Michigan basketball alternated between two wins and two losses for most of the schedule, but that stalled Thursday night in Maryland. The Wolverines had a chance to get back on the right side when Minnesota came to town.
The Wolverines won by a margin of 15 in Minneapolis on Dec. 8, and the 10-8 corn and blue team never needed a 7-10 Gopher roster to get more into town.
However, things didn’t exactly go to Michigan, at least initially. Would the Wolverines weather the early storm?
It took a while, but after falling 10 minutes behind, the Wolverines went on an 8-0 scoring run to reduce the deficit to two thanks to the defense, which tightened and forced Minnesota into a goal drought lasting over six minutes. The corn and blue parted for the first time with just 40 seconds remaining in the first half.
In the second half, the Wolverines were a little smarter, taking the lead after just a minute and a half thanks to Hunter Dickinson and an 8-0 run. Michigan had a chance to take a solid lead, but a missed breakaway layup by Joey Baker resulted in a 3-pointer at the other end. It would continue to be a back and forth between the two teams.
The Wolverines eventually pulled away late, and although Minnesota regained the lead, the Corn and Blue won 60-56. Here are our five takeaways.
After coming to Maryland early and late again, Michigan basketball needed to get back on form against Minnesota. But it didn’t work that way.
Michigan got off to a very slow start, trailing 10-0 against the Gophers early in the game and nothing working on either side of the court. No shots were fired and Minnesota scored from both the inside and outside.
The good news is that the Wolverines weathered the storm, although it took a long time. The staff didn’t seem keen on scoring multiple goals, but a slow and steady stream – as well as Hunter Dickinson – helped the Corn and Blues overcome the deficit to take the lead early in the second half.
When Michigan needed a spark, it wasn’t Hunter Dickinson (who was benched with an early foul) or Jett Howard. It was Tarris Reed who started showing up at both ends of the floor. He made hard shots and rebounded at the other end.
We saw Will Tschetter just as early, and he made an impression quickly. Dug McDaniel had some pivotal moments.
Considering our next point, this is a welcome development, but there are some obvious issues that make this point a little less than impressive.
We mentioned players above, but if you can’t rely on your launchers to get things up and running on a regular basis, you’re not going to have a good time.
Yes, it’s always great to be able to count on your bench, but as a supplement, not as a main move. The Wolverines couldn’t get much from their starters — at least initially — and relied almost entirely on bench players to climb out of the hole the starters had dug. There are few reliable options outside of Hunter Dickinson. As we will mention, Jett Howard wasn’t exactly reliable before his injury. Dug McDaniel and Kobe Bufkin were OK, but Corn and Blue need more than OK from the starters. Everyone got into double figures thanks to late runs, which counts just as much as it did earlier in the game. But if they could get started sooner, Michigan wouldn’t be late in getting into battles.
The first and most important concern is Howard’s ankle as he twisted late in the first half and would not return. The severity is unknown, and the Wolverines will need it if they intend to stay competitive with a brutal extension to the upcoming schedule.
But even before his injury, Howard couldn’t seem to get the shots to fall. His father, head coach Juwan Howard, has a “let it fly” mentality, but at times it seemed Jett would settle for shots when he could have been more aggressive. Yes, he’s a true novice and will be a mixed bag, but there are certainly concerns about his consistency.
But the biggest concern, as mentioned earlier, is his health.
In 2017 under John Beilein, the Wolverines looked lost and listless at this point in the season, even losing a couple of key games in February before becoming the hottest team in the Big Ten. It seems unlikely that this kind of history will repeat itself.
Michigan is the kind of team that can beat anyone because of their talent, but they can also lose to anyone. Minnesota is a Quad 4 team and looked like a Quad 1 or 2 team against the Wolverines. Rarely does Michigan come in and play a definitive style that you know you’ll get every night. As we’ve said time and again here, this team is inconsistent. But more importantly, this team is not dominant.
All it takes is a good game from multiple players at once for that team to beat a good team. More often than not though, we see players leveling up too late or not at all. With that in mind, it seems unlikely that this team will get anywhere quickly until we see the starters step up and especially be consistent.