No one is productive in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day; there’s plenty of good college football on, a lot of people don’t have to work, and you oftentimes forget what day of the week it is while you’re snacking on the treats Santa put in your stocking.
The Michigan Wolverines were far from productive in their first game back from Christmas, losing a buy game to McNeese State, 87-76.
McNeese State is no slouch when it comes to mid-major opponents. The Cowboys are now 11-2 on the season, and Will Wade has returned as head coach after serving a 10-game suspension for multiple rules violations, stemming from Wade failing to report potential NCAA violations and making payments to the ex-fiancée of a former player.
This was Michigan’s final non-conference game of the season. This was its chance to get right before facing the physical, grueling gauntlet that is the Big Ten schedule. Now, the Wolverines fall to 6-7, and they’re going to need drastic improvements to get back into the tournament picture.
Here are some takeaways from a piss-poor performance.
Too many turnovers
With the extended time off, we sometimes see sloppy games from college basketball teams during Christmas break; the Wolverines are all too familiar with that after last season’s loss to Central Michigan and the loss to UCF two seasons ago.
Michigan could not take care of the ball in this one, turning the ball over 15 times, including seven times in the first eight minutes of play. They were moving too fast, passes weren’t crisp, and the Cowboys anticipated pretty much everything Michigan threw at them. McNeese had a sound defensive game plan, and the Wolverines couldn’t get anything going, throwing the ball away A LOT.
This is a Michigan team that averaged 13.2 turnovers per game entering this one, a mark that’s in the bottom third of all of college basketball. Not taking care of the ball is a big reason why the Wolverines already have seven losses before New Year’s Eve.
McNeese dominated inside, on both ends
We’ve seen the Wolverines struggle around the paint this season, but this game might just take the cake.
That first half was especially rough; the Cowboys out-muscled the Wolverines and got 22 points in the paint. It didn’t help that Olivier Nkamhoua, Tarris Reed Jr. and Will Tschetter each had two fouls in that first half.
Nevertheless, I can’t remember the last time Michigan struggled this badly inside, even in a Big Ten Conference knowing for bruising buckets in the paint. McNeese defended extremely well in this one, and Michigan flat-out struggled to move the ball, get the ball inside, and score consistently.
The Wolverines only made TWO shots from inside the arc in that first half. That’s not a misprint; it’s merely a depressing statistic for Michigan fans. They only had 14 points in the paint TOTAL.
McNeese defended well, and foul trouble really hurt the Michigan team. That said, getting dominated in points in the paint this badly (42-14) against a mid-major team at home is pathetic.
Michigan made its threes at least
Say what you want about this season so far, but the Wolverines make their threes.
Entering tonight’s game, they ranked 24th in the country with a three-point percentage of 38.41 percent, just above solid teams like Kansas, Alabama, FAU and Alabama. They made five of their first seven attempts from beyond the arc, and making 10 of their 19 attempts from deep in the first half helped keep this one close.
Overall they shot 39.4 percent from three, with Terrance Williams (team-high 20 points points, 4-for-8 from three) and Dug McDaniel (17 points, 4-for-8 from three) shooting the best for the Wolverines.
Three-point shooting was pretty much the only positive takeaway from this game. If the Wolverines have even an average night from three in the first half, they lose this game by almost 20. They shot it well, but also relied on the three-ball way too much and couldn’t score inside effectively.
Washington & Khayat get minutes
With Llewellyn not available and the Wolverines dealing with foul trouble, we saw two guys who could use more on-court reps get minutes: George Washington III and Youssef Khayat.
Washington didn’t look super comfortable with the speed of everything, and his one shot attempt didn’t fall. These also may have been the best Khayat minutes we’ve seen all season; he provided energy, and while he didn’t knock down his threes, I thought he played pretty well defensively while also grabbing a few boards boards and making both his free throw attempts. He clearly needs more reps, but the tools to be a solid 3-and-D wing are there.
Michigan’s going to need more minutes from both these guys to count on them as reliable contributors. But with a 6-7 record heading into more conference play, there’s going to be a lot of games where Michigan simply can’t afford to play them, and that’s a shame.
It’s all Big Ten games from here on out for the Wolverines. They’re next game is on Jan 4., as the Wolverines will host the Golden Gophers of Minnesota. That game is set to tip-off at 9 p.m. EST on Peacock.