It’s understandable to be conflicted about how this season went for the 2021-22 Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team.
On one hand, after starting the year ranked in the preseason top-10, they were unranked most of the year, couldn’t score for large stretches and had more than a few ugly losses. They had so much talent and couldn’t put at all together for significant portions of the year.
On the other hand, they still got the wins they needed late in the season and made their fifth consecutive Sweet Sixteen before losing to a really good Villanova team.
The Wolverines came up short against the Wildcats in this one, losing 63-55. To summarize it simply, they beat themselves by missing too many layups and too many free throws.
Here are some takeaways from the loss.
Michigan played solid defense, but Villanova stayed efficient
I was impressed with Michigan’s defense in this one, especially on the interior. Hunter Dickinson was a constant presence in the paint.
As much as we make fun of Brandon Johns Jr. on Twitter, his defense was key to Michigan keeping it close in the first half.
And as sloppy as he was on the offensive end, Diabate also had his moments on defense, getting two blocks and using his instincts to get in a lot of passing lanes. His play was a big reason why the Wildcats went on a few scoring droughts.
Michigan made it tough for Villanova to get quality looks, especially in the first half. The Wolverines held the Wildcats to 37.3% shooting from the field and 30% from three, but they made enough big shots to get out droughts to secure the win.
No one besides Eli Brooks (14 points, five rebounds) could make big shots to keep up with the Wildcats.
Michigan beat itself tonight
Those missed layups and missed free throws are going to be the nightmares of these Michigan players the next few months.
They were getting good opportunities at the rim, penetrating Villanova’s solid defense and cutting well off Dickinson’s post-ups, but they could not capitalize consistently at the rim.
You can’t beat a team like Villanova, who simply doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, when you go 50% from the free throw line (7-for-14).
They had a legitimate shot of winning this game for a large portion of it, but they just couldn’t get out of their own way offensively.
Where the team goes from here (and an ode to Eli Brooks and DeVante’ Jones)
This will be a busy offseason for my colleagues and I, with Michigan likely looking into the transfer portal. As bad as this team was this year, the idea of possibly losing Brooks, Jones, Dickinson, Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate is terrifying.
We’ll bring you the latest updates over the next couple months. On the bright side, there’s still a lot to like about the young pieces on this basketball team, and if you would have told me in mid-January they would have made the Sweet 16, I would have been pleasantly surprised.
We’ll go more in depth on this over the next few weeks, but Jones and Brooks were so vital to this team’s success. Losing both the senior guards is a tough blow to a young team that struggled to stay consistent all year long.
He got off to a slow start, but Jones was such a key scorer as the year went along and helped lead the team in transition. It’s unfortunate he dealt with injuries late this year, but my favorite Michigan performance of the year might be his game at Ohio State to secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
As for Eli Brooks, as inconsistent as this team was, Brooks could always be counted on to get stops, hit big shots and lead by example. His lengthy Michigan tenure will be remembered fondly.
I hope both guys get their chances in the G League. Props to them for being leaders to this young team.
With as up-and-down as this season was, you can’t say it wasn’t entertaining. I’m sure I’m not the only one excited to see how this team evolves and grows before November.