Ouch. The Michigan Wolverines have played well twice and played poorly twice, and the most recent entry in this pattern resulted in an embarrassing loss to Arizona State on Thursday. While there is still a lot of room for this team to grow, the alternating performances should hopefully lead to a bounce-back on Sunday.
The Ohio Bobcats are sizable underdogs, but this is an offense that could punish any defensive efforts that look like the struggles in Brooklyn. As with most mid-major opponents, the Wolverines have the talent and athleticism advantage, but for a team this young that does not guarantee success, as any given night could see the game quickly go off the rails.
This season’s non-conference slate has some heavy hitters, and Michigan missed a chance for a quality win against the Sun Devils. That means there is little room for error against the lesser opponents on the roster, but so far the Wolverines have done what was needed against them. No reason to not make this win number four.
Ohio Bobcats (1-2) at No. 20 Michigan Wolverines (3-1)
Date & Time: Sunday, Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
When everything goes wrong
This roster is going to have some hiccups offensively, which is what happens when new names are thrust into the starting lineup. However, terrible shooting nights like the one against Arizona State, or even the first half against Eastern Michigan, are really going to make things tough to overcome.
Kobe Bufkin will be inconsistent as he takes on a bigger role, as will Jaelin Llewellyn as he adjusts to higher-level competition — it has been two steps forward, one step back for both. What cannot happen is Hunter Dickinson missing shots at the rim or Jett Howard going 2-for-7 from deep while not adding value on defense.
One bad game does not mean everything is ruined, but it should serve as a reminder that this team is going to need to make some adjustments. Three-point shooting is not looking like a strength, so feeding Dickinson in the post and attacking the rim off the dribble needs to be a bigger part of the offense, and Llewellyn needs to keep things fluid by facilitating the offense.
All that being said, Ohio should not be a major challenge. This is a bad defense that recently allowed 1.23 PPP to Detroit and has allowed opponents to be extremely efficient without even allowing an abnormal number of threes. Michigan does not need to excel in the midrange to be a good offense; it just takes playing to its strengths and using its athleticism in the right ways.
What just happened
Arizona State entered Thursday with an average-at-best offense, having just put up 0.92 PPP against VCU. Then the onslaught happened, with basically every shot going down from all across the floor. There is an element of (bad) luck here, of course, but this is not the first time the Wolverines have looked vulnerable on defense.
What was not just randomness was Michigan’s effort. The Sun Devils got the looks they wanted and were rarely met with resistance driving to the hoop. This is exactly what happened for much of the escape against Eastern, and at this point there are legitimate questions to be asked of the defense that was hoping to be improved over last year’s inconsistencies.
While the offense has looked rough at times, the Wolverines absolutely need to figure out what is going on defensively to find any sort of sustained success. The addition of Llewellyn, Bufkin, and Howard into the starting lineup was always going to cause some early headaches, but a lot of the issues switching and stopping the ball existed last year as well, so newness is not the only culprit here.
Ohio guards DeVon Baker and Miles Brown do not seem like the most intimidating weapons to exploit this vulnerability, but Michigan needs to win as many reps as it can on the defensive end. Again, talent and athleticism should be sufficient here, but recruiting rankings are irrelevant if opposing players are given wide open lanes to the basket or can take uncontested jumpers at will.