All that momentum and confidence the Michigan Wolverines built up over the past week and a half is officially gone.
After hanging tight in the first half, the problems that have plagued this team all season long were put into the spotlight yet again, with MSU winning the rivalry game, 83-67.
Michigan’s tournament hopes were already bleak, but now those hopes are officially on life support.
Here are some takeaways from the loss.
Michigan went inside early and often to start out this one, taking advantage of Marcus Bingham being out most of the half with foul trouble. Michigan dominated in the paint in that half, with Hunter Dickinson leading the way with 14 points. He’s become much more versatile in the post, and the fouls he was able to draw kept this first half close.
Moussa Diabate looked like Michigan’s best player for a good portion of the half, scoring nine points, grabbing two big offensive rebounds and playing with contagious energy on defense.
Michigan was unable to find an answer for Max Christie in that first half, as the freshman had 14 points in the first 20 minutes and was able to get a basket whenever the Spartans needed it.
It was nice to see Michigan play to its strengths and get the ball inside, but was unable to consistently make shots outside of the post, especially from deep (1-of-8 from three in the first half).
From a defensive standpoint, Michigan was decent on the interior and won the battle on the boards (21-17), but the on-ball defense, especially on Christie, left a lot to be desired. DeVante’ Jones and Caleb Houstan both had a few defense lapses, as Michigan’s defensive backcourt needed to make life harder for the Spartans in that first half.
It was an all-too-familiar second half for the Wolverines, and the Spartans opened the last 20 minutes on an 10-2 run and never looked back.
We saw it against Arizona, we saw it against Minnesota and we saw it again on Saturday: Michigan’s defense gave up a big second-half run and the constant stagnation of the Michigan offense couldn’t keep up as the Wolverines’ body language shifted from confident to woe-is-me real fast.
With a lack of shot creation and outside shooting (Michigan shot an abysmal 3-of-17 from three), U-M kept trying to force the ball in the post, making things very predictable for MSU’s defense and leading to more than a few turnovers for the young Wolverines.
One issue that also reared it’s ugly head was Michigan’s lack of depth. While the Wolverines only got six bench points, Malik Hall, A.J. Hoggard and Julius Marble II all made an impact off the bench to secure the Spartan victory.
It was encouraging to see them fight back a little and cut the lead to 12 after four straight Dickinson points just after the eight-minute mark, but Michigan State rolled from there. To quote one of the great philosophers of our time, any attempt of a comeback was simply too little, too late for the Wolverines.
For now, Michigan remains on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but the loss to Michigan State certainly didn’t help their case.
The Wolverines start out the month of February with an absolute gauntlet; thanks to the rescheduled Purdue game, Michigan will have to play five games in the first 12 days of the month. If they want to keep their tournament hopes, they probably have to win at least four games in this stretch:
-Tuesday, Feb. 1, vs. Nebraska (9 p.m. on Big Ten Network).
-Saturday, Feb. 5, at Purdue (2:30 p.m. on Fox)
-Tuesday, Feb. 8, at Penn State (9 p.m. on ESPN/ESPN2)
-Thursday, Feb. 10, vs. Purdue (9 p.m. on ESPN/ESPN2)
-Saturday, Feb. 12, vs. Ohio State (6 p.m. on ESPN/ESPN2)