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Takeaways from Michigan’s home loss to Minnesota

The Wolverines still have no idea how to finish games

Minnesota v Michigan Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines appear to be allergic to winning close games. With a chance to kick off conference play with a bang, they crumble down the stretch yet again, only scoring one field goal in the final six minutes and falling to Minnesota at home, 73-71. They fall to 6-8 on the season and 1-2 in conference play.

After only winning nine games all of last season and being cellar dwellers in the Big Ten for a while now, the Golden Gophers are off to a good start. They’re 10-3 on the year, and split their first two Big Ten games this season, with a home win over 12-2 Nebraska and a road loss against 12-2 Ohio State.

Every Big Ten team has now played 13-15 games at this point, and Michigan has the worst overall record (6-8) of all of them. As of Jan. 4, they’re the only Big Ten team with a losing record.

Michigan’s inability to win close games has been their kryptonite for so long now. We’ve covered their late game offensive struggles, and it feels like no improvements have been made in that department.

Here are your takeaways, before I rip my keyboard out of the computer and throw it across the room.

Yet another late game collapse

Another close game, another collapse for the Michigan Wolverines on both ends.

After a fine performance offensively for most of this game, the Wolverines went five game minutes (6:04 to 1:03) without a made field goal. That kind of late scoring drought is fatal for a college basketball team. Their only made field goal in the final 6:04 was a Terrance Williams II three with 1:03 left.

While they did a decent job getting to the line and making free throws, their offense — for what feels like the 25th time in the last two seasons — sputtered at exactly the wrong time.

It didn’t help that the Wolverines couldn’t get stops in this stretch, giving up a few key threes to the Golden Gophers. Minnesota’s offense wasn’t exactly crisp, but they did enough to get the job done during Michigan’s field goal drought. A few defensive breakdowns late from the Wolverines combined with the offensive struggles were enough to lose this game.

The Wolverines still have no idea how to finish a close game, and it feels too late to figure it out at this point in the season.

Michigan’s defense is frustrating to watch

The Wolverines haven’t been able to get stops consistently for most of this season, and it’s been their downfall.

They were better in the paint, but the on-ball defender still got beat way too often. It was a concern from the McNeese loss that Howard mentioned to the media earlier this week, and the Wolverines still need a lot of work in that department.

Like points in the paint, on-ball defense is an effort thing; doing it well requires the Wolverines to move their fit, keep their hips square and lock in. They need to improve in that department, especially when facing more prolific Big Ten offenses than Minnesota’s.

They have spurts where they play great defense, but it’s never consistent enough. They had a chance to pull away when they took a seven-point lead with 15:25 to play in the second half, but no lead is safe for the Wolverines with how ineffective their defense has been all year long.

A solid game from Tarris Reed Jr.

Michigan’s sophomore starting center was active on both ends of the floor in this one.

He was especially energetic in that first half, scoring a few times in the post after getting great post position and affecting a good amount of Minnesota’s shots in the paint. He had three blocks in that first half alone, and knocked down both of his free throw attempts.

He’s getting much better at picking his spots offensively. Watch how he saunters into the paint off an Olivier Nkamhoua; he’s wide open initially, but stays patient and seals off Minnesota’s Parker Fox before catching a lofty pass from Dug McDaniel and slamming it home.

Reed finished this one with 14 points, with 10 of those points coming in the first half to go along with 11 rebounds and a single-game career-high five blocks. Much like the win over Iowa, he was a beast in a Big Ten game on both ends of the floor. Michigan is going to need more of that from him as conference play trudges along.

Wolverines look much better in the paint, but didn’t play well enough to win

In the loss to McNeese, the Wolverines got outscored by 28 in the paint and scored a season-low 14 points there. It was pathetic, especially against a mid-major team they had size on.

I thought they were much better on the interior on both ends in this one; Minnesota had a slight advantage in points in the paint (36-34), but it appeared they made a concerted effort to drive to the rim, feed their post players and crash the glass (the Wolverines grabbed 13 offensive rebounds in this one, one more than the Golden Gophers).

Ultimately, points in the paint comes down to effort. Getting beat in the paint on both ends has been one of the biggest issues for Michigan all season long. There was more effort in this one compared to the McNeese loss, but not enough to win.

Up Next

The Wolverines head to Pennsylvania in the coming days, as they’ll take on Penn State at The Palestra, the oldest major college arena still in use. That game is set to tip off at noon on Sunday, Jan. 7 on Big Ten Network.