It’s been a roller coaster season for Michigan basketball. At times, they have looked like a really good team, notably at the beginning of the season when they won the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament and also just last month when they won five straight. With that have come bad stretches though, including the four game losing streak in January and now most recently coming off of consecutive losses versus Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Nebraska is the perfect opponent for any team that needs to turn things around and get some type of momentum as the Big Ten and NCAA tournament draw near. The Cornhuskers are in the midst of a 14-game losing streak, most recently falling at home to Northwestern. They currently have seven wins and are in danger of failing to win double digit games for the first time since 1973.
Thursday night will also be Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske’s senior night. The point guard-center pair are the winningest players in Michigan basketball history. It also was reported earlier today that Coach Juwan Howard said Austin Davis is expected to return for a fifth year.
What to Watch
It starts with defense: The biggest concern for the Wolverines right now is their play on the defensive end of the court, specifically guarding the perimeter. They gave up 81 points and 11 three pointers to Wisconsin and 77 points and 11 more three pointers to Ohio State. Nebraska likes to shoot a lot of three pointers, but they have only made 32.3 percent of them, a rather low mark. It will be important for Michigan to get stops and hold the Huskers to one shot in order to generate good looks in transition and in the half court. In the Big Ten, Michigan has the highest two point field goal percentage in conference play and Nebraska allows the highest percentage of made two point field goals. If all goes as planned, those ranks will stay the same after tonight.
Handle the rock cleanly: If Michigan were to lose this game, they would have to beat themselves. One of the biggest ways to do so is turning the ball over by making bad passes. The Wolverines have’t been a turnover prone team this year even while playing a faster pace under Coach Howard. Strangely enough, through 18 conference games, Nebraska has forced more turnovers than any other Big Ten team. For as much as Zavier Simpson handles the ball, he’s been great this season at limiting turnovers. He controls the pace of a game well and will be asked to do so again against the Huskers.
Win the three-point battle: The three pointer is more relevant than ever in modern basketball. Teams are shooting more of them than ever and they are a large part of why teams are or aren’t successful. As mentioned above, the Wolverines have struggled to defend the three lately. Closing out and getting hands up needs to be a focus in this game. On the other end, the team needs to work to get open looks. Franz Wagner has been great over the last month while shooting the ball efficiently. It would be awesome to see Isaiah Livers get going once again. He still doesn’t look completely healthy, given his groin and ankle injuries, but he is the most gifted scorer on this team and they need him in order to win games.
The senior tandem of Simpson and Teske should have solid nights. Simpson will create and distribute effectively all night and Teske will be more active on both ends. I think both flirt with double-doubles in their final game at Crisler. Michigan 72-58.
Date: Thursday, March 5, 2020
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Television/Streaming: Fox Sports 1/Fox Sports Go