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Takeaways from Michigan’s loss to UNC in the Jumpman Invitational

The Wolverines got dominated in the paint and lost a close one.

NCAA Basketball: Jumpman Invitational-Michigan at North Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

In the first iteration of the Jumpman Invitational, the Michigan Wolverines lost to the North Carolina Tar Heels, 80-76.

After starting off the year ranked No. 1 in country, UNC is now unranked after losing to Iowa State, falling to Alabama in a four-overtime affair, and coming up short against Indiana. The Tar Heels still have some of the most star power in college basketball, and should win at least a couple games come March Madness.

Michigan fell to 7-4, with no quality win heading into the New Year. The Wolverines still has a lot to work on on both sides of the floor.

Here are some takeaways from the game.

Dickinson has to be better and can’t afford to pick up techs

After going toe-to-toe with Oscar Tschiebwe a few weeks ago, Hunter Dickinson lost the battle of the bigs tonight, only scoring nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, grabbing eight boards and fouling out. He also surrendered a dominant performance from Bacot (26 points, five rebounds)

It didn’t help Dickinson was dealing with foul trouble for a good portion of the half, but Bacot definitely got the best of Michigan’s star big man on multiple occasions. If you’re going to talk trash, you have to back it up with your play, and Dickinson didn’t do that tonight.

When he picked up a technical for his second foul of the game, the Wolverines were up 26-22 and started the game looking pretty good. With Dickinson out, UNC proceeded to outscore Michigan 15-8 to close out the half and gain a seven-point lead heading into the half. Dickinson is Michigan’s best player, and seeing how it looked in the final five minutes of the first half on both ends, it need him badly to succeed.

The Wolverines kept dominating in on the interior when Dickinson was out in the second half. Bacot man-handled Tarris Reed Jr. — who didn’t play poorly by any means with four points, seven rebounds and three blocks, but very much looked like an overmatched freshman at times — and could pretty much do whatever he wanted inside.

Dickinson is one of the most impactful players in college basketball, and the Wolverines can’t afford for him to play this badly in big games like this. He needs to play better and it’s essential for him to avoid picking up more techs to dodge prolonged bench stints in the future.

Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin have become even more essential

Howard and Bufkin were very important scorers for Michigan in this one, as they were able to the lone bright spots in an offense that doesn’t seem to function properly.

Both guys had 10 points in that first half, and Bufkin led the Wolverines with 22 points thanks to some hot shooting and his craftiness as a scorer. Howard dealt with foul trouble as well, but shot the ball well (17 points, 6-of-12 from field, 3-of-7 from three).

Howard is projected to be a lottery pick in the upcoming draft, and Bufkin is easily Michigan’s most improved player from 2021-22. They’ve both looked great in spurts this season; hopefully they can stay consistent for Big Ten play.

Michigan’s defense needs work, especially on the interior

Many Wolverines were in foul trouble, but that’s not an excuse; Michigan hasn’t been great on defense all year and made some crucial mistakes yet again in this one.

UNC absolutely dominated in the paint (40 points to Michigan’s 30) and shot the ball well in the second half (14-for-26 from the field), partially thanks to playing well in transition and some putrid defense. It felt like every time the Wolverines tried to grab momentum, UNC would come down and hit a big shot of its own.

We’ll go more in-depth with this in future articles, but there’s so much wrong with Michigan defensively: to name a few things, they don’t close out on shooters well, they don’t rotate well consistently, and there’s not much of a paint presence when Dickinson is out of the game. And even when he’s in the game, teams don’t seem to be afraid to attack the paint against the Wolverines.

These defensive issues have plagued the Wolverines all season, and if they don’t fix them, they may not even go .500 in conference play.

What’s next, and an update on the women’s team

Michigan’s last game of 2022 is on Thursday, Dec. 29, as they have a home game against Central Michigan University. After that, the gauntlet that is conference play in the Big Ten kicks off again, with the Wolverines facing Maryland, Penn State, and Michigan State in the first seven days of January.

The Michigan women’s basketball team earned arguably its biggest win of the season yesterday, as Leigha Brown and Leila Phelia combined for 45 points in a 76-68 victory over No. 6 UNC. After losing one of the best players in program history in Naz Hillmon last season, they’re ranked No. 19 in the country and bound to climb after that big win.