For the first time since mid-November, the Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team has won three games in a row, the latest victory coming against Northwestern, 72-70.
It wasn’t pretty but every win is valuable in Big Ten play, especially for a Michigan team outside the NCAA Tournament according to Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology.
This turned into a game of runs in the second half, and it was tough for either team to get momentum going with the sheer amount of fouls called. It really slowed down the game and made for some disjointed basketball.
Monster night for Paul Szelc, Rob Riley and Rob Kuneman. The trio found a way to whistle 48 fouls despite not calling one in the first four minutes.— Dylan Burkhardt (@umhoops) January 27, 2022
Here are a few takeaways from the win.
Michigan won a tough game despite the big men being in foul trouble
Hunter Dickinson has been one of the best players in the Big Ten this season and has been especially good lately. He was recently named co-Big Ten player of the week and has been the cornerstone of the Michigan offense all year long.
He didn’t have his best game Wednesday night. Part of it was him struggling with foul trouble, and part of it was him trying to force shots in the post to try to establish a scoring rhythm. He did make some excellent passes and was solid defensively, but Michigan really could have used his steady presence on offense.
Moussa Diabate had similar foul issues, leaving Michigan without it’s two starting bigs for a good portion of the game and forcing other guys to step up.
Caleb Houstan (18 points, 3-for-5 from three) has been a big reason why U-M is one of the hottest teams in the conference right now, as the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week has shot 11-for-16 from deep in the last three games.
After going through some tough stretches this season, it feels like Houstan has finally found some confidence and established himself as a key fixture of Michigan’s offense.
He wasn’t the only one to step up in the scoring department. After a quiet last few games, Eli Brooks was crucial, scoring 12 points and playing great perimeter defense down the stretch.
He had nine points in 74 seconds before the first TV timeout of the second half, including a great stretch where he made a three before stealing the inbounds pass and finishing an and-one.
Eli Brooks is all over the place tonight for @umichbball! pic.twitter.com/YLUL0GGx06— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) January 27, 2022
Most Michigan fans probably wanted DeVante’ Jones out of town at the beginning of the year, but he was clutch in this game by scoring 15 points and dishing a team-high six assists.
The combination of Brooks and Jones giving offensive bursts while playing sound defense and providing veteran leadership is something Michigan can build on. Those two will be clutch to have if the Wolverines make the tournament.
The Wolverines did just enough down the stretch to win
After relying so heavily on Dickinson on offense and Diabate on defense, Michigan fans couldn’t have been feeling good about their team’s chances late in the game.
With both out for a large portion of the second half, Northwestern was able to go on a lengthy run, including a 20-5 stretch over eight minutes. Michigan’s lack of communication on defense and sloppiness on offense certainly helped kickstart the Wildcat run.
Michigan found themselves in a seven-point hole with five minutes left, but it found a way to climb out of it.
Big threes from Houstan, Jones and Terrance Williams helped swing momentum back in Michigan’s direction, and I never thought I’d write this statement before the year, but Jaron Faulds’ assist to Houstan and great interior defense after being on the bench for most of the game really helped Michigan when it needed it most.
Say what you want about Jones, and he still has a brain fart or two a game (one of Dickinson’s fouls was called because he was too impatient to wait for the screen), but he has always been great at blazing to the rim through contact.
He used that speed late in the game to force Northwestern fouls, and him making his last four free throws down the stretch helped ice the game.
Not corralling Boo Buie’s miss at the free throw line was almost lethal, but the Wolverines did just enough down the stretch to earn this victory in a contest where a game flow could never really be established thanks to Big Ten refs being...well, Big Ten refs.
Playing well heading into the MSU game
That win against Indiana last Sunday was Michigan’s first Quad 1 win of the year and while this win was much uglier, it’s nice to go into the game against the in-state rival on a three-game winning streak.
Michigan is finally playing with some swagger, and as Hunter Dickinson said earlier in the week, it feels like Michigan has finally lived up to their preseason expectations over the last few games.
Their defense has been more consistent, their offense has looked less stagnant and making shots from deep has really helped them space the floor and create opportunities elsewhere.
If they can ride this momentum into East Lansing and beat Michigan State this Saturday (tip-off on CBS is set for 12:30 p.m.), they should be right back in tournament discussion while also remaining one of the hottest teams in the conference.