The No. 5 Michigan Wolverines lost in overtime to the visiting No. 10 Oregon Ducks on Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, their third defeat in the last four games. Some fans that were riding high after the three wins in three days over the Thanksgiving break in the Bahamas are just as quickly hopping off the bandwagon, but perhaps what we saw on Saturday was the rest of the college basketball world catching up to them.
The Wolverines blew through November with a 7-0 record and wins over the No. 6 and No. 8 teams in the country at the time in North Carolina and Gonzaga, respectively. Juwan Howard’s debut season took off much faster than anyone expected. Now, they find themselves in another stage of the development process as they search for answers after their third loss in four games.
Oregon is a terrific team and one that should stay somewhat high in the polls throughout the college basketball season. Michigan right now is a good team that has proven that when things are going well, they can play with and beat anyone in college basketball.
Now, Michigan has a week off before playing two tuneup games ahead of the full Big Ten schedule being unleashed upon them, which begins with a trip to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans on Jan. 5. Non-conference play is over, at least the games that will greatly test are them anyways. What we have seen from the Wolverines is a group that looks like it will (or should be strongly expected to) make the NCAA tournament. That box seems like it is a relatively safe one to check off.
The question now becomes what the potential is from there. The callus that has been built in November and December should only help them moving forward into conference play and hopefully into championship contention come February and March. It would be one thing if it felt like this was a group of misfits that was playing above its head throughout the first month and change of the season, but that is not the case. There are plenty of pieces here and it feels like there is currently another gear to hit and unrealized potential that can still be unlocked.
Here are some bullet point takeaways from after the game.
(Editor’s note: Usually this would be in the game recap, but overtime can be a you-know-what sometimes)
- Michigan’s two biggest flaws right now are shot selection and the lack of a go-to scorer. They may have one developing in Franz Wagner and we know that Isaiah Livers is capable of carrying the load when need be, but nobody has emerged consistently as someone who you want with the ball in his hands with the game on the line. Zavier Simpson is not that right now, and the call at the end of the game was not great, regardless of how Howard feels about it.
- On Simpson, he simply got outplayed by Oregon’s Payton Prichard in this game. It is as cut and dry as that. Simpson would finish with eight points (3-of-11 shooting), 11 assists and four turnovers. The turnover numbers were not as bad as they have been in some of these games, but the ones that he did have felt enormous. There were a lot of empty possessions out of him in this game. I know there’s a ton of pressure on him right now as a senior point guard with a new system and a younger nucleus, but for as high as the highs can be with him, some of the lows are just brutal. He has to be better than this.
- Jon Teske played only 24 minutes in this game and was not much of a factor at all. For whatever reason, he just did not have it today and Howard rode the hot hand with Brandon Johns at the five, which was absolutely the right call. Michigan’s energy picked up the second Johns was in the game and he played perhaps the best game that he has had at Michigan since he arrived last year. He finished with eight points and nine rebounds, as well as two blocks.
- Franz Wagner is really starting to come into his own and Howard’s faith in him is paying off. He led the Wolverines with 21 points on Saturday on 8-for-13 shooting and gave them a lift offensively throughout. He has had to drink out of a firehose in his first month with the team having been thrown right into the starting lineup in the Bahamas after missing a month with a wrist injury. He is much further along as a prospect than his older brother was at this point in his Michigan career and he looks the part after a ton of preseason hype.
- It might be time for David DeJulius to start taking some minutes away from other players in the rotation. He has pretty routinely played about what he did on Saturday (24 minutes) and has been a nice offensive boost off of the bench, but the Wolverines need more of it. He’s fearless. He’s aggressive. He single-handedly got Michigan back into this game towards the end of the first half. If the minutes come at the expense of Eli Brooks, Jon Teske and Colin Castleton, so be it.
- Michigan’s first half shooting woes look ugly on paper, and believe me, they were. But once again, a lot of them were good looks that did not fall. It’s good that Howard is encouraging them to shoot through it. There were some wacky and sloppy possessions here and there that need to be cleaned up, but at the end of the day, right now it looks a lot like it did under John Beilein. When the shots fall, they could run anyone out of the building. When they don’t, they might get punched out themselves.
- In addition to Michigan’s early shooting woes, Oregon was hitting a ton of hero ball shots that were defended well and just went through. That was as big a reason for the early 25-9 deficit as any. The Ducks are good and came to play on Saturday. They deserve major props for that.
- What should not be criticized is the team’s mental toughness and ability to fight back. They were on the verge of getting knocked out in the first half and it would have been easy to mail it in given what happened a few nights back at Illinois. Hats off to them for that.