After earning their biggest win of the season against Purdue a few days ago, the Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team could not win three games in five days, falling to the Ohio State Buckeyes, 68-57.
As my colleague Scotty White covered on Saturday night, Michigan failed to find a consistent flow on offense going and struggled to make shots. Perhaps tired legs played a factor, being this was Michigan’s fourth game in eight days. Nevertheless, this was a win Michigan needed to get back on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and now the Wolverines pretty much need to win out if they want to go to the Big Dance.
Here are a few takeaways from the loss.
Most simply put, Michigan struggled to make shots
The most telling stat of the broadcast came in the final minutes as Eli Brooks shot some meaningless free throws: if you take out dunks and lay-ups, Michigan only made eight of its 34 shots. You can’t shoot that poorly on jump shots and expect to win, especially against an Ohio State team who will likely be a top-4 seed in March Madness.
I feel like I’m beating a dead horse at this point, but aside from Hunter Dickinson (14 points, seven rebounds) and Brooks (team-high 17 points, five assists) off curls and on wide-open threes, Michigan’s offense is completely stagnant. Yes, there’s a few off-ball screens and cuts towards the basket, but all that movement doesn’t mean anything if you can’t knock down open shots.
The Wolverines shot 41.4% from the field, and only made 23.5% of their threes, effectively shooting themselves out of this game. Every time they grabbed momentum with a big stop or a dunk, they couldn’t turn it into a run to fight back in this one.
Michigan has craved a third reliable scorer all year long and can’t seem to find it. Caleb Houstan had another forgettable performance, DeVante’ Jones didn’t do much offensively aside from a few nice drives, and Michigan’s lack of depth (only four points off the bench) continues to be an issue.
We’re in win-out territory if Michigan wants to make the tournament, and if it wants to go dancing in March Madness, it can’t afford to have another shooting performance like that.
Michigan didn’t have an answer for E.J. Liddell and OSU’s post play
While Michigan did dominate when it came to points in the paint (36 to Ohio State’s 24) thanks to decent performances from Dickinson and Moussa Diabate (nine points), Michigan couldn’t stop Ohio State in the post when it needed to.
The Buckeyes made post play easy for themselves with the interior position they were able to get, as E.J. Liddell (game-high 28 points) and Zed Key were able to get the ball right near the basket, making it nearly impossible for the Wolverines to stop them.
Coaches who focus on post play were likely seething watching Michigan lose the positioning battle before the big guys even touched the ball. Watch how many times Ohio State was able to get the ball nearly under the basket, making post scoring easy on themselves.
Michigan didn’t have an answer for Liddell, who scored in the high and low post, created tons of open looks for his teammates and was able to make enough outside shots down the stretch to ice this one for the Buckeyes.
This wasn’t like past Michigan losses where Michigan’s lack of quality closeouts and miscommunication led to one of the best performances of the season from an opposing offense. The Wolverines played decent defense all night long; the Buckeyes were just able to make clutch shots and Michigan wasn’t able to respond on the other end.
The Wolverines don’t really have a go-to shut down defender to stop guys like Liddell. Jones has probably been their best on-ball defender, and Diabate was able to get the better of him early in the game, but Liddell feasted against Brandon Johns Jr., Terrance Williams II and even Dickinson inside.
Michigan needs to play better interior defense to avoid losing like this again. The Wolverines had a near-perfect performance against Purdue on Thursday, and hopefully they can dig in and find that magic again to close the year.
The Wolverines still have a few chances to prove they’re tournament material
One of the benefits of Michigan’s toughest stretch of the season being towards the end of its season is it still has plenty of chances to prove itself to the tournament selection committee in the final few weeks of the season.
The Wolverines still have a chance to earn Quad 1 wins against No. 14 Wisconsin on the road (Sunday, Feb. 20), No. 17 Michigan State at home (Tuesday, March 1) and No. 16 Ohio State on the road to close out the regular season (Sunday, March 6). They also have a chance to earn a few more big wins in the Big Ten Tournament, which starts Wednesday, March 9.
If they want to make the tournament, they pretty much need to win all those Quad 1 games to bolster their resume, and can really only afford to lose one or two of their final seven games.
The Wolverines get a much-needed break before their next game on Thursday, Feb. 17. That road game against the Iowa Hawkeyes is set to begin at 7 p.m.