The Michigan men’s basketball team has gotten off to a rough start this season, as they are 7-5 on the year and currently ranked eighth in the Big Ten Standings.
The Wolverines were expected to be one of the best teams in the nation going into the season, as they started the season ranked sixth in the AP Poll. After jumping to as high as fourth in the poll, they have been unranked since the Week 4 poll released on November 29.
While the Wolverines are a young squad who lost five of their top seven scorers from last season, that doesn’t excuse the fact that the Wolverines have some blatant flaws that they’ll need to correct if they even want to make the NCAA tournament.
Here are three things that Michigan needs to do to get back into the Top 25.
Respond better to runs from the opposing team
The game that best encapsulates the 2021-22 season for the Wolverines so far was the loss to Minnesota, as the Golden Gophers used a second half surge to trounce the Wolverines on their home floor.
The interior play of Hunter Dickinson and Moussa Diabate helped Michigan look like the better team in the first half, but Minnesota took over in the second half. Payton Willis and Jamison Battle capitalized on good looks, Michigan couldn’t answer, and dug a really big hole for itself.
The body language on the Wolverines looked all too familiar during that Minnesota run. Eli Brooks, a steady veteran presence, was able to string together a few buckets to stop the bleeding, but the rest of the team looked dejected with “here we go again” mindset.
College basketball has always been a game of runs, and second half runs like the ones Michigan gave up in a few of their losses (see: Seton Hall and Arizona) have been lethal.
In order to limit these runs, the Wolverines need to be more sound on defense and provide the offensive firepower to counteract the surges from other teams.
The Wolverines need to make life easier for themselves on offense
This goes along with the previous point, as one of the most glaring weaknesses for the Wolverines this season has been their inability for people besides Dickinson or Brooks to create their own shot in the half court.
After watching Michigan’s offense through a dozen contests, there is way too much standing around and watching as Dickinson pounds the ball in the post or Brooks tries to find an opening on the perimeter.
The guys who don’t have the ball on offense need to move a lot more. More off-ball screens can help the Wolverines find more open shots, and Michigan has plenty of talented passers that can find guys cutting to the basket.
The Wolverines have lacked a consistent third option on offense all year long, as that was a big reason why they lost the UNC game.
That third option has come by committee at times, as Diabate, Caleb Houstan and DeVante Jones have all had moments where they’ve looked like they can be that third option, but more consistency from offense can right the ship for Michigan in a lot of ways.
If the Wolverines can create more easy baskets for themselves while a third offensive option emerges, life will become a lot easier. They have the potential to be one of the most talented teams in offense in the Big Ten, but they have yet to even sniff that potential.
Michigan needs to win a few big conference games to regain their confidence
College basketball is truly a beautiful sport, as with nearly 70 teams getting into the NCAA tournament, it takes more than a few ugly losses to eliminate your favorite team from postseason play.
Michigan has not played like a tournament team this year, but with so many talented teams in the Big Ten, they have plenty of opportunities to get regain the attention of bracketologists.
In Joe Lunardi’s latest projection, nine Big Ten teams are projected to get tickets to the big dance in March, with the Wolverines slipping to a nine-seed.
Michigan is a few more ugly losses from dropping out that projection, but a few wins against conference teams ranked ahead of them should boost them in the standings.
These next few weeks are crucial for Michigan, as they’ll travel to Rutgers (Jan, 4, 7 p.m. ET tip off) before home games against Michigan State (Jan. 8, 2:30 p.m.) and Purdue (Jan. 11, 9 p.m.) and a quick road trip to Illinois (Jan. 14, 9 p.m.).
Those last three teams are all ahead of Michigan in the conference. If they can manage to beat two out of those three teams, not only do they improve their tournament chances, but they regain some much needed confidence that can hopefully carry them through January.