The Michigan Wolverines put on their best defensive performance of the year when they needed it most, defeating Rutgers in Piscataway, 58-45.
This is the second time Michigan held a Quad 1 opponent to under 50 points in a win, with the other being the walloping of the Maryland Terrapins on New Year’s Day. That’s big for the confidence of this young team, and it’s even bigger for Michigan’s NCAA Tournament chances.
This was pretty much a must-win game for the Wolverines; entering this game, Rutgers had the exact same Big Ten record as Michigan and since it is ranked 28th in NET entering this game, this becomes one of Michigan’s most impressive wins of the season.
Here are some takeaways from the win.
Dug McDaniel is growing up in front of our eyes
McDaniel led the Wolverines with 16 points in this game after leading the team with 18 points in the win over Michigan State. The freshman point guard picked an excellent time to have two of the best performances of his career.
He was great on both ends of the floor, corralling a team-high five steals, using quick hands and excellent foot speed to make life hell for Rutgers’ backcourt.
McDaniel played with confidence and poise, using his speed to create shots for himself and play excellent defense, while also doing a great job of staying controlled and not playing too fast.
Much like the MSU game, McDaniel got going early for the Wolverines.
One of the most important sequences of the game came from McDaniel in the second half, and it also showed how he’s grown as a player.
With the Wolverines up six, McDaniel got a steal near half court, waited patiently for his teammates to join the play after he didn’t have much of a fast break opportunity, and eventually hit a long two to make it 48-40. It was an eight-point lead that felt like a 15-point one with how well the defense was playing.
Dug really has that DWalt pull up in him— Luke Ghiardi (@LukeGhiardi) February 24, 2023
McDaniel has improved drastically since the start of the year, and he needs to keep playing like this for the Wolverines to get into the tournament.
Wow, that defense was spectacular
The defense has been okay all season long; they’ve had their moments but as is often the case with young teams, they’ve been inconsistent.
Thursday’s win was quite literally their best defensive performance of the season. Rutgers’ offense is below-average in the Big Ten when it comes to most stats, but it’s still impressive the Wolverines held them to 45 points, the lowest amount of points Michigan has held a team to this season.
Rutgers turned the ball over 13 times, and Michigan capitalized by scoring 17 points off them. The Wolverines also had 11 steals — well above their 4.8 per game average — to go along with five blocks. The Scarlet Knights only made 38.3% of their shots and 30.8% of their threes.
We’ve known how talented this team is offensively, and we’ve watched them score in bunches all year long. Their defensive improvements are coming at just the right time.
All of a sudden, this is a pretty complete basketball team.
Big Bucket Bufkin
I feel like I’ve written about Kobe Bufkin 45 times in these takeaways articles, and I’ll stop writing about him when he stops making clutch shots for Michigan.
The offense got off to its usual lethargic start, and Bufkin was able to hit a few shots to wake the offense up, including a three to cap off a 7-0 burst.
Bufkin was incredibly efficient in the first half, scoring 10 points on just six shots. He finished this one with 14 points, three assists and three steals.
Bufkin has become a better version of Eli Brooks; he’s a leader on the floor, he guards his man well and gets stops, and most importantly, he hits big shots when the offense is stagnant.
Solid close to the half
After getting off to a rough start, the Wolverines closed the first half really well.
Over the final 6:18 of that first half, Michigan outscored Rutgers 13-5. I’m tempted to call it a run, but the combination of solid defense and lousy offense from both teams made this one feel like a rock fight.
The Scarlet Knights aren’t exactly the Golden State Warriors when it comes to offensive execution, but Michigan did a great job locking down Rutgers towards the end of the first half.
One small note about that stretch to close the half — I thought we saw some solid minutes out of Jace Howard. He hit a three and played solid defense, including a bad foul call on McConnell towards the end of the half. We haven’t seen much from the junior captain this season, but he was on the floor when Michigan was at its best in that first half.
Senior Day for the Wolverines is on Sunday, with Joey Baker being the only player on the roster that will be honored (per a team spokesperson). In their last game at the Crisler Center this season, Michigan has a rematch with a Wisconsin team that also needs to pick up a few wins to get into the tournament.
After that, the Wolverines close the year with tough road matchups against Illinois and Indiana. If they want to keep their already-slim tournament hopes alive, they pretty much need two of their last three games of the regular season.