Perhaps the fanbase collectively got a little over its skis here. While the Michigan Wolverines dominated their way to a Big Ten Championship last season and brought in a top-three recruiting class, there were always going to be some bumps after losing so much of last year’s squad. However, the gas pedal was fully pressed by preseason rankings, analytics, and fan sentiment alike.
After two early losses — to quality teams, certainly, but losses nonetheless — reality has sunk in. The young Wolverines have plenty of growing to do if they are going to defend their conference title, and there is not a whole lot of time to get on track. Wednesday provides a chance to regroup, though, with a week off before a big trip to Chapel Hill.
Thanksgiving Eve brings a visit from Tarleton State, a mid-tier WAC opponent. The Texans made the jump to Division I just last season, going 10-10 in a Covid-affected schedule. They did not shy around to start their second year in the big leagues, already having lost to Stanford, Kansas, and Wichita State before traveling to Gonzaga after visiting Ann Arbor. Such is life for many in college basketball.
Tarleton State Texans (1-4) vs. No. 20 Michigan Wolverines (3-2)
With Tarleton sitting at just 205th per Kenpom, this would seem like a game for heavy rotation. It may play out that way, but Juwan Howard might want to use the minutes to get his regulars back into sync instead; Caleb Houstan is feeling some rough growing pains, DeVante Jones has been unsteady defensively, and Brandon Johns does not look like the answer at the four.
Of course, Hunter Dickinson and Moussa Diabate should have their way against an overmatched Texans roster. Even many major teams cannot match their athleticism, and Tarleton does not offer a ton of resistance in the form of blocks or rebounding when guarding their own hoop. The bigs will have their way on Wednesday.
Guard Montre Gipson is the Texans player to watch, leading the team at 14.4 PPG and 33.3 percent shooting from three. Tarleton is very guard-heavy but that does not necessarily translate to anything particularly impressive offensively. Sound fundamental defense from the Wolverines will cause some issues for the visitors.
Michigan has been terrible from deep to open the year, hitting just 28.3 percent of their shots. If this cold shooting persists, more losses are definitely on the way, especially given the makeup of the offense. Tarleton gives up a good number of three-point attempts and they good in at a decent clip. Now is the time to build a little momentum when there is more tolerance for risk.
Not a ton to fear about the Texans offense, but clearly the Wolverines have plenty of room for improvement on defense. Arizona frustratingly had everything it wanted in the paint on Sunday, and that just cannot happen going forward. Between Jones (allegedly), Eli Brooks, Dickinson, and Diabate, the defense should be suffocating opponents consistently. Michigan needs to be led from the inside out, especially against a team that does not have anyone over 6-foot-6.