The 2021-22 Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team played two games this week that tipped off after 9:30 p.m. One of these games was worth staying up for. Sunday’s game was not that game.
The Wolverines fell to the Arizona Wildcats, 80-62, in a contest that alarmingly didn’t feel close with five minutes left in the first half.
Here are a few takeaways from Michigan’s second loss of the season
Arizona was aggressive on defense, and Michigan didn’t make outside shots to capitalize
The offense has looked stagnant for stretches of games this season but thanks to Arizona’s aggressive game plan, Michigan didn’t have much room to breath offensively.
Arizona was aggressive on ball screens, trapping ball handlers and leading to turnovers for the Wolverines and easy buckets for the Wildcats.
Arizona doubled Hunter Dickinson every time he caught the ball, and while he passed out of it well, Michigan was unable to capitalize off the open threes they took.
Michigan’s lack of outside shooting — they went 1-of-14 from deep and the only made three came from Brandon Johns Jr. two minutes into the second half — has been a problem all season long. It’s been a big reason why the Wolverines lost to Arizona and Seton Hall this week, and it’s why UNLV was able to hang around for so long earlier in the weekend.
Michigan basketball fans may have taken the luxury of having Franz Wagner, Isaiah Livers, Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown all on the same team last year for granted. Having even one of those guys in a game like this to hit big threes when the team needed it most would have at least made this loss a little less lopsided.
Poor shooting makes for poor spacing, and it didn’t help the Wolverines that they made some sloppy passes and fumbled the ball away a few times, turning over the ball 15 times in the loss.
Kudos to Arizona for getting the steals it needed to and taking care of business in the win. If Michigan wants to avoid a near 20-point loss like this one, they need to play with more discipline and take advantage of double teams by hitting outside shots
The lack of interior defense was lethal for Michigan
One thing Michigan should always be able to count on with an All-American starting center is winning the points in the paint, but that is exactly where the Wolverines got destroyed on Sunday,
With 15:43 left to play in the game, Arizona had nearly twice as many points in the paint as Michigan (38-20), with that deficit only getting worse as the game went along.
There were way too many easy baskets near the rim the Wildcats were able to convert, including a few nice alley-oops, little push shots with guards going downhill and back-to-back dunks four minutes into the second half that turned a nine-point game into a 13-point game.
Michigan’s perimeter defense in this game wasn’t the greatest, but that doesn’t excuse the fact it shouldn’t have been as easy for the Wildcats to score around the bucket as it was.
Dickinson looked aloof on defense at times; while he always got his hands up, he rarely ever affected shots from the Wildcats. Christian Koloko flat-out dominated against him, going for 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting and looking undeterred when going against the All-American.
This less-than-ideal defensive performance isn’t only Dickinson’s fault, as Johns Jr. and Moussa Diabate were both late on a few defensive rotations as well. Michigan’s inconsistent on-ball defense didn’t do Michigan’s big men any favors either, and it didn’t help that DeVante’ Jones, Michigan’s best on-ball defender, was in foul trouble most of the night.
But for a team that was supposed to be one of the defensive teams in the nation by advanced metrics thanks to their length and versatility, they have looked pitiful at times, especially on the interior.
Performances like this make me fear what Michigan will look like going against guys like Trevion Williams and Kofi Cockburn. If they can’t improve the defense against big men before conference play, it can kiss back-to-back Big Ten titles goodbye and might have to fight an uphill battle to even make it into the NCAA Tournament.
Frankie Collins’ first half performance was encouraging
When we talk about Michigan’s guards creating baskets, for the time being, that conversation starts and ends with Eli Brooks. He has been a consistent force on offense, and while Jones is good for a few transition buckets and maybe a floater or two a game, Brooks is the only Michigan guard able to consistently create his own shot.
As the year goes along, you would hope to see some shot-making progress from the young guards to take some of the stress off Brooks. While it was for only a brief stretch, Frankie Collins flashed a bit of the reason why he was such a highly-touted recruit in the loss.
As soon as he checked into the game, Collins made an impact. He took a charge on Pelle Larsson with 12:26 left to play in the half to force a turnover when it was still a two-point game. On the very next possession, Collins used a quick first step to get his man on his hip before darting to the basket and finishing on a smooth layup.
Those two points were Collins’ only points of the game, but he also grabbed four boards and had two assists off the bench in what was his best game of the year by default.
As the season goes along, I’m sure Michigan fans would like to see those short bursts turn into consistent contributions.
If Collins is able to provide a spark off the bench and develop into a second point guard who can be relied upon for the Wolverines, less stress will be put on Brooks to score and create buckets for those around him.