The faces have changed (at the top at least), but the results have not for the Michigan Wolverines. Like a season ago, this squad is again struggling to earn important wins, falling painfully short in the games that matter in the committee’s eyes come March. The overtime loss at Eugene felt straight out of 2022-23, even if the key players were different.
There is still plenty of season to go, including the entire conference stretch. That journey starts Tuesday with the first of the two December contests coming against the Indiana Hoosiers; Michigan will then travel to Iowa on Sunday. Even with some missed opportunities over the past month, the slate is clean with the opening of Big Ten play.
The media picked the Hoosiers to finish sixth this season, and Indiana fans had even higher expectations. Despite a 6-1 start, including a win over Maryland on Friday, the analytics are still not quite convinced, with Kenpom placing the team just 69th on the young season. Aside from the Terps, the only other top-100 team Indiana has faced was in a 20-point loss to UConn.
Still, the Wolverines dropped both games against ranked Hoosiers teams last season, and given how things have gone recently there is sure to be some skepticism in Ann Arbor. Like the football opener against East Carolina, this one is a Peacock exclusive. This is the reality of the new Big Ten mega tv contracts, and the first of five basketball games on the streaming service this season.
Indiana Hoosiers (6-1, 1-0) at Michigan Wolverines (4-4, 0-0)
Date & Time: Tuesday, Dec. 5, 9 p.m. ET
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
With the departure of Trayce Jackson-Davis, the Hoosiers have turned to five-star big man Kel’el Ware, who is nearly averaging a double-double. Overall, the offense has been just ok, posting under 1.00 PPP against both UConn and Maryland. While Indiana has been extremely efficient inside the arc (albeit against inferior competition), this is one of the country’s worst three-point shooting teams at just 25.0 percent.
The defense has been the strength so far, with the Hoosiers using their size to make scoring difficult inside. Shots from deep should be available, though this has not quite hurt Indiana yet. The big story will be the health of point guard Xavier Johnson, who missed the game against Maryland. Missing the sixth-year’s presence could be a big factor in the backcourt.
The cause of Michigan’s rough stretch is no secret: putrid defense, combined with some untimely turnovers, has made this team tough to watch down the stretch. The issues are all over, but it has been tough to watch the transfers not quite live up to expectation on the defensive end of the floor.
The stakes only ratchet up with the start of the Big Ten slate, but maybe Indiana is a good first test. Ware will certainly be a tough matchup for Tarris Reed, but it is not like the rest of the roster is full of knockdown shooters. Disciplined defense is a must in any game, but this contest should not require a flawless performance. Instead, this is a winnable opportunity with a competent showing — that is a reasonable request.