Not many expected the Michigan Wolverines to hit five losses before New Year’s after recording just five total losses all of last season, but it is hard to say that their 7-5 record is not justified thus far. There have been a myriad of struggles on both ends of the floor, and the team is now at risk of slipping onto the bubble if things do not turn around quickly.
Thanks to another loaded Big Ten, the Wolverines will have every opportunity to play their way into the NCAA Tournament, and potentially all the way up to a respectable seed, but that right now looks like more of a goal than a certainty. Tuesday’s trip to Piscataway is the start to a crucial 11-day stretch, with games against Michigan State, Purdue, and Illinois to follow.
The Scarlet Knights are probably the second-least intimidating team to face (with Michigan already having beat Nebraska), but even they are no pushover. Rutgers has a good win over a top-40 Clemson team and pulled off the upset of the season with a heroic buzzer beater against then-No. 1 Purdue. The numbers like Michigan here, but nothing comes easily anymore.
Michigan Wolverines (7-5, 1-1) vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-5, 1-1)
Michigan’s loss to Minnesota makes this game even more important to win. Getting to at least 11-9 in conference is important, so chances like these must be grasped. The good news is that even with a couple upsets, the metrics still do not like Rutgers; Kenpom ranks the Knights just 103rd overall.
The defense is the stronger unit, led by a top-40 defense against two-pointers. Michigan remains decent in this area despite the losses, thanks to a bit of a resurgence from DeVante Jones, who has not only drastically reduced his sloppiness over his last five games (21 A, 4 TO), but has now scored double-digits in his last three as well. The offense still looks stuck at times, but having Jones facilitate — and hit some threes — should keep opening things up.
What really needs to improve for the Wolverines is on the other end, where opponents seem to just have their way. This defense does not force turnovers and leaves players way too open, with UCF’s Darin Green and Brandon Mahan the latest players to score at will. Rutgers does not quite offer this same level of fear, but breakdowns will be punished, even against a relatively mundane offense.
This feels like another game for Hunter Dickinson and Moussa Diabate. The strength of the offense remains down low, and while Michigan has not been able to consistently rely on this duo to take over, it does seem like the path of least resistance when things are going poorly. Dickinson shot an uncharacteristic 5-for-12 from the floor against UCF, but this is a good spot for a bounce back.
Ron Harper and Geo Baker are still around, but 6-foot-11 Clifford Omoruyi is the player to watch Tuesday. The sophomore is averaging 12.4 points and 7.3 rebounds on high efficiency and should impact both ends of the court. The big man will need to have a major night if Rutgers is going to collect its first ever win over the Wolverines in 14 tries.