Almost all that goodwill and momentum the Michigan Wolverines built up over the last week can be flushed down the toilet, as they lost on the road to Michigan State, 59-53, to fall to 3-1 in Big Ten play.
The final score was much closer than the game was; while Michigan played good defense and Hunter Dickinson and Kobe Bufkin sparked a second-half surge, the team couldn’t score consistently and shot the ball way too badly to win this one.
Here are some takeaways from the loss.
Man, that first half was ugly
Both teams combined to make less than 30% of their shots in that first half, to go along with 15 fouls and 17 turnovers. Both teams played relatively bad, but MSU was slightly less bad.
In the opening 20 minutes, the Wolverines couldn’t get any form of consistent half-court offense going. They also couldn’t throw a beach ball into the ocean (7-of-26 from the field, 1-of-9 from three).
They did a great job taking care of the ball against Penn State with only a few turnovers all game, but they had nine in the first half alone against MSU and, most of the time, were completely discombobulated offensively.
East Lansing is a tough place to play, and the pressure seemed to get to this young team in the first half.
The second half run was too little, too late
The Spartans opened the half with five quick points to extend their lead to 14, and the Wolverines found themselves in a hole, with a double-digit deficit they could never really climb out of.
To borrow an analogy from Phil Martelli, Michigan got punched in the mouth in this boxing match in the first half, but kept fighting. Michigan did go on a little run to get back in it.
Trailing by 14 with eight minutes to play, Michigan went on a 13-5 run to cut the Spartan lead to four with just under four minutes to play, with most of the points in that run coming from Dickinson and Bufkin.
Props to Michigan for showing some fight in that second half, but it dug itself in too big of a hole shooting-wise to overtake MSU.
Michigan State kept doubling Dickinson, and Michigan couldn’t capitalize
Michigan State stuck to a clear defensive strategy in this one: double-team Dickinson, turn the Wolverines into jump shooters and make everyone besides the All-American center beat you. That strategy was very effective, as Dickinson eventually got to his usual stats (18 points, seven boards) and played well in the second half especially, but wasn’t his dominant self by any means.
The noise the back of the rim makes on a miss was an all too familiar sound for the Wolverines, who shot 34.5% from the field (19-of-55) and a pathetic 3-of-20 from three.
The Wolverines lack the depth and the consistent wing scoring to win when they aren’t making threes. Doubling Dickinson and forcing the rest of the team to beat you from three is the blueprint for beating them. If we don’t see some sort of improvement, any team with a competent front court should be able to beat Michigan.
A few bright spots
I did want to highlight a few positive things from what was a disappointing performance overall:
-Despite a poor field goal percentage, Bufkin (15 points) played his butt off. Besides Dickinson, he’s been the only Wolverine proven to be capable as a second-half scorer on a consistent basis. He’s been Michigan’s second-best player the last few weeks and has improved drastically on both ends since last year. There’s a case to be made he’s the only returning player who has improved since last season.
-Tarris Reed Jr. played solid in 11 minutes off the bench, as his five points in the first half made him U-M’s leading scorer heading into halftime. He didn’t shy away from the moment and battled inside. While he only grabbed one rebound, those buckets in a tough road atmosphere like this had to be a confidence booster.
-We should expect to see more minutes from Will Tschetter, who played five minutes in the second half and scored a basket. You’d have to think with Terrance Williams II and Jace Howard struggling a bit as of late, he’ll be getting more minutes in the 4.
Will Tschetter (+6) in 5 minutes today. Terrance Williams (-15) in 28 minutes today. https://t.co/TZAkRvz4Xm— Anthony Broome (@anthonytbroome) January 7, 2023
There really is no such thing as an easy stretch in the Big Ten, but Michigan does have plenty of opportunities to right the ship against some teams that currently are below the Wolverines in the conference standings. Their next games are at Iowa (Jan. 12), home against Northwestern (Jan. 15), at Maryland (Jan. 19) and home against Minnesota (Jan. 22).
Hopefully the Wolverines can use that stretch to iron out their offensive issues and build momentum heading into the rest of Big Ten play.