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Three things Michigan men’s basketball needs to improve upon in Big Ten play

The Wolverines are 6-7 and need to get better in a lot of areas.

NCAA Basketball: McNeese State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The new year has arrived, and the Michigan Wolverines have not played great basketball since getting off to a 3-0 start and beating St. John’s on national television.

The Wolverines are 6-7 on the season, with embarrassing home losses to Long Beach State and McNeese on their resume. As of Jan. 3, the Wolverines are ranked 75th in NET rankings, 59th in KenPom, and still have work to do to even get into the NCAA tournament conversation.

There’s still time to fix many of the issues that have plagued the Wolverines all season, but the schedule gets a bit harder from here, with Michigan only playing Big Ten teams from here on out.

Here are three things that Michigan needs to focus on improving upon heading into the New Year. A few New Year’s Resolutions, if you will.

All NCAA stats were last updated after games played on Monday, Jan. 1.

Take care of the ball better

The Wolverines have not taken care of the ball well at all season long. They turn the ball over 13.3 times per game, a mark that’s tied for 256th out of 351 teams in Division I college basketball.

We saw these turnover troubles on full display in the most recent loss to McNeese, where the Wolverines turned the ball over 15 times, including seven times in the first eight minutes of play. Michigan telegraphed a lot of passes and could not handle the hounding Cowboys defense.

Much like college football, losing the turnover battle is the easiest way to lose a basketball game. The Wolverines have to make better passes, utilize more pass fakes, and make better decisions offensively heading into Big Ten play.

The defense needs a lot of work

As bad as the Wolverines are when it comes to taking care of the basketball, they are even worse when it comes to playing defense.

Michigan has given up 79.1 points per game, a mark that’s tied for 326th in the country. In other words, only 25 teams in all of DI college basketball give up as many or more points per game than the Wolverines. In KenPom’s adjusted defense (points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponent), the Wolverines give up 102.8 points per game, which ranks 140th in the country.

There are several reasons why Michigan’s defense has struggled this season; it gets dominated in the paint too often (more on this in just a bit), it doesn’t close out well, it doesn’t rotate well, and it doesn’t look like the players communicate much. Way too often, the Wolverines get beat on fairly simple screen-and-roll action or drive-and-kick threes where their rotations were simply too slow.

That kind of lack of execution on defense is unacceptable, and it has to improve for Big Ten play, as good offenses can blow the doors off the Wolverines right now.

Points in the paint has been brutal for Michigan

I went back and looked at points in the paint for all 13 of Michigan’s games so far, and as =fans reluctantly know, the Wolverines have not been good in the paint all season long.

The Wolverines have been outscored in the paint in six of their last seven games, and in all seven of their losses, they either tied their opponent in points in the paint or were outscored. Not only are they allowing lots of points near the rim, they also aren’t scoring in the paint much themselves.

I wouldn’t call Michigan’s offense bad by any means: the Wolverines moved the ball very well the last few weeks, they have one of the better scoring guards in the Big Ten conference in Dug McDaniel, and they make 38.3 percent of their threes, a mark that ranks 23rd in the country.

As good as the Wolverines have been at making shots from beyond the arc, they need to get more effective in the paint for bruising games in Big Ten play.

On offense, they have to focus on getting to the rim more often, and they have to make it a priority to feed Olivier Nkamhoua and Tarris Reed Jr. on post-ups and off drives. Getting easy buckets around the rim can do wonders for an offense that’s already pretty efficient.

On defense, the Wolverines have been getting grilled by opposing big men, and with solid post players like Zach Edey and Cliff Omoruyi on the horizon. Anyone who watches Big Ten basketball knows these games are often won by grinding out points in the paint and playing good defense inside, with the winning team often scoring less than 70 points.

With the way this Michigan team is playing, I’m not sure it can win the type of bruising, grind-it-out game that defines this conference. The Wolverines need to take care of the ball better, play better defense, and be better in the paint to compete with Big Ten play now resuming.