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Jackson State vs. Michigan Preview: Just be normal for once please

This is a layup the Wolverines cannot afford to miss.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines decided Saturday’s near football disaster was not stressful enough and just about fell flat on their face against the Ohio Bobcats on Sunday. While that eventual win put the basketball team at 4-1, none of those four victories have been comprehensive dominations, with even the blowout of Pitt starting slow in the first half.

This is a young squad with some clear problems, but there is not a lot of time to clean things up with Virginia and Kentucky on the schedule over the next week and a half. If Eastern Michigan and Ohio are taking the Wolverines to the brink, better competition is likely to make Arizona State’s performance look relatively tame.

One contest remains before the Big Ten/ACC Challenge: a buy game against Jackson State, hours before Thanksgiving. There is no Deion Sanders here; this is a rough squad. Michigan could probably struggle again and still come out with a double-digit win, but this team desperately needs to show that is actually is capable of a quality 40 minutes. This is the easiest game on the schedule, so no excuses.

Jackson State (0-3) at Michigan Wolverines (4-1)

Date & Time: Wednesday, Nov. 23, 8:30 p.m.
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
TV/Streaming: BTN

Literally the basics

The issues on offense for the Wolverines are numerous, but it really starts with depth. Outside of Hunter Dickinson and Jett Howard, no one is close to reliable. Starters Kobe Bufkin (2-for-19) and Terrance Williams (6-for-20) are especially rough from three, and while both have had some positive moments, their play overall has been inconsistent.

The one player who has really not lived up to expectations, though, is Jaelin Llewellyn, who does not yet look ready for this level of competition. The transfer is also a black hole from deep (2-for-17) and does not seem capable of running the offense, though he does show glimpses though decent assist numbers. With so many other inexperienced players across the rotation, having Llewellyn struggle really hurts.

All three of these starters should be able to find success against Jackson State, who has given up buckets to much worse competition. Bufkin and Williams should be able to out-athlete and out-hustle the Tigers, but look for Llewellyn to perhaps find some comfort against a team a few tiers down from even the MAC.

One thing Michigan needs to fix is not even opponent-dependent. A 64 percent free throw rate is simply unacceptable, and again the issue is widespread. Llewellyn (57.9 percent) has certainly been a culprit, but even sharpshooter Joey Baker (42.9 percent) is having trouble too. This needs to change in a hurry.

100 percent mental

There is nothing Jackson State can do to seriously challenge Michigan if the home side plays to its capabilities. The Tigers have one of the very worst offenses in the country, posting 41.8 percent and 43.5 percent eFG rates before a big game against a Little Rock team that also sits outside the top 300 in Kenpom.

The defense has been just as bad for the Tigers, with a 56.9 percent eFG rate allowed near the bottom of the rankings. Opponents are scoring inside the paint and behind the arc at high rates, and this would be a great time for the Wolverine shooters to find their stroke against a malleable defense.

Michigan’s greatest barrier will be itself on Wednesday. Jackson State does not have the roster to challenge a Big Ten-caliber squad and sound fundamentals (read: hit free throws, guard the ball, etc.) should be more than enough for a comfortable victory. With how the past week has played out, a get-right win feels like a necessity.