boilermakers are 2-2 in the Big Ten with the wins at home and the losses on the road. Kenpom puts Michigan at 19th and Purdue at 23rd, setting up what should be another competitive battle.
What to watch
Who is for real: It probably was a little presumptions to assume that everyone was going to take a giant step forward from last season. It started with Eli Brooks, who looked like a no-brainer in the starting lineup just a couple month agos, but has been particularly rough in all of Michigan’s losses since then. Colin Castleton showed on Sunday that he has not quite made the leap either. Both Franz Wagner and Brandon Johns have been promising as of late, but especially if Livers is out, every single member of the rotation is going to have to contribute for this team to succeed. So far, that has not been the case.
Figuring out the defense: The Wolverines have trickled down to 30th overall in defensive efficiency, which is still respectable, but not nearly as dominant as they looked previously. Michigan State seemingly scored at ease with 1.16 points per possession, and this is not the first time a team has done this to Michigan. Purdue is definitely not at the level of the Spartans on offense, and playing at home should help the Wolverines. But with Matt Haarms a threat in the paint and against a team desperate to forget a terrible last outing, the Wolverines absolutely must be better organized defensively.
Hot and cold from deep: By now everyone is aware of the three-point shooting woes of the Wolverines in tough road contests, but just in case, here are the numbers from the three away losses: 3-for-19 (15.8 percent), 3-for-18 (16.7 percent), 5-for-23 (21.7 percent). This problem is not isolated to this year, either, which makes it even more alarming.
This game is obviously at home, but the point still stands. Michigan either needs to figure out its shooting, which means getting better looks for the elite guys with perhaps fewer opportunities going to Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, or figure out how else it can score effectively. Purdue boasts the No. 8 defense per Kenpom and is 22nd in three-point percentage. Meanwhile, they Boilermakers are 102nd against two-pointers. This is a respectable number, but something that Michigan can and should look to attack.
This one goes back and forth the whole time, but the Wolverines figure it out late. 70-63 Michigan.
Teams: Purdue Boilermakers (9-6, 2-2) at No. 19 Michigan Wolverines (10-4, 1-2)
Date: Thursday, January 9, 2020
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Television/Streaming: FS1/Fox Sports Go