Michigan lost a nail-biter at Crisler Tuesday evening to the No. 3 Virginia Cavaliers, 70-68, as Jett Howard couldn’t really get a final shot off against Virginia’s smoothering defense.
Coming into this game, Virginia has been playing like one of the best teams in the country, as its signature fundamentally-sound style earned them big wins over No. 6 Baylor and No. 16 Illinois.
After playing relatively poorly on both ends over the last few games, the Wolverines needed a big win in this one. They didn’t get it, but it was certainly a hard-fought loss.
Here are some takeaways from an exciting game in Ann Arbor.
It’s a cliche, but this really was a team effort
Dickinson and Howard were excellent throughout this one, as they combined to make six of their first eight shots, which a large reason Michigan was able to take the lead in the first half. They ended up with 38 combined points (23 for Dickinson, 15 for Howard)
One of the biggest problems last season was a lack of consistent scoring, outside of Dickinson and the ever-so-crafty Eli Brooks. In this big game, they got great contributions outside of Dickinson and Howard.
Bufkin was great on both ends and had 11 points. Terrance Williams II made a lot of big shots in that second half and had eight points and six rebounds.
Not the ending Michigan fans were hoping for, but at least they got key contributions from their players who aren’t go-to scorers.
What a first half that was
One of the biggest problems for the Wolverines has been slow starts. It was rather back-and-forth to start this one, but Michigan closed the half outscoring Virginia, 14-8, in the final six minutes to earn themselves a 45-34 lead at the half. Shooting 61.3% from the field and 53.8% from the field will help with that a lot.
A double-digit lead over the No. 3 team in the country is something to be excited about. Michigan needs to start more games off like this to establish momentum heading into the final 20 minutes of play.
If Michigan keeps playing like that offensively in that first half, it can beat any team in the country.
Michigan has a lot to work on defensively
Virginia opened the half making 6-of-7 shots going into the first media timeout, and always seemed to be a step ahead of Michigan offensively.
Virginia plays very efficient basketball. They made 50.9% of their shots and never seemed phased when Michigan made big shots. A lot of times when the Wolverines tried to take over, Virginia would score right away to stop the bleeding and limit shifts in momentum.
Dickinson had a lot of blocks, but Virginia got a lot of its baskets right at the rim. The Wolverines need to do a better job finding the open three-point shooter, need quicker feet to stay in front of the man they’re guarding on drives, and defending after made shots.
Michigan made threes, just not in the second half
Coming into this game, the Wolverines were only making 31.82% of their threes, a mark that puts them tied for 247th in the country with Marquette, Northwestern and Rider.
Michigan must have got a lot of shots up after filling their bellies on Thanksgiving, as it shot 42.1% from three, including 7-of-13 in that first half. Making only 1of-6 shots in the second half was brutal, but they did get a lot of open shots. Dickinson did a great job finding the open shooter throughout the game.
They have to do a better job shooting threes late in games, but this game shows when they make threes, they can compete with some of the better teams in college basketball.
A solid performance against a great team
There’s no sugarcoating it: after a blowout loss to Arizona State and wins versus Ohio and Jackson State that were too close for comfort, Michigan didn’t look like a team who could compete in the Big Ten.
After only looking truly dominant one other time this season (the win over Pittsburgh), the Wolverines fought tooth and nail with one of the best teams in the country. They didn’t get some key stops when they needed to, and came up short in this one. Ultimately, Michigan’s inability to score late combined with losing the turnover battle (12 to seven) cost them this victory.
If you believe in moral victories, this is the closest thing you’re going to get to one.
It’s been a season of peaks and valleys so far for Michigan, with more of the latter than the former. How they play after those valleys will define how the rest of this season goes for them.