Everyone knows the stats. It has been a frustrating parade of close loss after close loss, with different faces — on the court and in the head coach’s seat — not really making a difference. At some point it no longer becomes bad luck and instead is just clearly a systemic issue, but maybe there is a some opportunity for regression to the mean as well.
Before anyone of that even matters, the Michigan Wolverines must get through the final non-conference game of the season. A visit from McNeese State closes out 2023, and this is even more dangerous than last year’s post-Christmas debacle against Central Michigan. While Michigan is a decent favorite, this is not a game against a non-descript mid-major.
McNeese is a top-100 Kenpom side with a win at VCU this season. Outside of a loss to Louisiana Tech, all of the other games have come against lesser competition, but this is still a quality squad with an offense bordering the top 50. This is a better team than Long Beach State...so yea, just gotta win this one.
McNeese Cowboys (10-2) at Michigan Wolverines (6-6)
Date & Time: Friday, Dec. 29, 7:00 p.m. ET
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
The big story here is that the Cowboys are fifth (!) in the nation in three-point shooting at a crisp 40 percent. While they do not take a lot of them, it helps fuel a top-50 effective field goal rate and the aforementioned quality offense. Defense has been a consistent challenge for Michigan, and any sort of top-shooting opponent is a problem waiting to happen.
The other end of the floor is nothing special for McNeese, and the Wolverines will have a huge advantage in terms of size and athleticism. The offense took a step back against Florida, but has the pieces to cause a mismatch here. The Cowboys’ stats look decent, especially inside the arc, but quality of competition has been a factor, so Michigan will be expected to score.
Ring in the new year
Dug McDaniel is legit, but basically every other player is experiencing some challenges. That is not to suggest all is doom and gloom, especially for an offense that is sitting in the top 20 per Kenpom, but consistency (and anticipated progression from the transfers, specifically) leaves much to be desired.
For me, I really want to see more from Nimari Burnett on both ends. Having a strong second option in the backcourt would be a big difference maker, and that is a fair expectation for a veteran. His defense has been alright, but the hope was that he could help elevate the entire roster along with Olivier Nkamhoua. This is the type of matchup that could see Burnett perform well and build some momentum.