There have been a lot of deflating losses this season for Michigan, but that one might have been the most brutal.
After holding a three-possession lead most of the game, the Wolverines didn’t score in the final 5:19 and fell to the No. 18 Indiana Hoosiers, 62-61, Saturdays night at Crisler Center. Costly turnovers, poor shot selection and nervousness late killed the Wolverines.
Barring a significant climb up the rankings from Michigan State, this was probably Michigan’s last opportunity to pick up a Quad 1 win at home. Aside from winning out or a magical run in the Big Ten Tournament, it feels like Michigan kissed its NCAA Tournament hopes goodbye.
Here are some takeaways.
Michigan can’t close games
This has been the fatal flaw for the Wolverines all season. They have enough talent to play anybody close, but they can’t get it done in the final few minutes.
Late game failures is why they lost to Virginia, Central Michigan, Purdue, and now Indiana. That Quad 4 loss to CMU was brutal, and those other three losses were prime chances for the Wolverines to pick up Quad 1 wins and quickly improve their tournament chances.
Not being able to finish in close games is also a big reason why they lost to Kentucky. And UNC. And Michigan State and Maryland on the road. And Iowa in overtime. Stop me when I start to sound repetitive.
You don’t deserve to make the tournament if you can’t beat good teams in close games. It’s that simple.
Hunter’s first half foul troubles
Michigan’s All-American center picked up his second foul at the 12:08 mark in the first half, putting the Wolverines in a tough spot offensively and forcing freshman Tarris Reed Jr. on the floor for his most important minutes of the season.
Reed Jr. played pretty well in limited minutes off the bench. Trayce Jackson-Davis — one of the best players in the Big Ten — did draw a foul on him, but the young big scored on a nice hook shot. He didn’t shy away from batting in the paint and contributing in a big game.
Also, I get why they did it in a big game like this, but I don’t love Dickinson going back in and playing for seven game minutes with two fouls. Reed Jr. was playing well, and Dickinson was clearly playing to not foul, allowing TJD a few easy buckets which really ate into the steady lead Michigan had most of the half.
A solid half for Kobe Bufkin
Bufkin was really impressive in that first half, but he was largely shut down in that second half.
When Dickinson was out for a decent portion of the first half, Bufkin picked up the scoring load. He had 12 of his 14 points in the first half and was doing a great using his speed to get to the rim.
Bufkin’s development has been the best part of this Michigan season. He’s Michigan’s best on-ball defender, he communicates on both ends, and he’s really been a leader. Combine that with how much he’s improved as driving downhill and shooting corner threes, and the Wolverines have a really solid player at the 2.
That being said, Bufkin only scored two points in that second half, the half where he usually comes up clutch. He couldn’t get a shot off after that screen from Dickinson on the last possession, and that’s going to haunt him.
I hope he learns from this and uses this to fuel him.
A long stretch for the two-big lineup
I’m not good with nicknames, but we need one for Dickinson and Reed. Beef squared? The large-and-in-charge lineup? Big Sexy and Big Saxy, given Reed Jr.’s off-court interests?
With Terrance Williams II struggling to start that second half, Howard rolled with Tschetter for a bit before the two-big lineup got some time together in what might have been their earliest appearance of the season.
Jackson-Davis still got the best of Reed at times, but both big men were able to block him. And offensively, Dickinson found Reed Jr. for an and-one that helped the Wolverines take the lead back.
That being said, Jackson-Davis scoring 28 points — with most of those points coming right at the rim — is a big reason why Michigan lost, and both these bigs deserve some blame for that.
This is the lineup Michigan needs to use to combat talented bigs. I love what Reed Jr. brings defensively — not many freshmen can guard both Kris Murray and Trayce Jackson-Davis — but he is too unreliable as a free-throw shooter for Michigan to close with that lineup.
Michigan pretty much needs to win out to avoid the NIT, or worse. The Wolverines have a highly-anticipated Valentine’s Day game at Wisconsin before heading back home for a rematch with Michigan State on Feb. 18.