This past week the Michigan Wolverines basketball team played three games. Two of them came against top five ranked programs. They took on the Purdue Boilermakers at home in the Crisler Center and traveled to East Lansing to take on MSU. U of M then came back home to take on Maryland. They went 2-1 in those games and had a great chance to have gone 3-0.
The Purdue game was a good test for this Wolverine squad as they were hosting the number five ranked team in the country and their fantastic big man Isaac Haas. It was also their second game against a ranked opponent this season after losing to the North Carolina Tar Heels in late November.
It was a hard-fought game with Purdue leading throughout the night and by as many as 14 points early in the first half. But U of M clawed their way back and took a 64-61 lead with just under five minutes to go in the second half. Ultimately, they ended up losing 70-69 and fell to 3-2 in Big Ten play.
Michigan then traveled to the Breslin Center to take on the fourth-ranked Spartans. Michigan State, which was coming off a blowout loss to Ohio State and a close overtime win over Rutgers, had to be fired up to play their arch rivals, especially after losing to them 86-57 the last time they met.
But that was not the case. Michigan State held a slim 37-34 lead at the break but it was Michigan who came out to play in the second half and arrived back home in Ann Arbor with a 82-72 win over their in-state rival and a 4-2 record in conference play.
The Maryland game was also a hard-fought battle with the Terps leading by as many as 14 in the first half but the Wolverines coming out victorious 68-67. They also ran their Big Ten record to 5-2, good for third in the conference. It probably shouldn’t have come down to that as Michigan led by ten with just under six minutes to go, but a win is a win regardless of how you get it.
Over the course of these three games, the Wolverines showed plenty of things to be happy about moving forward, but there was also some signs for concern as well.
The biggest positive over this past week was the play of junior big man Moritz Wagner. While his game against Purdue wasn’t his best (11 points on 5-11 shooting and 6 rebounds), he showed up against the Spartans.
He scored a career high 27 points and grabbed four boards. He also shot 8-8 from the free throw line which is a good sign as he came into the game shooting just 65% from the charity stripe.
He also came to play against Maryland. He racked up a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds and was a big spark for his team in the second half. And while many will still say he is inconsistent, which is fairly true, he showed he has tremendous talent and can show up in the biggest of games.
Another positive for this team over the past three games was the play of their underclassmen. Zavier Simpson set a career high in points scored with 15 against Purdue and bested himself again with 16 against MSU. And while his game against the Terrapins wasn’t anything to write home about with five points, he still dished out five assists too.
Isaiah Livers scored 10, 6 and 7 points respectively in the three games and has provided John Beilein a nice option over the struggling senior Duncan Robinson. He even made the beautiful half-court pass to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman that set up the game winning free throws against the Terps.
Even lesser used young bucks like Jordan Poole, Eli Brooks and Jon Teske have held their own. Those three have come in and answered the call when they give starters like Wagner and Simpson a break.
Poole may have even forced his way into more playing time with his performance against Maryland. He scored 11 points on 4-5 shooting in 13 minutes and was the only other Wolverine besides Wagner to score in double figures. He also went 3-3 from beyond the arc in a two-minute stretch which saw Michigan go from being down seven to up by four.
The biggest negative takeaway from this past week of games has been the play of the two seniors who see playing time in Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson. MAAR shot 8-29 from the field and 3-10 from the 3-point line for a combined 28 points over the three games.
Robinson shot 4-11 from the field and 3-7 from beyond the arc for a total of 13 points. He was also replaced by Livers in the starting lineup for the MSU game.
And while Abdur-Rahkman hit the two clutch free throws to beat Maryland and became the 52nd Wolverine to score 1,000 points in his career (which is an awesome feat), he still needs to play better as the most tested veteran on this budding team.
Another negative from these past three games has been the free-throw shooting. They haven’t been good all year as their team percentage has hovered in the low to mid 60s all year and the Purdue game was no different. They shot 7-11 (63%) and lost by a point. Against Michigan State they actually shot 80% (28-35), but started off 20-20, and went 8-15 down the final stretch of the game when they mattered the most which gave MSU life. The Maryland game wasn’t good either with the team shooting 7-12 (58%) and Zavier Simpson missing two near the end of the game, which almost cost his team a win.
But even with those negatives, this Michigan team proved they can play with anybody in the country. Purdue is no joke and is currently ranked behind only Villanova and Virginia in the latest AP poll. Michigan State is still a good team with the talent to make some noise come March. Maryland is no slouch either and should end up in the top half of the conference.
U of M also entered the AP Top-25 for the first time this season with a number 23 ranking after their victory against MSU. And while they almost lost it right after they earned it with the nail-biter against Maryland, they should be a mainstay in the rankings for the rest of the season.
Coach Beilein always has his teams prepared as the season goes on and this team is no different. Michigan fans should be excited for the rest of this season, especially after this past week.
The Wolverines are a very young team as they rely on five underclassmen to perform and contribute. So while that could be a negative, I think it will be a positive, as they are only getting better. This past week clearly proved that.
A 2-1 record in your past three games may not be what many teams would want to write home about but, with the three teams they played and how they played, Michigan should be excited for what is yet to come.