The Michigan Wolverines had a prime opportunity in front of them to garner a big road win in the NIT this afternoon against the Vanderbilt Commodores. But it was the same old song and dance, as they lost in Nashville, 66-65.
For the full game recap that explains how this game went down, click here. But for this article, here are some takeaways from the disappointing end to the season.
Injuries force some…intriguing lineups
Before the game even began, it was announced Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin would sit due to ankle injuries. Isaiah Barnes was also ruled out with a leg injury. Joey Baker and true freshman Youssef Khayat started in place of Bufkin and Howard. For Khayat, it was his first career collegiate start. Terrance Williams II also came back to the starting lineup.
Not having Bufkin or Howard really hurt the Wolverines today, as Juwan Howard had to experiment with different lineups — including having T-Will play point guard at times which was…not great.
But most of these lineups were not great. The chemistry just seemed to be off for most of the afternoon, and you should never have someone who’s played the 4 all year long be forced to play the 1 when McDaniel needed a rest.
Of course, it doesn’t help that transfer point guard Jaelin Llewelyn has been out for most of the year with an ACL injury, but Howard needs a more properly constructed roster moving forward.
Yo-Yo’s first start
With Khayat getting the starting nod, it didn’t take long for him to get on the box score. He nailed his first shot, a straightaway three-pointer, to put the Wolverines up 5-0 early on. Unfortunately, those were the only three points he contributed all game, as coach Howard took him off the floor pretty quickly in favor of Jace Howard, who had perhaps one of his worst games as a Wolverine.
Once he came out, we didn’t see Khayat again until the beginning of the second half. He played 17 total minutes in this game.
I would’ve liked to see a bit more of him, considering he didn’t get a lot of playing experience his first year in Ann Arbor. You’d imagine he will see a lot more playing time next season, but with absolutely nothing to lose, it was somewhat disappointing to not see more of him.
A game of runs
Football is often considered a game of inches, while basketball is a game of runs, and boy did this game have a ton.
After getting off to that aforementioned 5-0 start, Vanderbilt went on a 17-0 run of its own. Then, the Wolverines went on a 15-3 run to tie it at 20 apiece. Point guard Dug McDaniel had a huge impact on that run, pouring in a couple three-pointers and his midrange jumper that fans have grown accustomed to seeing this season.
Fast forward to the second half — the Wolverines were up 10 points when the Commodores went on a run of their own to cut the deficit to five points. Howard took a timeout and the Wolverines went back to work, stretching the lead to eight with about four minutes left.
Then the unimaginable — well, perhaps it is imaginable considering how this season has progressed — happened. Vanderbilt forced a few late turnovers, including a couple real bad ones from Williams II, and a goaltending call on Dickinson. That all helped propel the Commodores to a one-point victory.
When in doubt, go to the big man
When Michigan needed a bucket today, more often than not it was Hunter Dickinson getting it.
The junior center tacked on 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. He only had six points at halftime, but the Wolverines went to him early and often in the second half. He scored 15 of Michigan’s 22 points in the first 9:08 of the second half on 6-of-6 shooting, doing so by bullying Vandy’s big men in the paint and drawing a couple and-ones.
Dickinson has been the Wolverines’ best player all season, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the offensive game plan focused on him, especially considering Bufkin and Jett missed today’s game. It’s a shame they didn’t go to him on the final play of the game, but you can’t ask for much more than 21 points and 11 boards.
The Wolverines head into the offseason with a lot of questions. Will Kobe Bufkin, Jett Howard and Hunter Dickinson test the NBA waters? Will anyone transfer out of the program? Will Joey Baker be granted another year of eligibility from the NCAA? Will Juwan Howard make any coaching personnel changes?
A pretty pivotal offseason is now upon the Michigan basketball program, so time will tell if anything changes between now and the start of the 2023-24 season.