This one could have been way uglier than it was.
The Michigan Wolverines fell to the Minnesota Golden Gophers at home Saturday night, 75-65. If it weren’t for a little run in the second half, the Wolverines could have lost by twice as much. There’s a lot that this team needs to improve on before their next Big Ten game after the New Year.
Here are three takeaways after the loss.
Michigan got punched in the mouth to start the second half, and didn’t respond well
Credit to Minnesota, because after Michigan dominated the boards and looked like the better team in the first 20 minutes, the Golden Gophers started the second half on fire and never looked back.
Payton Willis and Jamison Battle capitalized on good looks, Michigan couldn’t answer, and dug a really big hole for itself. Michigan couldn’t get stops for a good portion of this game, as there seemed to be a lot of miscommunications on switches to go with bad closeouts and inconsistent interior defense.
The Wolverines have the talent to go bucket-for-bucket in games like this, but they just couldn’t get open shots and forced a lot of looks to try to keep up to the Golden Gophers.
With Minnesota playing their best basketball, there were way too many times where Michigan looked timid, and looked like a young team who didn’t know what to do with no momentum and no lead at home.
Those tough stretches are when Michigan needs a guard to rally around and get a few big buckets. Eli Brooks has been that guy before, but didn’t hunt his own shot much in this game since he was guarded well. DeVante’ Jones tried to be that guy and got a couple clutch buckets, but made a lot of mistakes and had some weird shot selection. Caleb Houstan was hyped as a potential go-to guy, but has struggled with confidence at times. He got his first shot of the game blocked, and sort of disappeared.
Lapses in confidence like the ones the Wolverines showed ended up being lethal, and their defensive mistakes combined with offensive woes made a comeback nearly impossible.
A tale of two halves for Hunter Dickinson
As dominant as he was last season, he was a little predictable: he could finish on dump downs and dominated the offensive glass. Aside from those bunnies, he got the majority of his points in the half court on a hook shot with his left hand over his right shoulder.
Dickinson showed some major improvements on offense in this game, especially in the first half. His first bucket of the game was a turnaround in the post with a friendly roll, and he got settled from there by cashing another mid-range shot before draining an 18-footer.
After nearly putting up a double-double in the first half alone, Dickinson did not look great in the second half. For as good as a passer as he can be, he had tunnel vision at times and was a bit of a black hole trying to get into a rhythm. He also got a little too confident in that outside shot, airballing a three and never really getting into the same rhythm after that.
The Hunter Dickinson we saw in the first half is a bonafide NBA player, but the Hunter Dickinson we saw in the second half wasn’t much help to the Wolverines. He needs to be more consistent for the Wolverines to avoid offensive lapses like they had in this game.
This offense is painful to watch sometimes
All the offensive mistakes that have tormented the Wolverines all season long reared their ugly heads in this game.
From the 10:22 mark to the 6:09 mark in the second half, the Wolverines didn’t score a single point. Stretches like that are going to be lethal in Big Ten play, especially against a good team like Minnesota.
There were way too many times guys just standing around watching Dickinson in the post. They need to cut more and can’t rely on ball screens to get to the rim.
Despite the issues, there were some bright spots in that second half. Jones drove to the rim and made a couple tough layups to keep Michigan within single digits for most of the half, and was a pleasant surprise at times offensively. He still made some boneheaded plays and had some weird shot selection, but he’s the best version of himself when he can use his speed to get downhill.
Despite a modest seven points, Moussa Diabate had one of his better games of the year, which is even more impressive when you remember he didn’t even make the Nebraska trip cause of a non-COVID illness. He showed tremendous effort on both ends of the floor, and has such a high basketball I.Q. in terms of post positioning and drawing fouls when he’s near the rim. He had a game-high 13 rebounds and made a lot of hustle plays to keep this game close. That starting spot is not going back to Brandon Johns Jr. any time soon.
It also was encouraging to see Michigan go on a run of its own to cut a 16-pont deficit to a six-point deficit. They didn’t show that 3/4 court press for long but with Diabate at the front forcing Minnesota turnovers, there was a brief moment it seemed like Michigan could pull off the comeback.
But the Wolverines came up short and made some costly mistakes down the stretch to lose by double digits.
Scoring droughts and a lack of consistent shot selection has killed the Wolverines all year long and if they can’t figure out how to establish more of an offensive rhythm or how to respond to runs by the other team, it will be an uphill battle to even make the NCAA Tournament.