With another shorthanded group of players, Juwan Howard and the Michigan Wolverines fell to the Illinois Fighting Illini in Champaign Friday night by a score of 68-53. Hunter Dickinson and Brandon Johns Jr. missed the game due to health issues, so a few guys had to step up in their absence and for the most part, things didn’t go well.
The Wolverines had to rely on Moussa Diabate and Jaron Faulds at the 5 spot with Dickinson out of the lineup. Diabate got the start and played relatively well, putting up nine points and six rebounds in 20 minutes of game action. Diabate fared decently against Illinois star center Kofi Cockburn, but Faulds didn’t stand a chance. Cockburn is in a completely different league from both of those guys, putting up a double-double with 21 points and 10 boards.
One positive takeaway was Michigan’s ability to force turnovers and limit turnovers of its own. Illinois turned the ball over 15 times, while the Wolverines only did so five times. Turning the ball over was a big problem for them early on in the season, but for one game they figured out how to get turnovers on defense and not give the ball up on offense.
A handful of those turnovers came from the hustle play of some of the guys you wouldn’t normally see on the court early in the game. Like Jace Howard, for example, whose hustle play in the video below led to a three-pointer by point guard DeVante’ Jones, who had his best game as a Wolverine with 17 points, six rebounds and three steals.
But at the end of the day, it’s just another loss to a team Michigan desperately needed to beat. A road win against a top 25 team in the country would’ve went a long way with the tournament committee when it came time to selecting which teams make it to the tourney.
With the Wolverines sitting at 7-7, there’s a legitimate chance they don’t make it into the NCAA Tournament. They are looking to reschedule the games against MSU and Purdue that were postponed due to covid issues, and those are two critical games Michigan needs for any potential chance to make it into the NCAA Tournament. After being a No. 1 seed and making it to the Elite Eight last season, and bringing in one of the top overall recruiting classes in the country, this would be a really disappointing result for the program this season.
The Wolverines haven’t won a game against a Power 5 program since they did so against Nebraska back on Dec. 7. But another opportunity for that awaits on Tuesday at Crisler Center against Maryland.