The NCAA Tournament is still a distant dream for the Michigan Wolverines, but there remains a chance after back-to-back wins at Northwestern and over Ohio State. The Wolverines might not have to win all eight remaining games, but there very little margin for error, especially when it comes to this Wednesday night.
The season’s lone contest against the Nebraska Cornhuskers is a must-win. Michigan already has one bad loss on the resume, and while the Cornhuskers are a top-100 team in the NET Ratings, they are heavy underdogs in a road contest; a loss here would be a tough look nationally, but also extremely deflating internally.
A win, though, would continue some momentum with the biggest stretch of the season on deck (vs. Indiana, at Wisconsin, vs. Michigan State). Record aside, Nebraska is worse than Ohio State and the only rosy matchup left on the schedule. Take care of business and full steam ahead.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (11-13, 4-9) at Michigan Wolverines (13-10, 7-5)
Date & Time: Wednesday, Feb. 8, 6:30 p.m.
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Big Ten Standings: NEB 12th, UM t-4th
On the hunt
Make it two games now that the Michigan offense has started to look more like its old self, handling, but not overwhelming, both Northwestern and Ohio State. While the numbers are not overly gaudy, that is ok; the fact that the Wolverines look comfortable with the ball in their hands and capable of maintaining this level of play is a huge boost after a down stretch.
Nebraska comes in with the worst two-point defense in the conference and no clear answer for Hunter Dickinson. The Wolverines’ star heard the criticism and has bounced back in a big way, and this should be a good way to ramp up to Saturday’s showdown with Trace Jackson-Davis. Maybe even Tarris Reed can get in on the action.
With Dickinson likely drawing some double teams — and plenty of attention — the key to the game is keeping the ball moving and finding the right shot. Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin are inconsistent but have the opportunity to be electric on any given night, and it is Dug McDaniel’s job to feed them and Joey Baker. There is no reason Michigan cannot rack up the points against Nebraska at home, and all it requires is some intelligent offense.
Even if the Wolverines do struggle to get it going offensively, the Cornhuskers are unlikely to really make them pay for it on the other end. Though the performance against Penn State was surprisingly sharp, the previous seven games ranged from rough to downright terrible when it came to scoring.
Nebraska’s in-conference profile has a lot of red, including struggles with turnovers (14th), offensive rebounds (12th), free throws (13th), and avoiding blocks (14th). With so many issues there is not one singular area to attack, but it does seem like Michigan should have a pretty sizeable advantage in the paint with both bigs.
Ohio State was able to score on Sunday, but for the most part the Wolverines made them work for it. Effort and communication has been a theme on the defensive end all season long, and it is hard to see the Cornhuskers keeping pace without Michigan gifting them tons of open looks. There is no excuse for locking down an offense that sits close to the 200s nationally.