Covid issues or not, the Michigan Wolverines are not good right now, and this has basically been the case for the past two months. Losses are beginning to pile up, and while each of them has been deserved, the really are not major glaring weaknesses to blame (and subsequently attempt to fix).
Instead, there are many smaller issues that over the course of the game ultimately put the Wolverines in tough spots that have proven too much to overcome. This is not good news with rival Michigan State coming to town on Saturday, with the Spartans on a eight-game win streaks and losses against elite competition only this season.
Kenpom suggests these teams are closer than their records indicate (18 vs. 28), but there is no uncertainty about which squad is playing better right now. State is about the last team Michigan wants to face in its current form, but perhaps that means an upset over the weekend could jumpstart a much-needed revival.
No. 10 Michigan State Spartans (13-2, 4-0) vs. Michigan Wolverines (7-6, 1-2)
Date & Time: Saturday, Jan. 8, 2:30 p.m. ET
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Big Ten Standings: MSU t-1st, MICH t-8th
DraftKings Sportsbook Odds: TBD
Advanced metrics take time to adjust, so it is reasonable to think that Michigan is worse than the numbers currently say, but at the same time, this team is not exactly a walking disaster. Having the defense slide down to No. 48 is a shock from preseason expectations, but that still indicates a unit that should be able to get better results than what it has produced.
The harder number to believe is offensive efficiency, which still sits at 22nd. Basically every non-Caleb Houstan starter has a decent offensive rating, but game to game it feels like there are more missed opportunities than exceptional plays. The loss against Rutgers was full of avoidable misses at the rim, and while the turnover problem has mostly gone away, no one would describe the Michigan offense as clean right now. No one is giving up per se, but bad possessions seem to accumulate when the going gets tough.
The Wolverines defense somehow fares well with a 29 percent opponent three-point rate, but after 12-for-20 and 11-for-23 performances by UCF and Rutgers, this feels like a weakness not a strength. There were some frustrating contested shots in there, but a lot of the makes simply came from defensive breakdowns. Against the Spartans — who rank ninth in the country with a 39.3 percent clip — this absolutely cannot happen. Regression is likely coming anyway, but watching the tape it is not shocking that opponents are draining good looks.
Michigan has the talent to win, but the issue right now is that the five-star freshmen are playing more like freshmen than five stars. Houstan has been shooting terribly and Moussa Diabate is not exactly the lockdown defender he looked like he could be earlier on. The Wolverines need individuals to step up when the team is slumping, and these are the two biggest candidates for instant improvement given the gap between their performance and potential.
Meanwhile, the Spartans are getting good output from their five star, with Max Christie posting a 56.1 percent eFG rate in conference play. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham remain consistent as well, and this is the type of team that will punish lackadaisical defense. State has its flaws, and there have been some close calls recently, but if Michigan falls in a hole again, good luck getting out.