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Central Michigan at Michigan Preview: Closing out the year and the cupcakes

A strong end to 2022 would be a nice treat for a team that has been struggling.

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

It has been a start to the season full of frustrations for the Michigan Wolverines, with multiple missed chances for any sort of signature win. This team is inexperienced and certainly flawed, but the performance to date has been even worse than most realistic projections expected.

The non-conference slate closes out Thursday with a visit from the in-state Central Michigan Chippewas. The Wolverines have cut it close against most mid-major opponents, but fortunately they have avoided the disastrous loss thus far to at least keep some (ever decreasing) tournament hopes alive.

In many ways this is a game that Michigan just wants to get through. Non-marquee games between the holidays is always tough, and surely the entire fanbase is looking ahead towards Saturday already. However, this is not the time to slip up, and this could even be a way to take a positive step heading into Big Ten play.

Central Michigan Chippewas (4-8) at Michigan Wolverines (7-4)

Date & Time: Thursday, Dec. 29, 7 p.m.
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
TV/Streaming: B1G+


Most previews I try to not dive too deep into Hunter Dickinson because he is such a known quantity at this point, but that certainty has been a bit wobbly thus far. Dickinson has not been bad per se, but his outing against North Carolina was another example of the Wolverines needing him to the the star with the big man unable to come through.

Kobe Bufkin has been picking up some of that slack, and the sophomore’s development has been one of the biggest positives this season. However, Michigan needs both Bufkin and Dickinson to be playing at a high level to have any chance this season, and it seems like getting both on at the same time is difficult.

This matchup seems like a great chance for both players to really embrace the role. Central is poor defensively and allows over 50 percent of opponent’s twos to fall. Dickinson should be able to muscle his way through any post defenders and needs to not settle for lower-percentage looks when he can instead body his way to the rim.

Similarly, Bufkin’s aggression should again play well here. He does not show fear driving to the rim, and his athleticism will allow him to blow by defenders and attack the hoop. When shots do not fall as easily as hoped, the solution has to be getting to the rim and converting the easier looks.

Freshmen discipline

As important as both are on the offensive end, Dug McDaniel and Jett Howard must improve defensively for the Wolverines to have a shot in conference play. It is hard enough to have one defensive liability in the starting lineup, but both freshmen have put the team in difficult spots when on the court.

This goes beyond just staying on top of their assignments. Howard especially has run into foul trouble, and the current rotation is not deep enough to have one or both of these starters sitting on the bench for extended minutes. The defensive responsibilities jump up significantly from high school and there needs to be some improvements made quickly.

Central comes to town with one of the worst offenses in the country. This is a team that has zero three-point shooters and is unlikely to cause too many matchup problems one-to-five. For McDaniel, Howard, and their teammates, this is a good chance to really clamp down and show some lock-down defense. If it does not come together on Thursday then good luck going forward.