The Michigan Wolverines resumed Big Ten play against the No. 25 Illinois Fighting Illini after postponing two games earlier last week. Michigan was set to play No. 10 Michigan State and No. 3 Purdue but after health issues and positive COVID tests, was unable to produce the seven scholarship players needed to play a game. The Wolverines are 1-3 in conference play, with losses to Minnesota, Rutgers and Illinois.
Despite being without key players against the Illini, the Wolverines still put up a fight, pulling within one point late in the second half. Michigan still had struggles making shots and despite a tough show defensively, fell 68-53.
Grappling with their seventh loss of the season while commending the team’s overall performance, despite being down players, is a tough line to walk. Beating Illinois was crucial for the Maize and Blue’s tournament hopes and conference standings, but it’s also clear they are making steps in the right direction. This team has felt at a crossroads for much of the season, with a lot of us still unsure of what they are fully capable of achieving. Each loss has left the team exposed and vulnerable, but at the same time it still feels like there’s potential for success for this team. Despite everything we have seen from this team, it feels like they might be one or two steps from getting over the hump.
Getting wins against the bottom of the conference is a great way to start getting over the hump. Coming up, the Wolverines have a nice stretch against Maryland, Indiana, and Northwestern to gain back their confidence and get back in the win column. All three teams currently sit at .500 or worse and present as prime get-right games for the team.
How do you think Michigan will fare on this next three game stretch? The opponents aren’t necessarily resume builders for the NCAA Tournament, but snapping a three-game losing streak and slowly moving back up the conference standings is important. It was easy to write off the last couple losses because the roster wasn’t complete, but we have seen them struggle even when they’re at full strength. There are clear mistakes and weaknesses that have followed the Wolverines despite the circumstances. So will a full roster even change the trajectory of the season for this team?
While beating those teams would be nice and necessary to keep Michigan from falling further, getting wins against the top teams is obviously more important. The conference is top heavy and the Wolverines are finding themselves on the outside looking in for the first time in six years. They need competitive wins against the best teams in the Big Ten. There is potential due to how they played against Illinois. But “competitive” losses will hardly get Michigan anywhere. So what is the answer? What does this team need to get on track?
Michigan is currently 10th in the Big Ten, and getting that win against the Fighting Illini on their resume would have returned the Wolverines back into tournament projections, albeit a low seed. But the Wolverines were unable to get it, so now what? The what-ifs continue to pile on and getting those games rescheduled against MSU and Purdue are all the more crucial for Michigan to build a tournament-caliber resume.
The Maize and Blue are halfway through the regular season with a lot of conference games still ahead of them. This team began the year with potential to repeat as conference champions and now they are a team barely keeping their heads above water near the bottom of the Big Ten.
The Wolverines will be back in Crisler to host the Terrapins on Tuesday. The Terrapins sit just behind the Wolverines in the conference standings, as the Terps are currently 9-7 overall and 1-5 in conference play. Would another loss break this team? What would it mean for the Wolverines to lose to another opponent at the bottom of the Big Ten?
How do you think they will finish in the conference? Will they stay where they are or will they improve? Share your thoughts in the comments below!