Most fans saw Wednesday night as the game where Michigan steadied the ship amidst its toughest stretch of the season. With Penn State coming into Crisler, many were confident the Wolverines were bound to take down the Nittany Lions with a much-needed home win.
Instead, the nightmare that is Big Ten play continued for Juwan Howard’s squad, as Michigan fell 72-63 in a game.
“The common denominator is that we’re not shooting very well," radio analyst Chris Young said. "There’s a lot of pressure being put on a lot of different guys. There’s a lot being expected of Zavier Simpson and he’s not really responding very well.
"There’s a lot of pressure on Brandon Johns Jr. and he’s not responding. Eli Brooks has been all over the map since [the Battle 4 Atlantis]. There’s just a lot of guys that you don’t know what you’re going to get from them night in and night out.
"It’s nice to think that Isiah Livers is going to come back, but he's not Michael Jordan coming back. It’s not Shaq coming back. It’s not a guy that’s going to come out and give you 20 and 10 every night.
“There’s a lot of underlying issues with this team that have to be addressed.”
Simpson struggled against Penn State, shooting a paltry 8-for-23 from the floor, including 2-of-7 from three-point range. The Wolverines as a team shot a ghastly 5-for-28 from beyond the arc, exacerbating their continued shooting struggles in conference play (they're making just 27.7 percent of their threes in seven league contests).
The absence of Livers has been felt more than anyone might have expected over the past month, with Michigan desperately missing the experience, leadership and mental stability the junior forward provides.
“Livers has been a very steady part of this team up until his injury,” Young said. “You knew what you were going to get from him. He’s a vocal guy, a vocal leader, and he also leads by example. Him just being back, even if he’s not 100% and limited on his minutes, more than likely he’ll be installed right away into the starting lineup.”
The absence of Livers has impacted the entire Wolverine rotation, but the one player who might have felt it the most is Johns. The sophomore forward has been thrust into the starting lineup, with up and down results.
“His actual role on this team should be coming off the bench, being an energy guy in spot minutes as opposed to a starter where he’s expected to score, rebound, play defense and block shots,” Young said. “He’s not quite there in his development yet."
Michigan will be put to the test today against No. 21 Illinois at noon.