For a large part of Sunday’s game, Michigan put itself in position to reverse its disappointing trend of road game letdowns two months into the 2019-2020 season. However, the final three minutes proved fatal as the Wolverines dropped their third consecutive Big Ten road game — 75-67 at Minnesota.
Trailing by a mere point heading into that closing stretch, Michigan unraveled at the finish, as the Golden Gophers closed the game on an 11-3 run.
The Wolverines aren’t alone in their struggles on the road in conference play - Big Ten teams are just 5-32 on the road in league action through Monday.
“To go on the road and get some wins (in the Big Ten) has always been a difficult thing,” said former player and "Inside the Huddle" expert Chris Young. “It’s kind of been the unwritten rule that if you go .500 on the road and maintain at home, you are more than likely competing for a Big Ten regular season championship.
"It’s not a huge surprise that the guys went up to Minnesota and lost, but they had a chance. They had the game pretty well in control, they had been playing better than they had been. And then the wheels fell off. The offense stopped flowing, they stopped playing defense, they were forcing a lot of things and it sort of fell apart.”
Michigan has adhered to that “unwritten rule” throughout Big Ten play, going unbeaten at Crisler while still looking for that first away victory, leading to a 2-3 conference record.
Another disturbing trend for the Wolverines is the defensive decline of senior center Jon Teske throughout the Big Ten season. Teske, one of the best defensive bigs in the nation last season, was torched by Golden Gophers sophomore center Daniel Orturu for 30 points and seven rebounds on 13-of-18 shooting. This comes after giving up career games to Iowa’s Luka Garza (44 points) and Purdue’s Trevion Williams (36 points) so far in conference play.
“I think a lot of it’s between his ears, I think he’s thinking a lot,” Young said. “He basically got thrown into a situation with a new coach that’s demanding that he do a lot of different things on the offensive side of the ball, and then also he’s still trying to be as aggressive as he was last season on the defensive side.”
The questions regarding Michigan coach Juwan Howard’s defensive philosophy have grown louder and louder amid this brutal stretch on the interior. Howard has remained steadfast in his resistance to double team opposing big men down low. He stated after the Purdue game that he was refusing to double down low “in order to not leave guys wide open for three-pointers.”
“I understand why he said that after Purdue, it’s a much better three point shooting team than Minnesota is,” Young said. “Minnesota went 4-for-16 from three. Try running a zone at some point, try doubling and let them beat you from the outside as opposed to letting someone get so much confidence.
"Orturu knew every time that he got the ball that he was either going to score or get fouled. He had so much confidence that he could do whatever he wanted.
"There has to be some kind of adjustment going forward. You don’t need to double or dig hard on guys, just make it look like there’s someone standing there. That way [a big] knows he can’t just back somebody straight down and go straight to the basket.”
Howard and Teske will be put to the test once again in a visit with Garza and Iowa on Friday in Iowa City in what could be a crucial game heading into the middle of Big Ten play.