Virginia. Kentucky. North Carolina. Michigan State. Iowa. Maryland. Purdue. Indiana. Wisconsin. Illinois. The Michigan Wolverines have let no fewer than 10 games slip into losses and are now paying the price for coming up short time and time again. Had even just a couple of these games gone the other way, the Wolverines would be all but assured an NCAA Tournament berth, but instead they are barely clinging on the bubble.
The mantra heading into last weekend was “win two out of the final three” and this is the final shot at getting that second win. The past is painful, but if Michigan can move on, there is still everything to play for. In all likelihood, it will come down to next week’s Big Ten Tournament, but an upset on Sunday makes the outlook at lot more rosy.
Michigan can certainly beat the Indiana Hoosiers, even at Assembly Hall. The Wolverines have plenty of recent success in this matchup despite giving the last two contests away, including a one-point defeat in Ann Arbor last month. Win, and watch the tourney odds jump over 50 percent; lose, and hope for a big miracle in Chicago.
Michigan Wolverines (17-13, 11-8) at No. 15 Indiana Hoosiers (20-10, 11-8)
Date & Time: Sunday, March 5, 4:30 p.m.
Location: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, IN
Big Ten Standings: UM t-2nd, IU t-2nd
Drought and die
The first matchup featured a five-minute scoring drought by the Wolverines, which somehow is not a unique occurrence this season. While the number of empty minutes was not as long against Illinois, this team has a big issue forgetting how to shoot at the absolute worst moments and it nearly always results in a (crippling) defeat.
At Assembly Hall, that absolutely cannot happen. This Indiana team is too good to endure prolonged scoreless stretches, and the crowd might prove too tough for the young backcourt if that should happen. Though Kobe Bufkin has quickly developed into an absolute stud, Dug McDaniel did take a step back on Thursday in another tough situation and is still underdoing some growing pains.
Hunter Dickinson was mostly up for the occasion in the Ann Arbor showdown, posting 16 points on efficient shooting. However, he was outscored by Trace Jackson-Davis (28) by a significant margin, which was an issue against star bigs earlier this season as well. For Michigan to win, Dickinson has to stay much closer to Jackson-Davis’ output.
It all comes down to this
Despite Indiana’s production from Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino (21), it was a pretty good effort from the Michigan defense against a good offense. The Wolverines will need to replicate this formula and make the rest of the Hoosiers settle for contested jumpers instead of feeding their star down low.
Michigan should feel like its complementary pieces (Bufkin, McDaniel, Jett Howard, Tarris Reed) have improved more than Indiana’s since last time, and perhaps that could be the difference. If the game goes down to the wire, though, it is just hard to feel too optimistic after how this season has transpired.
This is a game that Michigan could win, but probably should not. Indiana is the better team and has had the better season. Still, college basketball is a funny sport. If the Wolverines put together a quality 40 minutes — or even just show up in the final 10 — this team might be well on its way to the NCAA Tournament, and maybe we could just forget about that depressing list of heartbreaking defeats and never return to them again.