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Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Basketball’

Michigan 82 – Minnesota 74: Wolverines survive Gopher scare

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016


MAAR vs Minnesota(Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports)

After the roughest week of the season with back-to-back lopsided home losses, Michigan desperately needed a win at Minnesota to boost their confidence with the conference season coming to the final stretch.

Luckily for the Wolverines, the Golden Gophers looked like the perfect bounceback opportunity, having a still-winless Big Ten record. And for the majority of Wednesday night, it looked like Michigan would coast to the all-important victory to maintain their spot on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble behind Derrick Walton’s remarkable 19-point first half.

With 7:30 left to play, Duncan Robinson hit his second straight inexplicably wide open three-pointer to give Michigan a massive 70-53 cushion, and Minnesota seemed ready to call it a night.

Two minutes and 40 seconds later, however, and the Golden Gophers had scored 11 straight points – mostly at the free throw line – to cut the gap to just six points.

A little more than three minutes after that, Michigan found itself up a mere two points despite yet another timely triple from Robinson along the way. This time, Minnesota was simply slicing through the ever-porous Wolverine defense for uncontested layups – no fouls needed.

For those of you who struggle with math (and I’m one of them), that’s a 19-4 run that Minnesota managed to orchestrate in a less-than six minute stretch.

A loss tonight, and Michigan’s hopes of dancing would probably be toast.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman knew it, and decided to finally do something about the inexplicable comeback launched by a miserable team.

Four Factors
Michigan Minnesota
67 eFG% 50
10 OReb% 22
15 TO% 10
38 FTR 33

The sophomore received the ball in the right corner and, instead of settling for a jumper, drove straight along the baseline, lowered his shoulder, and drew an and-1 foul on senior Carlos Morris. Rahk finished the three-point play to give Michigan a bit of breathing room once again, and finished with 16 points on a perfect shooting night (2-of-2 2pt, 3-of-3 3pt, 3-of-3 FT).

Following a missed three on the other end, Michigan got the ball back with time to kill. But Walton and Robinson ran into each other, causing the ball to spill into the hands of Morris, who looked to be leading a two-on-zero break for the Gophers, giving them a chance to make it a one possession game yet again.

Yet again, though, Rahk wouldn’t have it, racing from behind to poke the ball away from a streaking Morris, then gathering it on Minnesota’s baseline and forcing up a pass before falling out of bounds. The pass was tipped by Nate Mason out of bounds, and Michigan would survive by making five of their six free throws to secure an 82-74 win, bringing their conference record to 8-4 with an 18-7 overall mark.

It’s a sigh of relief for a team that many thought was spiraling downward – and fast – after looking lifeless against Indiana and Michigan State last week. And though the defense is still far from fixed and a closer-than-it-should-have-been win over Minnesota is nothing to brag about, Michigan needed to answer the bell in an undeniably must-win situation.

This was the last matchup with one of the doormat teams in the Big Ten for John Beilein’s squad, and outside of a home tilt with Northwestern, the remaining games will not be easy.

Perhaps there is still reason for some optimism, with Michigan getting back on track from deep tonight to the tune of a 14-of-25 (56 percent) final three-point mark, led by Walton (5-of-8), Robinson (4-of-7), Rahk (3-of-3), and Aubrey Dawkins (2-of-4). That will be key moving forward, considering the Wolverines still lack a killer one-on-one threat with Caris LeVert having missed his 11th straight game tonight. And with Purdue coming to town Saturday in another monumental matchup, nothing will come easy inside.

For now, Michigan will take the win and continue to look for Walton and Robinson to carry the offense as they did tonight, with a career-high 26 points and 14 points, respectively.

From here on out, it’s one game at a time. After all, that’s the only way.

Michigan’s Three Stars

***Derrick Walton Jr.***
26 points (4/7 2pt, 5/8 3pt, 3/5 FT), eight rebounds (one offensive), seven assists, two steals, three turnovers in 37 minutes

**Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman**
16 points (2/2 2pt, 3/3 3pt, 3/3 FT), one rebound, two assists, two steals, one turnover in 35 minutes

*Duncan Robinson*
14 points (1/2 2pt, 4/7 3pt), nine rebounds, one assist, one block, one turnover in 30 minutes

Season Three-Stars Standings

Derrick Walton Jr – 26
Duncan Robinson – 17
Caris LeVert – 15
Zak Irvin – 10
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman – 6
Aubrey Dawkins – 5
Mark Donnal – 1
Spike Albrecht – 1
Moritz Wagner – 1
Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
34 Mark Donnal* 4-8 0-1 0-0 1 0 1 4 8 1 0 1 0 19
10 Derrick Walton* 9-15 5-8 3-5 1 7 8 1 26 7 3 0 2 37
21 Zak Irvin* 1-8 0-1 2-4 0 2 2 2 4 3 4 0 2 36
22 Duncan Robinson* 5-9 4-7 0-0 0 9 9 3 14 1 1 1 0 30
12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman* 5-5 3-3 3-3 0 1 1 1 16 2 1 0 2 35
11 Andrew Dakich 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 2 2 0 0 2 0 0 0 3
13 Moritz Wagner 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
24 Aubrey Dawkins 3-5 2-4 0-0 0 3 3 2 8 1 0 0 0 19
32 Ricky Doyle 1-1 0-0 4-8 0 1 1 4 6 0 0 0 0 20
Totals 28-52 14-25 12-20 3 25 28 17 82 17 10 2 6 200
Minnesota 27-58 4-19 16-19 7 26 33 14 74 14 7 3 6
200
Full Stats

Michigan hoops preview: Minnesota

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016


UM-Minnesota
Michigan at Minnesota
Wednesday, Feb. 10 | Minneapolis, Minn. | 9 p.m. ET | Big Ten Network
Line: Michigan -7
Offense
76.8 Points/gm 69.0
(653-1,354) 48.2 Field Goal % 41.1 (537-1,305)
(248-616) 40.3 3-pt FG % 31.6 (147-465)
(288-388) 74.2 Free Throw % 70.0 (367-524)
12.0 FT Made/gm 16.0
32.2 Reb/gm 33.7
15.5 Assists/gm 12.5
9.8 Turnovers/gm 11.0
Defense
66.0 Points/gm 74.2
(583-1,337) 43.6 Field Goal % 44.5 (602-1,354)
(175-503) 34.8 3-pt FG % 35.4 (164-463)
32.3 Opp. Reb/gm 38.8
5.8 Steals/gm 5.3
2.3 Blocks/gm 3.8
Individual Leaders
Caris LeVert (17.6), Duncan Robinson (12.1) Points/gm Nate Mason (13.4), Joey King (11.4)
Derick Walton (5.6), Caris LeVert (5.4) Reb/gm Jordan Murphy (7.8), Bakary Konate (4.3)

Michigan is out of the Big Ten title hunt after a horrendous week that included blowout losses to Indiana and Michigan State, both at home. The good news is the Wolverines get a chance to bounce back against one of the conference’s cellar dwellers, Minnesota. Michigan beat the Gophers in the season’s first meeting, 74-69, on Jan. 20.

Since then, Minnesota has lost its last four, and is still winless since a Dec. 16 win over Chicago State. The Gophers were 6-5 at that point, but currently stand 6-17 overall and 0-11 in Big Ten play. They rank 12th in the Big Ten in both scoring (69 points per game) and scoring defense (74.2 ppg). Only Penn State shoots worse from the field (41.1 percent) and only Penn State and Rutgers shoot worse from three-point range (31.6 percent). Simply put, Minnesota is a bad basketball team.

Sophomore guard Nate Mason (6-foot-1, 185) leads the way with 13.4 points and 4.4 assists per game. He almost led the Gophers to an upset of Michigan three weeks ago with a season-high 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting. He almost did the same in a close loss at Indiana on Jan. 30 with 21 points.

Freshman guard Dupree McBrayer (6-foot-4, 175) has been the other starting guard as of late. He averages just 4.9 points per game on the season while shooting just 28.3 percent from the field and 15.8 percent from three-point range. He managed nine points against Michigan in the first meeting.

Freshman Jordan Murphy (6-foot-6, 230) and redshirt junior Charles Buggs (6-foot-9, 230) are the starting forwards, averaging 10.7 and 6.2 points per game, respectively. Murphy leads the team with 7.8 rebounds per game. He scored 13 against Michigan the first time out on 6-of-11 shooting, but Buggs scored just two points and missed all four shots he attempted. Sophomore Bakary Konate (6-foot-11, 235) is the center, averaging 4.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He leads the team with 27 blocks, but was mainly a non-factor in the first meeting.

Senior forward Joey King (6-foot-9, 240) and senior guard Carlos Morris (6-foot-5, 185) are also heavy rotation players, averaging 11.4 and 10.3 points per game, respectively. Morris scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the first meeting. King has been hot and cold in Big Ten play with games of 22 against Penn State, 18 against Indiana, and 20 against Illinois, but has been held to five or fewer points in five of the last eight games. In the last three games, he has made just 2-of-9 shots from the field and 1-of-7 from three-point range for a combined seven points.

Freshman guard Kevin Dorsey (6-foot-0, 175) is the only other Gopher averaging double digit minutes. He was held scoreless in nine minutes of action against Michigan the first time, but scored 21 points on 10-of-19 shooting against Indiana a week and a half ago. He has scored nearly as many points in the last two games (32) as he did in the first nine games of Big Ten play combined (34).

While Michigan is expected to win this one, Minnesota surely sees it as a great opportunity to pick up its first conference win of the season. Richard Pitino will tell his team that a team lacking confidence and reeling from back to back home blowouts is ripe for the picking. But Michigan could get a much needed boost if Caris LeVert returns. He likely won’t be in full game shape even if he plays, but at least it’s an option at this point after missing the last 10 games with a foot injury.

Whether or not LeVert plays, Michigan must come out of Minneapolis with a win if it wants any hope of making the NCAA Tournament next month. At 17-7 overall and 7-4 in the Big Ten right now, Michigan may need to go at least 5-2 the rest of the way and pick up a win in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament to earn a trip to the Big Dance. And with repeat matchups against Purdue, Maryland, and Iowa ahead, winnable games are few and far between.

Big Ten hoops power rankings: Feb. 9

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016


Power Rankings_header

The top two teams remain the same this week, but Michigan took a three spot tumble thanks to blowout losses to Indiana and Michigan State. The bottom seven remain essentially the same.

“Michigan is unsurprisingly the big faller this week after being the janitor’s mop,” said Sam. “Not many other changes, though Penn State maybe had the most unexpected victory of the week by beating Indiana at home. Purdue has a huge week with games at Michigan State and Michigan in the coming days that should give further insight there, while Iowa continues to roll with Maryland lurking just behind.”

“The big mover in this week’s rankings is obviously Michigan,” said Derick. “The Wolverines looked like a Big Ten contender halfway through the conference schedule, but got bombed by Indiana and MSU at home. Caris LeVert isn’t playing, but even with its star player, Michigan has shown it isn’t competitive with upper-tier teams this season.”

1. Iowa (19-4, 10-1) – Even – 1.3 (Last week: 1.3)
Last Week: Beat Penn State 73-49, Beat Illinois 77-65
This Week: Thursday at Indiana, Sunday vs Minnesota
2. Maryland (21-3, 10-2) – Even – 1.7 (Last week: 1.7)
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 70-65, Beat #18 Purdue 72-61
This Week: Tuesday vs Bowie State, Saturday vs Wisconsin
3. Indiana (19-5, 9-2) – Up 1 – 3.7 (Last week: 3.0)
Last Week: Beat Michigan 80-63, Lost at Penn State 63-68
This Week: Thursday vs #4 Iowa, Sunday at #8 Michigan State
4. Purdue (19-5, 7-4) – Up 2 – 4.0 (Last week 5.7)
Last Week: Lost at #4 Maryland 61-72
This Week: Tuesday vs #8 Michigan State, Saturday at Michigan
5. Michigan State (20-4, 7-4) – Even – 4.3 (Last week: 5.3)
Last Week: Beat Michigan 89-73
This Week: Tuesday at #18 Purdue, Sunday vs Indiana
6. Wisconsin (14-9, 6-4) – Up 1 – 6.0 (Last week: 7.0)
Last Week: Beat Ohio State 79-68
This Week: Wednesday vs Nebraska, Saturday at #2 Maryland
7. Michigan (17-7, 7-4) – Down 3 – 7.3 (Last week: 4.0)
Last Week: Lost to #22 Indiana 67-80, Lost to #10 Michigan State 73-89
This Week: Wednesday at Minnesota, Saturday vs #18 Purdue
8. Ohio State (14-10, 6-5) – Even – 7.7 (Last week: 8.0)
Last Week: Lost at Wisconsin 68-79
This Week: Tuesday vs Northwestern, Saturday at Rutgers
9. Nebraska (13-11, 5-6) – Even – 9.0 (Last week: 9.0)
Last Week: Lost to #4 Maryland 65-70, Beat Rutgers 87-63
This Week: Wednesday at Wisconsin, Saturday vs Penn State
10. Penn State (12-12, 3-8) – Up 1 – 10.3 (Last week: 12.0)
Last Week: Lost at #5 Iowa 49-73, Beat #22 Indiana 68-63
This Week: Saturday at Nebraska
11. Northwestern (16-8, 4-7) – Down 1 – 10.7 (Last week: 10.7)
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 82-58
This Week: Tuesday at Ohio State, Saturday vs Illinois
12. Illinois (11-13, 3-8) – Even – 12.0 (Last week: 11.3)
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 110-101 (3OT), Lost to #5 Iowa 65-77
This Week: Saturday at Northwestern
13. Minnesota (6-17, 0-11) – Even – 13.0 (Last week: 13.0)
Last Week: Lost at Northwestern 58-82
This Week: Wednesday vs Michigan, Sunday at #4 Iowa
14. Rutgers (6-18, 0-11) – Even – 14.0 (Last week: 14.0)
Last Week: Lost to Illinois 103-110 (3OT), Lost at Nebraska 63-87
This Week: Saturday vs Ohio State

After a horrid week for Michigan hoops, is it time to panic?

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016


Beilein vs MSU(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

I didn’t write about Michigan’s two basketball games this past week; I simply couldn’t bring myself to. We all know what happened – Michigan got romped twice in their own gym and looked lifeless outside of about five minutes against Indiana and a few moments when the Wolverines’ bench warmers made some brutal losses look just a little better on the final stat sheet.

I’ve never tried to hide that I’m a very passionate Michigan basketball fan first and a Michigan basketball blogger second. After all, I used to be the president of the Maize Rage and have been going to games at Crisler since some time around the turn of the century.

So when the Wolverines suffer a gut-wrenching loss (think Josh Gasser’s banked three at the buzzer in 2011 or Evan Turner’s last second heave in the 2010 Big Ten Tournament) or get their asses flattened like pancakes pounded by a spatula after being removed from the griddle (think, well, both those “games” last week), I usually struggle to bring myself to settle my emotions enough to bring fingers to keyboard.

But I thought I should ramble a little about how I feel now after digesting those losses, throwing them up, and taking some antacid.

By the way, the final deficits against Indiana and Michigan State were 13 and 16, respectively, but probably would have more accurately reflected the nature of the games if those numbers were doubled.

Hopefully the Selection Committee takes a look at the final score of each game and says “well those are bad losses but not that bad!” and then proceeds to put Michigan somewhere other than Dayton, Spokane, or Oklahoma City (if they make it, I’m hoping to go to their first round game, but I would rather it not actually be a First Round game, if you know what I mean).

In reality, we all know that those losses were that bad. Like really that bad.

As Rafiki says, however, “it doesn’t matter, it’s in the past!” Michigan can’t change the disaster that happened last week, but they can hopefully learn a bit from them and pave the way for a brighter future.

So what’s to learn about those two games that people are certainly, definitely, NOT AT ALL panicking about?

Well, let’s rationalize a bit to begin. Indiana and Michigan State are two very good teams that played excellent games (I’m not going to reference many stats in this column because of how skewed the numbers are over the stretch, but any time two teams combine to make 56 percent of their shots in a given week, that’s some good play). They have combined to win 81.3 percent of their matchups so far this season and have beaten some good teams. They are both shoo-ins for the Big Dance, and they’ll probably embarrass a couple other teams not named Michigan going forward (do not pay any attention to Indiana’s game at Penn State).

For those rough games, Michigan still does not have a bad loss to show on their record – and I honestly don’t expect margin of defeat to come into play on Selection Sunday. They also have a couple very good wins on their resume and could add to their two top-100 RPI wins with victories they have already acquired earlier this season, should Penn State or North Carolina State climb up a few spots. For now, the Wolverines still look like relatively safe bets to make the Tournament.

If you are one of the many Michigan fans teetering on the edge right now, please take a step back, then another. It’s not time to panic just yet. If Michigan comes home from Minneapolis with a loss on Ash Wednesday, though, I give you full permission to run forward and jump.

Bench vs MSU(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

Anyway, about those games.

The Wolverines actually came out looking very good against Indiana last Tuesday, jumping out to an early 11-point lead and threatening to run away from the Hoosiers. Things quickly erupted though, and before the halftime horn mercifully blew in a dead silent Crisler Center, Michigan found itself on the wrong end of a 25-0 run and a 21-point deficit.

Before they could throw a counter punch, the Wolverines were knocked out by a savage Indiana offense. So what happened? Ultimately, the Hoosiers took advantage of Michigan’s poor transition defense, the Wolverines panicked and began turning the ball over and missing ill-advised shots so bad that they may as well also have been turnovers, and by halftime, the Wolverines were in a complete state of shock. Effectively, it was game over. To rub salt in the already gaping wound that caused the knockout, Tom Crean quickly mentioned former Michigan player Max Bielfeldt as a reason for Indiana’s terrific play. That, of course, was mostly garbage – Bielfeldt finished with just five points on 2-of-8 shooting (the worst percentage for any Hoosier that attempted a shot) in 18 minutes – but stung nonetheless. The stated reason Crean praised Bielfeldt was for his excellent first half plus/minus rating, which was absolutely comical given that just about every Indiana player had a through-the-roof first half plus/minus.

As soon as that panic set in, Michigan’s offense – which, again, came out firing on all cylinders – devolved into what looked like a typical eighth grade offense, with guys trying to play hero ball and failing miserably. Indiana capitalized, with six of their buckets (good for 15 points) down the stretch in the first half coming within 10 seconds of a Michigan miss or turnover, and a couple others coming off of terrible looks or turnovers as well.

Michigan is simply not good enough to overcome a shocking run like that, and Indiana simply could not miss for quite a long stretch. Further, the Wolverines are lacking their best individual playmaker, their primary facilitator, and their presumed leader. That recipe, combined with a seeming lack of confidence once things get bad for the Maize and Blue, is a recipe for disaster, and disaster is what descended upon Ann Arbor. In my opinion, it was one of those games where you almost have to say “it happens” and move on. Obviously it was a poor, poor result and an even worse performance, but I don’t place too much blame on the coaching staff.

I can’t say the same for the Michigan State loss. Coming off the tough-pill-to-swallow beatdown against Indiana, Michigan was certainly going to be a bit wary and perhaps high-strung or nervous with their in-state rivals coming to town playing much better than them (as an aside, players will never admit to paying close attention to other teams, or to keeping track of their ranking, or to listening to talking heads’ opinion of their team, but they absolutely do).

Unfortunately, I do not believe the coaching staff put the Wolverines in position to win.

Now don’t get me wrong. Michigan State is a very good team, and has been for many seasons. They are a tough, physical team, and perhaps not the best matchup for a Michigan team that usually plays with more finesse than physicality.

But the Spartans are also fairly easy to gameplan for in my opinion. This year, Michigan State has one guy who can do it all on offense and is dangerous any time he’s on the floor. That player, of course is Denzel Valentine. He’s an All-Everything senior that is a phenomenal passer, a very good shooter, and an excellent rebounder for his size as well. There is one other player, Eron Harris, who is fairly multi-dimensional, with the ability to drive, pass, shoot, get fouled, etc. But Harris is also prone to fits of erraticism and is not quite the shooter, finisher, or passer that Valentine is, and turns the ball over more than Valentine while handling the ball less.

Meanwhile, the Spartans also boast some excellent offensive complementary pieces that, while key to their success, are a little more one-dimensional. Bryn Forbes is an outstanding spot-up shooter that doesn’t do much more than shoot the three-ball. Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis are a load to handle down low, but neither is a threat to score from more than 12 feet away. Matt McQuaid is a plus shooter but does not shoot much while big men Kenny Goins and Gavin Schilling are basically the same players as Costello and Davis but both significant downgrades.

How do you beat, or at least challenge, the Spartans then? If Valentine proves too difficult to handle, so be it – you have to grin and bear it. He’s one of the best players in the country and can break down any defense. If Harris drives his way into some fouls and knocks down a couple deep shots, shrug your shoulders. But you absolutely CANNOT let Bryn Forbes get wide open and kill you from deep.

And that’s exactly what happened. Forbes had 23 points – seven triples and another long two – by halftime to Michigan’s 28 total. Of his eight makes, Forbes may have had a Wolverine within three feet of him once or twice.

Bryn Forbes(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

That is a lack of effort, a lack of effective defense, and also a lack of a competent defensive gameplan. Michigan came out in a soft man defense that showed little urgency in sticking with Forbes – again, one of the more lethal shooters in the country – and paid dearly for it. Duncan Robinson was a primary culprit, running under screens and getting completely stone-walled by picks, but the coaching staff deserves equal blame for allowing Michigan State to come out and drain 10 very mildly contested threes in a single half.

About midway through the first half, when it was clear that the Wolverines had completely missed the mark on the scouting report, Beilein switched to a 1-3-1 zone in an attempt to keep another game spiraling quickly out of control within striking distance.

It was fine for a change of pace, and it even managed to flummox the Spartans into making a couple dumb mistakes. But Michigan went back to it after those couple mistakes, which Michigan State was ecstatic to see. The Spartans promptly drained a triple, and when the Wolverines inexplicably went back to the zone yet again, they made another. And another. And another.

I have never seen Beilein look so helpless, but the answer in slowing Michigan State’s offense was never going to come by playing zone for an extended period of time. Michigan State is simply too good of a shooting team to fall prey.

Perhaps most frustrating about the decision to play zone for so long is that the 1-3-1 zone is not designed to limit shooting whatsoever. Rather, it’s designed to confuse the offense, create turnovers, and prevent easy driving buckets. Michigan State was not killing Michigan with easy buckets at the hoop; they were killing the Wolverines from beyond the arc. So instead of switching up the gameplan and sticking the best perimeter defender Michigan has – probably Derrick Walton at this point – onto Forbes and instructing him to not let the senior transfer touch the ball, Beilein inexplicably switched to a zone that is prone to giving up wide open shots from deep. And give up shots the zone did.

By the time halftime arrived – again again by the grace of God – Michigan was pretty much out of the picture and sapped of any confidence that once existed. Of course, the Wolverines moved to a more aggressive man defense in the second half, with Walton face-guarding Forbes, to open the second half. But it was too late. The lack of a first half adjustment failed the team.

In the aftermath of the second straight embarrassment at home, Michigan fans across the blogosphere at Twittersphere began (yet again) calling for Beilein’s head.

To that, I merely say this: stop it. Yes, Michigan got beat bad twice in a row. And yes, perhaps it could have been mitigated by some better coaching decisions.

But if you want people to take you seriously, you must first think and act rationally. John Beilein is one of the best things to happen to the Michigan basketball program in quite a long time. I don’t need to run through his list of accolades and accomplishments since taking over the program in the 2007-’08 season.

So I pray that many of those calling for his firing are uninformed tweens that have known nothing but success over the majority of Beilein’s tenure in Ann Arbor, and expect Michigan to be dominant each year. Unfortunately, those are unrealistic expectations for all but a few fan bases in the country.

It’s even more unrealistic to expect that when a team is missing their unquestioned best player and a key secondary piece. Both of those guys, of course, are seniors – Michigan’s only seniors heading into this season. And if you don’t understand the value of seniors in this day of overhyped freshmen in college basketball, I suggest you listen to what Tom Izzo had to say after his team’s triumphant victory on Saturday.

Take a look at any top team in the country and you’ll likely find that a senior (or two or three) is the driving force behind the success. Guys like Buddy Hield, Isaiah Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, Jared Uthoff, Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes, Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Perry Ellis, Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, and so many more are guys that make teams tick.

Michigan’s two seniors are currently watching from the bench. Hopefully they get one of them back soon, but in the meantime, patience and understanding are highly advised.

Crappy performances happen in college basketball. Shots fall and don’t fall, players make mistakes and lose confidence. Teams lose, sometimes badly, and coaches make mistakes too.

Still, Michigan is probably going to be okay. They had a couple big hiccups and they have some recovering and rebounding to do, but it’s not the end of the world, and it’s certainly not time to overreact after losing two games in which the projected outcomes were pretty much coin flips.

There are more opportunities on the way, and I believe that John Beilein will have an answer.

I, at least, have a good feeling about the two games this week.

The past is over. Let’s play on.

#10 Michigan State 89 – Michigan 73: Michigan has no answer for streaking Spartans

Sunday, February 7th, 2016


UM vs MSU(MGoBlue.com)

For the second time in a week Michigan’s best performance came from its bench in garbage time against the opponent’s bench. For the second straight game said bench made the final score look much closer than the game actually played for the first 37 minutes.

The only difference between Michigan’s 89-73 loss to No. 10 Michigan State on Saturday and their 80-67 loss to No. 22 Indiana on Tuesday was that there was no early lead for the Wolverines. In this one, Michigan was overmatched from the start, holding only a 5-3 lead, and when Eron Harris hit a three at the 18:42 mark, Michigan never lead again.

Four Factors
Michigan Michigan State
52 eFG% 78
18 OReb% 33
13 TO% 27
28 FTR 32

The Spartans shot 64 percent from the field and 63.6 percent (14-of-22) from three-point range for the game while holding Michigan to just 44.8 percent overall and 28.6 percent from downtown. MSU made 10-of-14 three-point attempts in the first half including their first five and eight of their first 10. Bryn Forbes was routinely left wide open and made Michigan pay by scoring 23 first half points on 7-of-9 three-point shooting himself.

Zak Irvin led the way for Michigan with 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting and 2-of-6 three-point shooting. Aubrey Dawkins (14 points) and Derrick Walton (11) were the only other Wolverines in double figures. No Michigan player had more than three rebounds and the Wolverines managed just 20 boards for the game. Some of that has to do with the fact that Michigan State wasn’t missing shots. Forbes led the Spartans with 29 points, while Denzel Valentine added 21 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.

Michigan has now lost two straight and must turn its attention to simply qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that Caris LeVert will see the court again and without him it’s becoming increasingly clear that Michigan is a team that can beat the teams it should beat, but can hardly compete with great teams. At 17-7 overall and 7-4 in the Big Ten, Michigan may need to go at least 5-2 the rest of the regular season and win at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament to feel comfortable heading into Selection Sunday. However, in looking at the remaining schedule, only Minnesota and Northwestern look to be sure-bet wins for the Wolverines. Purdue, Iowa, and at Maryland are likely losses, while at Ohio State and Wisconsin are toss-ups.

Michigan looks to bounce back from a rough week on Wednesday against a Minnesota team still looking for its first conference win. The Gophers are 6-17 overall and 0-11 in the Big Ten. A Michigan loss in Minneapolis will likely mean an NIT berth next month.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
34 Mark Donnal* 2-5 0-2 0-0 1 2 3 3 4 0 1 0 1 17
10 Derrick Walton* 3-10 3-7 2-2 0 2 2 4 11 2 1 0 3 35
21 Zak Irvin* 8-16 2-6 1-1 0 3 3 1 19 1 2 0 0 32
22 Duncan Robinson* 1-5 0-3 0-0 0 0 0 1 2 0 1 0 0 25
12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman* 2-5 0-3 2-2 1 1 2 2 6 4 0 0 1 32
03 Kameron Chatman 2-3 1-1 0-0 0 1 1 0 5 0 0 0 1 25
05 D.J. Wilson 2-3 0-1 1-1 0 2 2 3 5 0 1 0 1 14
11 Andrew Dakich 1-1 0-0 1-1 0 0 0 2 3 0 0 0 2 5
13 Moritz Wagner 0-2 0-1 0-1 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 4
24 Aubrey Dawkins 3-5 2-4 6-8 0 1 1 0 14 3 1 0 1 17
32 Ricky Doyle 2-3 0-0 0-0 3 0 3 1 4 0 0 0 0 14
Totals 26-58 8-28 13-16 6 14 20 18 73 10 9 0 11 200
Michigan State 32-50 14-22 11-16 7 28 35 20 89 18 19 1 4
200
Full Stats

Michigan hoops preview: #10 Michigan State

Saturday, February 6th, 2016


UM-MSU
Michigan vs Michigan State
Saturday, Feb. 6 | Ann Arbor, Mich. | 2 p.m. EST | CBS
Line: Michigan +3.5
Offense
76.9 Points/gm 79.0
(627-1,296) 48.4 Field Goal % 47.8 (651-1,362)
(240-588) 40.8 3-pt FG % 41.4 (195-471)
(275-372) 73.9 Free Throw % 72.4 (320-442)
12.0 FT Made/gm 13.9
32.7 Reb/gm 43.1
15.7 Assists/gm 10.4
9.8 Turnovers/gm 12.0
Defense
65.0 Points/gm 62.4
(551-1,287) 42.8 Field Goal % 36.7 (492-1,341)
(161-481) 33.5 3-pt FG % 28.2 (120-426)
32.2 Opp. Reb/gm 30.4
5.5 Steals/gm 4.3
2.4 Blocks/gm 5.4
Individual Leaders
Caris LeVert (17.6), Duncan Robinson (12.5) Points/gm Denzel Valentine (18.5), Bryn Forbes (13.6)
Derick Walton (5.8), Caris LeVert (5.4) Reb/gm Matt Costello (8.3), Denzel Valentine (7.8)

Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes suffered a big setback on Tuesday night when Indiana came into the Crisler Center and humbled the Wolverines with a 80-67 rout. The final score doesn’t reflect just how far apart the two teams were. Indiana shot the lights out and put themselves in great position to play for the conference title.

Michigan gets a chance to bounce back this afternoon when in-state rival Michigan State comes to town. The Spartans are a game behind Michigan in the Big Ten standings at 6-4, but since a three-game losing streak they have rattled off three straight wins. One of those was a 74-65 win over No. 7 Maryland and the last two were by a combined 65 points over Northwestern and Rutgers.

Michigan State is led by senior Denzel Valentine (6-foot-5, 220), who averages 18.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game. He’s pretty much a lock for Big Ten Player of the Year unless he falls apart the rest of the season. He ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring, fifth in rebounding, and first in assists. His 3.2 three-point field goals made per game are tied with Duncan Robinson for tops in the conference, though he has made 16 fewer. He has two triple-doubles and four more double-doubles this season with a high of 32 points against Boise State on Nov. 27. In his last four games he has made 19-of-34 three-point attempts including six in two of those.

Senior guard Bryn Forbes (6-foot-3, 190) ranks second on the team in scoring with 13.6 points per game and leads the team with a 48.2 percent three-point average. He has been a hot and cold scorer in Big Ten play. In the Spartans’ four losses, he averaged just five points per game on 6-of-27 (22.2%) shooting from the field and 3-of-18 (16.7%) three-point shooting. In the six wins, he has averaged 18.2 points on 38-of-73 (52.0%) shooting from the field and 26-of-44 (59.1%) three-point shooting. Michigan can let Valentine get his points, but must focus on holding Forbes in check.

Redshirt junior guard Eron Harris (6-foot-3, 185) is the third Spartan averaging double figures at 10.0 points per game. He’s a capable three-point shooter at 39.7 percent, though he attempts half as many Valentine and Forbes. Harris has raised his scoring during Big Ten play, averaging 11.9 points per contest after averaging 8.5 in the non-conference.

Senior forward Matt Costello (6-foot-9, 245) is the brute down low, averaging 9.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. The rebounding ranks second in the Big Ten behind only Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and he leads the Big Ten with 2.7 offensive rebounds per game. Like Harris, Costello has raised his play in the conference season, averaging 12.3 points and 10.8 rebounds since Dec. 29 with six double-doubles in 10 games.

Freshman forward Deyonta Davis (6-foot-10, 240) has started the last five games in place of sophomore guard Lourawls Nairn Jr (5-foot-10, 175), who has been sidelined with plantar fasciitis. Davis hasn’t been a big scorer as of late — 16 points combined in his last three games — but does average eight points per game on the seasons. He ranks third in the Big Ten with two blocked shots per game and second with a 63.6 percent field goal rate. Nairn, meanwhile, started all 18 games before his injury, averaging 4.1 points and 4.5 assists per contest.

Junior forward Gavin Schilling (6-foot-9, 250) is another big body inside, averaging 4.3 points and 3.5 boards per outing. He missed the first 11 games of the season due to turf toe and has averaged 12.4 minutes per game since his return. His most important asset for Tom Izzo is his interior defense where he has both size and quickness to defend other bigs.

Freshman guard Matt McQuaid (6-foot-5, 190), junior guard Alvin Ellis (6-foot-4, 205), and redshirt freshman forward Kenny Goins (6-foot-6, 225) are the other regular contributors off the bench. McQuaid is a three-point shooter, averaging 42.2 percent, but has attempted only 45, which would rank sixth on Michigan’s team. Ellis isn’t a great shooter at 38.6 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range. He averages 2.6 points. Goins provides 9.7 minutes per game, but averages just 1.7 points and 2.8 rebounds.

As a team, Michigan State has the Big Ten’s best defense, allowing just 62.5 points per game and holding opponents to 36.7 percent shooting from the field and 27.8 percent from three-point range. Michigan struggled with Indiana’s defensive pressure on Tuesday and the Hoosiers rank in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten defensively. If Michigan is forcing the same bad shots they did against IU, it will be a long day. If they move the ball and get off good shots they can compete with the Spartans, and if they can avoid the long drought that doomed them against IU and keep the home crowd into the game, Michigan can come away with a win. But I think Michigan State has too much size and will hand Michigan its second straight defeat.

The top ten moments from Signing of the Stars

Friday, February 5th, 2016


It’s been more than 24 hours since Jim Harbaugh and Michigan took over National Signing Day. The Wolverines got started at 8:13 a.m., when Nate Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to the Maize and Blue, and went nonstop until Devin Asiasi pulled out the block M cap at 3:32 p.m.

That’s seven hours and 19 minutes of Michigan football on full blast, and it’s nowhere near the start of the season.

Now that we’ve had a chance to catch our breath, let’s take a look back at the event that highlighted it all: The Signing of the Stars. Whether you love it or hate it, you know Harbaugh hit the ball out of the park on Wednesday. All eyes were on Ann Arbor as the Wolverines pulled in virtually every single signing day target on their board.

I’ll count down what I thought were the top 10 moments of the first (of many) Signing of the Stars.

10. Celebrities call in to hype up Michigan football

Big Sean

When it seems like the stage can’t get any bigger, Jim Harbaugh finds a way to blow it out of the water. Sure, there were more than 20 well-known celebrities in Hill Auditorium, but why stop there?

The Signing of the Stars featured video call-ins from the likes of Owen Wilson, Big Sean, and even Verne Troyer. Seriously, Verne Troyer? Somehow, Harbaugh convinced the 2-foot-8 comedian to congratulate the incoming class while his entire head was drowned in a Winged Helmet.

Then Owen Wilson, who’s connection to the university was that he “played a character that had a Michigan degree once,” popped onto the screen and played the fight song on his cellphone. Future generations won’t remember Wilson as the actor from Wedding Crashers or The Internship. They’ll hear his name and say “Hey, isn’t that the guy from Signing of the Stars?”

But even Troyer and Wilson couldn’t top Big Sean. The world-famous rapper jumped onto the screen completely draped in Maize and Blue gear. While the rest of us were staring at the block M on his hat and jacket, Big Sean introduced a recruit from his own hometown: Michael Onwenu. How cool is it that a kid who chose Michigan over MSU got to be introduced by one of the city’s most famous living hometown heroes? Coincidence? Obviously not. It’s just another recruiting tool that Harbaugh can use during future in-state recruiting wars.

9. Quinn Nordin calls in with his family

Quinn Nordin

For months Michigan fans have heard the name Quinn Nordin thrown around on message boards and social media. Even when the four-star kicker (that’s right, a four-star kicker!) was committed to Penn State, it was almost a given that he would end up donning the Maize and Blue.

On Wednesday, just hours after making his decision official, Nordin joined the Signing of the Stars on screen with his entire family to introduce himself to the Michigan faithful. This marked the end of the recruiting journey that gave us round one of Harbaugh vs. James Franklin and the unforgettable post-dead-period sleepover.

Jim Harbaugh wanted this kicker, so Jim Harbaugh got this kicker. Boot ’em straight, Quinn.

8. Denard Robinson and Jake Rudock team up on stage

Denard Robinson and Jake Rudock

Harbaugh brought a whole host of former Michigan players to participate on Wednesday, but no duo better captured the moment that former quarterbacks Robinson and Rudock.

Denard Robinson, who played in one of the most all-around disappointing eras in Michigan football history, made the Wolverines watchable during his four years on the field. The hyper-athletic, just-go-out-and-play makeup of Robinson made him an easy player to root for and endeared him to a fanbase that hasn’t seen many dual threat quarterbacks.

On Wednesday, Robinson took the podium with a player who, not unlike himself, helped carry an offense that would’ve otherwise been mediocre (or completely lost, in Robinson’s case) without him. Rudock only spent one season with Michigan, but his improvement from Week 1 to the end of the season was so great it can’t be described in a paragraph of socially-acceptable length as the No. 8 ranking in a list.

Robinson kept a reeling football program afloat and Rudock helped steer it back on track. Watching them introduce a whole new group of Michigan men brought the last decade full circle.

7. “Who’s got it better than us?”

Harbaugh %22Go Blue%22

In his short 13 months in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh has offered no end of quirky quotes. He told us that artificial sweeteners are not, in fact, safe. And that he would run for president of the United States with Wale as his partner. He even revealed that worms with machine guns (assuming they are loaded) would no longer be afraid of birds.

All of those comments are just Harbaugh-isms. You can’t hope to understand them, you can only bask in their pure glory and absurdity. But when Harbaugh asks, “Who’s got it better than us?” he’s in a really, really good mood.

That was the case on Wednesday as he stood in front of some 3,000 Michigan die-hards and asked his favorite question. The responding “Nooooooobody!” echoed around Hill Auditorium as one of the country’s top recruiting class fell into place.

It’s only been 13 months, but Harbaugh’s already got his trademark punchline. Luckily, Michigan Nation loves it.

6. Ric Flair reveals his deep Michigan loyalty

Ric Flair

The whole bizarre, out-of-nowhere professional wrestling fascination evolving from Harbaugh’s declaration that he would love to have Wrestle Mania in the Big House hit a peak Wednesday when Ric Flair professed his love for the University of Michigan.

Flair got the crowd fired up as only he could, yelling about Michigan football and releasing one of his trademark “WOOO”s after saying he’d never wanted to leave Ann Arbor. But his best quote of the speech, and one of the funniest moments of the event, came near the end of his time on stage.

“I’m BLUE baby,” Flair shouted into the microphone. “I can’t STAND Ohio State. Ain’t got no TIME for Michigan State.”

We wanted Ric Flair, and we got Ric Flair. It wouldn’t be a speech from a professional wrestler without an unprompted shot at the common enemy in the room. It only makes it funnier that his jibe came while Columbus and East Lansing were grinding their teeth at how much attention Michigan was garnering.

Oh the disrespekt.

5. Derek Jeter and Tom Brady share the same couch

Jeter and Brady

Am I the only one who noticed how much athletic greatness was shoved onto that one couch? I mean, Derek Jeter is one of the greatest infielders of all time and he was only the second-best athlete sitting on that piece of black leather.

With more than half a cushion available, there were still 3,465 hits, 1,923 runs scored, 1,311 RBI, 260 home runs, 58,028 passing yards and 445 total touchdowns on that couch. Between the two, Jeter and Brady own 10 major sports championships (five World Series titles, four Super Bowl rings and a college football national title).

Watching the early enrollees as Jeter and Brady talked about sports right in front of them was a cool sight, and Harbaugh will place that into his already-loaded recruiting arsenal.

4. Devin Gardner leads The Victors

Gardner(MGoBlue.com)

Devin Gardner was probably one of the most unfairly treated players in recent Michigan history during his time on the field. When he had some semblance of a team around him in the second half of 2012, he looked like a pretty strong quarterback. But when the 2012 class graduated and left Gardner with a sieve of an offensive line and a head coach on his way out, the odds were stacked heavily against him.

Despite all of the boos and criticism he received as a player, Gardner is always around the Michigan program. He attends all the events and voices his support of a school that waited until after he left to become the most exciting sports landing spot on the planet.

So it makes sense that when Gardner took the stage on Wednesday, he did so with a huge smile on his face and forced the full audience, including notorious Notre Dame slappy Lou Holtz, to sing The Victors. Some of the guests were clearly uncomfortable on stage, but Gardner was a proud representative of the school and his simple gesture turned into one of the best moments of the night.

3. Jim Harbaugh discreetly learns Rashan Gary’s decision

The Signing of the Stars was great, securing commitments from Nordin, Washington, Devin Asiasi and Lavert Hill was great, but the biggest story of the day was always No. 1 recruit Rashan Gary’s decision.

Harbaugh couldn’t say anything about Gary during the party because of NCAA rules, but that almost made the whole process even more entertaining. Video of Harbaugh watching the decision go down on Mike Tirico’s smart phone and then calmly fist pumping and waltzing back onto the stage is priceless. The guy had just secured perhaps the highest-ranked recruit in Michigan history and he had to just go sit quietly on a couch.

Sure, everybody knew what happened, and Harbaugh even disclosed that he “got some good news backstage,” but watching one of the most enthusiastic men on the planet sit quietly after hearing the most exciting news of his college coaching career was pretty awesome.

A moment that didn’t get captured on camera while Todd McShay was breaking down film of running back commit Kareem Walker, Harbaugh walked back onto the stage and whispered to his assembled early-enrollees and gave them all fist bumps. The crowd of course picked up on this and their cheer that seemed random on the live stream now makes sense.

2. Dabbing

Jim Leyland dab

As it tends to do at all headline sporting events nowadays, dabbing played a major role in the Signing of the Stars.

First, wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell hit a perfect dab on stage after being called up to discuss his first few weeks in Ann Arbor. Mitchell is one of the most outspoken recruits in the class, so making a move in the spotlight was right up his alley.

Then, in an internet-shattering meeting between crusty MLB manager and trendy hip hop group, Jim Leyland turned the world on its head by hitting a well-rehearsed dab with his new buddies Quavo and Takeoff cheering him on. Was it the most beautiful dab in the world? No. Did it almost look like a well-timed sneeze? Yes. But Jim Leyland dabbed with two rap artists and nobody can take that away from him.

Lou Holtz’s dab was just as beautiful, even if it wasn’t as earth-shattering. After stumbling out to the middle of the stage to ensure everyone he’d sang the Michigan fight song, Holtz dabbed with Harbaugh to the glee of six nearby 18-year-old future Michigan football players.

What a time to be alive.

1. Chad Tough tribute

Harbaugh-Chad Carr

One of the underlying benefits of Signing of the Stars is that it raised money for the ChadTough Foundation. The event was not held to be a fundraiser, but to honor Michigan’s nearly 30 new football players. That being said, the tribute to Chad and the persevering cause dedicated in his name turned into perhaps the best moment of the night.

There are many who’ve criticized Michigan for involving the charity in Wednesday’s proceedings. They say Michigan used the charity to deflect criticism of the event. To be blunt, those people are being very stupid.

The ChadTough tribute at the end of the Signing of the Stars capped off a festive day in which Michigan celebrated its stars old and new. I thought it came off as genuine and gave a platform to an issue that’s trying desperately to raise awareness.

Michigan never advertised the Signing of the Stars as a charity event. No, Harbaugh was clear that Wednesday was a day to celebrate Michigan’s new recruiting class. The fact that over $100,000 was also raised toward the cause was just icing on the cake.

Chad’s story puts things in perspective, especially on a day when thousands of people came together to celebrate teenagers committing to a football team. Sure it sounds strange, but it was a slam dunk for Harbaugh, who not only brought great exposure to the program but also gave recruits another reason to consider the Maize and Blue.

Dozens of young men were honored during the Signing of the Stars, none more important than young Chad Carr.

Indiana 80 – Michigan 67: Hoosiers overwhelm Michigan in Bielfeldt’s return

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016


Irvin vs IU(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan started strong, racing out to a 17-6 lead, but went ice cold over the final nine minutes of the first half. Indiana closed the half on a 25-0 run and added a three to start the second half. Michigan couldn’t stop the bleeding. The final score of 80-67 doesn’t reflect how wide a margin the game really was.

After cruising through the easy portion of the conference, Michigan clearly missed its star, Caris LeVert, against perhaps the best team in the conference. A celebrity cast in the crowd — on hand for Wednesday’s Signing of the Stars — wasn’t enough to will Michigan to victory and Max Bielfeldt got revenge over his former team.

Indiana shot 50 percent from the field despite making just 10 of 30 three-point attempts. Michigan had no answer for the Hoosiers’ offense as they made 23 of 36 from inside three-point range. Michigan, meanwhile, shot just 28.1 percent in the first half, digging a hole that was too deep to crawl out of.

Michigan looks to bounce back against rival Michigan State on Saturday.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
34 Mark Donnal* 1-1 0-0 0-1 1 2 3 3 2 1 1 1 0 30
10 Derrick Walton* 3-10 1-3 0-0 0 3 3 1 7 3 2 0 2 28
21 Zak Irvin* 6-16 3-6 1-3 1 3 4 1 16 4 3 0 0 37
22 Duncan Robinson* 6-11 1-5 1-1 0 4 4 3 14 0 3 0 0 31
12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman* 3-8 1-3 0-2 0 4 4 1 7 1 0 0 0 34
03 Kameron Chatman 1-2 0-1 0-0 0 1 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 2
05 D.J. Wilson 3-4 0-0 0-0 2 1 3 0 6 0 0 0 0 5
11 Andrew Dakich 0-0 0-0 2-2 0 1 1 1 2 2 1 0 0 4
13 Moritz Wagner 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2
24 Aubrey Dawkins 2-7 1-5 0-0 0 3 3 1 5 0 0 0 0 19
32 Ricky Doyle 2-3 0-0 2-2 2 0 2 1 6 0 0 1 0 8
Totals 27-62 7-23 6-11 7 23 30 13 67 11 10 2 2 200
Indiana 33-66 10-30 4-8 14 30 44 17 80 18 12 5 6
200
Full Stats

Michigan hoops preview: #22 Indiana

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016


UM-Indiana
Michigan vs Indiana
Tuesday, Feb. 2 | Ann Arbor, Mich. | 9 p.m. EST | ESPN
Line: Michigan -3
Offense
77.4 Points/gm 85.2
(600-1,234) 48.6 Field Goal % 51.7 (667-1,291)
(233-565) 41.2 3-pt FG % 43.2 (220-509)
(269-361) 74.5 Free Throw % 71.8 (321-447)
12.2 FT Made/gm 14.6
32.8 Reb/gm 38.2
16.0 Assists/gm 16.7
9.8 Turnovers/gm 14.6
Defense
64.4 Points/gm 68.5
(518-1,221) 42.4 Field Goal % 43.4 (558-1,287)
(151-451) 33.5 3-pt FG % 33.3 (125-375)
31.6 Opp. Reb/gm 30.0
5.7 Steals/gm 7.4
2.5 Blocks/gm 4.3
Individual Leaders
Caris LeVert (17.6), Duncan Robinson (12.5) Points/gm Yogi Ferrell (17.5), James Blackmon (15.8)
Derick Walton (5.9), Caris LeVert (5.4) Reb/gm Troy Williams (6.5), Thomas Bryant (5.5)

After sweeping its easiest four-game stretch of the Big Ten season, Michigan returns home Tuesday to kick off a much more difficult second half of the conference slate against Indiana. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers come into the game after a pretty worry-free first half of their own.

Seven of Michigan’s last nine games will come against teams with a winning conference record, and none will be bigger than Tuesday’s matchup against an Indiana team currently tied at the very top. The Hoosiers, though they’ve yet to play any of the Big Ten’s top six teams, are 8-1 and winners of 13 of their last 14 games.

With top-five duo Maryland and Iowa setting the pace, Michigan will have to put together a string of quality wins in February to earn a double bye in next month’s Big Ten Tournament. That journey begins Tuesday night.

Here are three keys to the game.

1. Bielfeldt is back

It’s been a wild ride for former Michigan forward Max Bielfeldt over the last 12 months, going from bench warmer to rotation center to starting big man at Indiana.

Calves came out of nowhere in 2015, playing more than 20 minutes in eight of Michigan’s final 14 games. The redshirt junior topped 20 minutes only once in the team’s first 18 games: A four-point effort against Detroit.

But now Bielfeldt is a major contributor for the Hoosiers, averaging 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 17 minutes per game. He’s also raised his field goal percentage by more than 10 percentage points, shooting a stellar 58.2 percent from the floor.

As a graduate transfer, this will be Bielfeldt’s last game at the Crisler Center, but Michigan fans will see a much different player than the one who came off of John Beilein’s bench with a minute left in blowouts. Bielfeldt is more involved on both ends of the floor with the Hoosiers and has scored in double figures nine times this season.

Beilein said on Monday that he didn’t agree with the NCAA allowing Bielfeldt to transfer to another Big Ten school. That quote alone will tell you Bielfeldt’s old coach understands the veteran’s value on the court.

2. To Caris, or not to Caris?

While the mysterious absence of Caris LeVert in Michigan’s backcourt continues to drag on, both sides of Tuesday’s matchup are focused squarely on one question: Will he play?

But regardless of LeVert’s status, the more appropriate question for Michigan fans might be, “Should he play?”

That’s no knock on LeVert. The senior guard is clearly the team’s most valuable player, leading the way in points, assists and rebounds before his “lower leg” injury. But it’s worth wondering if such a big stage is the right time for Beilein to pull the trigger.

Since LeVert hit the bench, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton have really stepped up their play. Irvin is making a concerted effort to drive to the basket and find his teammates while Walton is filling LeVert’s absence on the defensive boards.

With the offense starting to click in its current rotation, is it the right time to reinsert a player like LeVert, who not only demands the basketball in his hands on most of the team’s possessions, but also might be knocking off a month’s worth of rust?

The obviously problem is that, with Michigan’s upcoming schedule, there’s really no good time to make the transition. The Wolverines only have two opponents left on their schedule — Northwestern and Minnesota — that they can beat without playing a solid game. With having LeVert ready by March as Beilein’s primary goal, he might have to bite the bullet and accept the growing pains that’ll come from putting LeVert back on the court.

Would the future first-round draft pick agree to come off the bench? If so, that might be a good way to ease him back into the flow of things. LeVert has never suggested to be a player with a huge ego, but coming off the bench would definitely be a transition for the third-year starter.

Michigan has been very vague about the nature of LeVert’s injury, so we probably won’t get an answer to our questions until he trots onto the court.

3. Protect this house

Michigan will play perhaps the most difficult second-half schedule in the Big Ten, but it can at least watch its destiny play out on its own turf.

Over the next five weeks, Michigan will host Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Northwestern and Iowa at the Crisler Center. That means before the conference title is decided, four of Michigan’s five greatest competitors for the conference crown will take a trip to Ann Arbor.

If the Wolverines can take care of business on their home court, the path to the Big Ten championship will run along Stadium Boulevard.

The Hoosiers didn’t make the trip north last season as the only meeting between these two teams came at Assembly Hall. In fact, last time Indiana saw Crisler, Michigan was cutting the nets and getting ready to raise another banner.

Michigan’s 84-80 win over the Hoosers on March 8, 2014, put the cherry on top of another Big Ten title for Beilein’s squad. Michigan polished off a 23-7 regular season with a 9-5 run in the final minute to hold off Tom Crean’s upset attempt. After a Stanford Robinson bucket tied the game at 75 with under 90 seconds to go, a Glenn Robinson 3-pointer and six perfect free throws sent Michigan into the conference tournament with a No. 1 seed.

Tuesday night’s game will begin with a much different feel. Michigan, for one, is unranked and expected to be a middling seed when it heads to Indianapolis. Meanwhile Indiana, at 18-4 overall, has its eyes set on a top-three seed in the Big Dance.

But those differences don’t change the importance of this game. Michigan can’t afford to drop home games like this if it hopes to emerge as a true contender. This appears to be a bit of a validation game for two teams hoping to keep pace with loaded rosters like the Hawkeyes and Terps.

Michigan’s guards will have their hands full with Ferrell on defense, but Indiana’s athleticism in the front court might be the biggest deciding factor in this contest. With eyes on LeVert, Bielfeldt, Crean and Ferrell in his last trip to Crisler, it should be an entertaining matchup to kick off February in the Big Ten.

Big Ten hoops power rankings: Feb. 2

Monday, February 1st, 2016


Power Rankings_header

Despite losing to Maryland, Iowa hangs on to the top spot, but the Terrapins gained ground and leaped Indiana. Michigan and Michigan State both also moved up a spot, while Purdue dropped two. The rest of the power rankings remained the same with the exception of Penn State and Illinois trading places for the second straight week.

1. Iowa (17-4, 8-1) – Even – 1.3 (Last week: 1.0)
Last Week: Lost to #8 Maryland 68-74, Beat Northwestern 85-71
This Week: Wednesday vs Penn State, Sunday at Illinois

“Iowa dropped a tight game on the road at Maryland but still looks to be in great shape for the conference crown,” said Sam.

“There aren’t many losable games remaining on Iowa’s schedule, and certainly none this week,” said Justin. “The Hawkeyes should hold onto the top spot for another week, but will then face Indiana next week.”

2. Maryland (19-3, 8-2) – Up 1 – 1.7 (Last week: 3.7)
Last Week: Beat #3 Iowa 74-68, Beat Ohio State 66-61
This Week: Wednesday at Nebraska, Saturday vs #18 Purdue

“Maryland had an immensely impressive week, knocking off undefeated Iowa and following it with a win in Columbus,” said Derick.

3. Indiana (18-4, 8-1) – Down 1 – 3.0 (Last week: 2.0)
Last Week: Lost at Wisconsin 79-82 (OT), Beat Minnesota 74-68
This Week: Tuesday at Michigan, Saturday at Penn State

“Indiana has a chance to really solidify itself as a contender with a win at Michigan, which is staring down the barrel of a gauntlet schedule,” said Derick.

4. Michigan (17-5, 7-2) – Up 1 – 4.0 (Last week 5.0)
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 68-57, Beat Penn State 79-72
This Week: Tuesday vs #22 Indiana, Saturday vs #10 Michigan State

“A couple more unimpressive wins from Michigan keeps them in the competition for now, but a tougher stretch beckons,” said Sam. “The Wolverines look to have the most to gain this week with monumental home matchups against Indiana and Michigan State – win one and they hold serve, win both and they are serious Big Ten contenders and will vie for a top-5 seed; lose both and things get interesting…in a bad way.”

“This is a make or break week for Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes,” said Justin. “The Wolverines are solidly in the NCAA Tournament, barring a complete collapse down the stretch, but won’t be able to win the conference if they lose to Indiana and Michigan State this week. Beat both and suddenly they’re one of the frontrunners.”

5. Michigan State (19-4, 6-4) – Up 1 – 5.3 (Last week: 4.3)
Last Week: Beat Northwestern 76-45, Beat Rutgers 96-62
This Week: Saturday at Michigan

“While MSU’s Big Ten title hopes were probably dashed two weeks ago, their shooting is coming along as the calendar turns to February,” said Sam.

6. Purdue (19-4, 7-3) – Down 2 – 5.7 (Last week: 4.0)
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 68-64, Beat Nebraska 89-74
This Week: Saturday at #4 Maryland
7. Wisconsin (13-9, 5-4) – Even – 7.0 (Last week: 7.0)
Last Week: Beat #19 Indiana 82-79 (OT), Beat Illinois 63-55
This Week: Thursday vs Ohio State
8. Ohio State (14-9, 6-4) – Even – 8.0 (Last week: 8.3)
Last Week: Beta Penn State 64-44, Beat Illinois 68-63 (OT), Lost to #8 Maryland 61-66
This Week: Thursday at Wisconsin

“Michigan State and Wisconsin are starting to round into form, while Ohio State keeps falling just short of a statement win,” said Derick.

“It’s becoming clearer by the week that this conference is poised to get six teams into the Big Dance, but Wisconsin and Ohio State could hypothetically play themselves in with incredible finishes in the back half of their conference seasons,” said Sam. “I wouldn’t put money on it, however.”

9. Nebraska (12-10, 4-5) – Even – 9.0 (Last week: 8.7)
Last Week: Lost to #21 Purdue 74-89
This Week: Wed vs #4 Maryland, Saturday vs Rutgers
10. Northwestern (15-8, 3-7) – Even – 10.7 (Last week: 10.0)
Last Week: Lost to #12 Michigan State 45-76, Lost at #3 Iowa 71-85
This Week: Thursday vs Minnesota
11. Penn State (11-11, 2-7) – Up 1 – 11.0 (Last week: 12.0)
Last Week: Lost at Ohio State 46-66, Lost to Michigan 72-79
This Week: Wednesday at #5 Iowa, Saturday vs #22 Indiana
12. Illinois (10-12, 2-7) – Down 1 – 11.3 (Last week: 11.0)
Last Week: Lost to Ohio State 63-68 (OT), Lost to Wisconsin 55-63
This Week: Wednesday at Rutgers, Sunday vs #5 Iowa
13. Minnesota (6-16, 0-10) – Even – 13.0 (Last week: 13.0)
Last Week: Lost to #21 Purdue 64-68, Lost to #19 Indiana 68-74
This Week: Wednesday vs #21 Purdue, Saturday at #19 Indiana
14. Rutgers (6-16, 0-9) – Even – 14.0 (Last week: 14.0)
Last Week: Lost at Michigan 57-68, Lost at #12 Michigan State 62-96
This Week: Wednesday vs Illinois, Saturday at Nebraska

“Northwestern’s season has crumbled into irrelevance, and Minnesota and Rutgers are still winless,” said Derick.

“Rutgers seems set to maintain their cold spot in the gutter throughout the season while Minnesota has shown signs of life while still seeking their first win after losing by six or fewer at Michigan, vs. Illinois, vs. Purdue, and at Indiana over the last two weeks,” said Sam.