It’s safe to say that the Michigan Wolverines feel pretty comfortable playing at Madison Square Garden. In 2018, the team won the conference tournament which was played in New York, giving the maize and blue consecutive tournament championships.
On Saturday, they returned to the basketball mecca for the first time since 2018. Despite playing possibly the best team Rutgers has had in the past 40 years, the Wolverines were able to hold on to their second half lead and ultimately win the game, marking their 10th straight win at the Garden. The Scarlet Knights attempted 36 more field goals than Michigan, but a putrid 32% shooting percentage prevented them from making enough shots down the stretch to pull off the comeback.
Michigan has now strung together back-to-back wins for the first time in conference play this season, and they have done so without Isaiah Livers. A home matchup tomorrow against Ohio State feels like a game this team could and should win.
The most recent update for each of these teams include players that are currently not playing for different reasons. For the Wolverines, Isaiah Livers remains day-to-day with a groin injury. For the Buckeyes, freshman guard D.J. Carton temporarily stepped away from the team last week in order to address mental health issues.
What to Watch:
The emergence of Brandon Johns Jr.: Prior to Isaiah Livers’ return for the Illinois game, we saw Coach Juwan Howard use Brandon Johns Jr. in a starting role, giving him 26.5 minutes per game over a six game span. Twice, he played 30 or more minutes and responded by scoring his only double digit games over that stretch. The last two contests, Johns Jr. has played 37 and 38 minutes. He scored a career high against Nebraska with 16 and proceeded to top that on Saturday by scoring 20. We saw flashes of the potential Johns Jr. carries earlier in the season, but to see the sophomore string together performances like this was impressive. I’m not expecting him to average these types of numbers going forward, but the breakout games are certainly welcome anytime.
Rebounding Struggles: This team struggles to rebound the ball on both ends of the floor, evident by the 51-37 rebounding margin against Rutgers. To me, its frustrating to see a team that plays with so much heart and hustle be outmuscled. Good teams makes the most of second opportunities on the offensive end. On Saturday, the Wolverines gave up 26 offensive rebounds, meaning Rutgers actually grabbed more offensive than defensive rebounds. The Wolverines, contrarily grabbed six offensive rebounds. The good news is that the Buckeyes are statistically not a very good rebounding team on a per game basis. Their biggest threat on the glass is junior forward Kaleb Wesson, who averages a team-high 9.7 rebounds per game. Jon Teske will be responsible for defending Wesson and keeping him off the glass as well.
Perimeter Defense: Limiting the number of open looks and, more importantly, the made three pointers is going to have to be a key focus for Michigan’s defense. The Buckeyes have four players who are shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc this season. As a team, they shoot the highest percentage from deep in the Big Ten. The last thing the Wolverines can afford is for the Buckeyes to get hot from deep. Hitting three point shots on the road is the ultimate crowd killer. The Wolverines have ranked third worst in conference three point defense, as opponents have shot 35.7 percent from there. If the Wolverines fail to force misses from deep, this game could take a turn for the worst.
At the beginning of the season, these two teams looked like two of the best, if not the best, teams in the conference. Now, at the beginning of February, neither team is a lock to make the tournament. Ohio State has struggled on the road this year, with their only conference road win coming at Northwestern. I think the Wolverines do a good enough job of containing the Ohio State shooters and rebound the ball much better than what we saw on Saturday. Michigan 75-68.
Date: Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Time: 7:00 p.m. EST
Television/Streaming: ESPN 2/WatchESPN