In a big test overseas, the Michigan Wolverines were handed their third loss of this young season, narrowly falling to the Kentucky Wildcats, 73-69.
The Wolverines have tested themselves this week against No. 3 Virginia and No. 19 Kentucky. They very much had a chance to pick up two big wins for the resume, but they let both games slip away in the second half.
Here are some takeaways from this one.
The Battle of the Bigs
Two of the best big men in college basketball squared off in London, and while Dickinson got off to a slow start scoring-wise, the combatants had pretty equal performances.
Dickinson had 23 pts and eight rebounds and passed the ball well out of the post. Oscar Tshiebwe racked up 13 points and 14 rebounds, but dealt with foul trouble for some of the second half. He didn’t bully Dickinson by any means down low, but I thought he got the better of him near the rim on both ends.
Dickinson did have a few shots blocked, but he kept with it. His second half performance (15 points) was very solid, and I thought the Battle of the Bigs was pretty even.
A solid game for Bufkin, but there’s plenty to work on
One of the lingering issues that has plagued the Wolverines all season has been the lack of scoring from people not named Hunter Dickinson or Jett Howard.
Howard was in foul trouble in the first half, and Dickinson got off to a slow start, clearly using a lot of energy to guard Tshiebwe. Michigan desperately needed someone to step up, and Bufkin filled those shoes in the first half.
He had 11 points and three assists in this one, including nine points in that first half. He was Michigan’s best on-ball defender, but he was part of a few too many mistakes defensively, which ultimately cost Michigan the game.
It was a problem last season, and it’s been a problem in this one; Michigan needs a reliable third scorer. Bufkin is capable of being that guy, he just has to be a little more consistent.
Michigan HAS to improve defensively, especially in second halves
After watching Virginia’s offense methodically carve up Michigan’s defense in the second half last week, we saw similar miscues in the second half of this one. Every time Michigan got something going offensively in the second half, Kentucky answered right back.
I thought Michigan did a good job collapsing on Tshiebwe and crashing the defensive glass. They also did a good job communicating and navigating Kentucky’s ball screens in the first half, but they gave up way too many offensive rebounds (12), and had too many mental lapses defensively in the second half.
They allowed Cason Wallace (14 points, 4-for-4 from three), Jacob Toppin (14 points) and Sahvir Wallace (11 points) to make too many big shots in this one.
The Michigan men’s basketball team needs to take notes from the Michigan football team and do a better job making second half defensive adjustments.
We hope Llewellyn is okay
Transfer point guard Jaelin Llewellyn was having one of his better games of the season, but left this one in the second half on a non-contact knee injury and didn’t return.
As of Sunday afternoon, it’s unclear how serious the injury is, but losing your upperclassmen, starting point guard for any period of time in college basketball is never a good thing.
I hope he’s okay, and if he has to miss a lot of time, Dug McDaniel is going to have to step up with what you would think would be an increased role. You’d think Bufkin will get a chance to play point guard as well. I’m sure I’m not the only one that would like to see Michigan experiment with Jett Howard at the 1 as well.
Michigan has four more games this month, including a matchup with a UNC team that started the year ranked No. 1 in the country.
Next week, they face Minnesota on the road (Dec. 8) and have nine days off before a home game against Lipscomb (Dec. 17). Four days after that, they’ll face the Tar Heels in the Jumpman Invitational (Dec. 21) and end the month with a home game against Central Michigan.
Michigan could use a big win against UNC, and if they take care of business in those other three matchups, they’ll put themselves in a good spot ahead of the gauntlet that is conference play in the Big Ten. If they split that stretch and struggle offensively without their starting point guard, we’re in for a long season.