After three straight blowout wins over ranked teams, it appeared nobody in the Big Ten could slow down the Michigan men’s basketball team.
That is, until Minnesota did.
In Saturday’s 75-57 drubbing of No. 7 Michigan, the 23rd-ranked Gophers put the first tally of the season in the Wolverines’ loss column. And with a quick turnaround heading into Tuesday’s game against Maryland, Michigan associate head coach Phil Martelli is worried about what Minnesota’s successful gameplan might have revealed.
“I think what it does is it lays out a roadmap for your upcoming opponents,” Martelli said during a Zoom call with reporters on Monday. “When they watch what Minnesota did, they’re going to try to emulate that. We then have to answer that. … We have to address what Minnesota has done, which is lay a road map for, if you want to get a piece of Michigan, here’s the way to do it.”
The first loss of a season is telling, and that won’t be any different for a Wolverines team with six newcomers. For Michigan, it comes down to managing the ups and downs of a trying season — something it struggled to do at times last year after skyrocketing to a No. 4 national ranking during non-conference play.
“No championship boxer has never not been knocked down,” Martelli said. “So we were knocked down. We weren’t knocked out. They didn’t collect our uniforms. The season didn’t end in celebration after we beat Wisconsin and it didn’t end in depression after we lost to Minnesota. … It started with Juwan and his messaging to (players) as we were leaving Minnesota on Saturday.”
With Eli Brooks out due to a right foot strain, the Wolverines’ offense looked out of rhythm. Star freshman center Hunter Dickinson was held below 10 points for the first time in his career, while Franz Wagner and Mike Smith combined for just eight points on a dismal 3-of-15 shooting.
At the defensive end of the floor, the Wolverines had no answer for Liam Robbins’ game-high 22 points despite holding him to just five points 10 days earlier. Saturday was the first conference game that saw Michigan’s defense allow more than 73 points, even though Gophers’ guard Marcus Carr shot just 6-of-18 from the field.
The loss was even more surprising given that it came just four days after the Wolverines’ 77-54 obliteration of No. 9 Wisconsin. In a game that saw Michigan go on a 43-6 run, it was clear from the outset that the Wolverines were dialed in. The opposite was true on Saturday.
“I could never get in touch on the game,” Martelli said. “That was from my view, and that’s as I sat back and watch again and said, ‘We didn’t feel this game.’ Wisconsin, you knew two minutes in (that) we had a feel for this game. I’m not saying that was the result. We weren’t ahead of ourselves, we weren’t full of ourselves. Just that moment in time, we didn’t have a feel for that basketball game.”
Michigan’s lack of feel for the game was uncharacteristic, especially at the offensive end. The Wolverines shot at least 50 percent from the field in five of their first six Big Ten games. But on Saturday, they made just 22 of their 56 attempts (39%).
To Martelli, that was a product of their response to adversity.
“When the street fight started, we didn’t answer,” Martelli said.