Analysis: Michigan Drops Another Big Ten Home Game
Missing In Action: It's unclear when junior Eli Brooks was officially ruled out of Thursday night's game against Wisconsin, but it certainly appeared like U-M had expected him to play (after breaking his nose last weekend at Purdue) and then was blindsided by his absence.
How else can you explain a team that looked completely unprepared to play without him, and for head coach Juwan Howard to wait so long to insert sophomore David DeJulius alongside senior Zavier Simpson in a two-guard lineup.
Without Brooks, Howard played with four bigs (collectively) for 14:47 of the first half and 8:31 of the second half. In those lineups, the Wolverines were minus-10 against the Badgers while Michigan was plus-3 for the game with Simpson and DeJulius on the floor together and plus-7 if you don't count the final four free throws Wisconsin made after sophomore Brandon Johns Jr., missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 21 seconds to go and U-M trailing by three.
Missing Brooks, Michigan didn't defend the three well (UW was 11 of 23, 47.8%) after holding its last five opponents to under 30.0% from threes and its last seven to under 40.0%; it didn't keep in-check the Badgers' best guard (senior D'Mitrik Trice scored more than 20 points in a Big Ten game for the first time in his career, totaling 28 on 10 of 16 shooting); and the Maize and Blue didn't attempt many threes, going 3 for 10 (U-M's 10 attempts representing a season low by seven and eight fewer than Wisconsin allows on average).
Michigan was completely out of sorts, and the four-big lineup was disastrous, especially in the first half, as the Badgers' outquicked U-M at, seemingly, every position, scoring at the rim on 9 of 17 first-half buckets.
For as much growth as Howard has made as a first-year coach this season, a consistent frustration has been poor lineup management, and he appeared to greatly miscalculate to start both the first and second halves - DeJulius didn't play the first 8:06 of the first half and 8:31 of the second half, with the Badgers racking up a nine-point lead during those critical stretches.
On a night when three Michigan players got 37+ minutes of action, playing DeJulius just 20 and committing to an unfavorable four-big lineup was coaching malpractice.
A Career Night Wasted: I've been critical of Simpson for playing too much hero ball this season, and Michigan is usually at his best when the senior PG is a distributor and not a scorer, but the Wolverines needed every bit of Simpson Thursday, and he was outstanding, registering a career-high 31 points (his previous high was 24 as a junior).
Simpson got to the basket at will, making 8 of 12 layups with a dunk for good measure. His poor free-throw shooting, 3 of 7, did cost Michigan but on a night when only freshman Franz Wagner stepped up (and not until the second half), Simpson had to be everything for the Maize and Blue, and he was.
No Shows: Who would step up and fill the void in Brooks' absence? Simpson did his part, but there were too many no-shows for the Wolverines. Junior Isaiah Livers scored nine on 3 of 10 shooting, and didn't work hard enough to create looks from behind the arc (1 of 2).
Johns Jr. had an early dunk that energized the crowd but was dreadful otherwise, going 0 of 3 from three, scoring five total points and missing a pair of free throws, none more damning than the front end of a 1-on-1 with 21 seconds to go and Michigan within the striking distance of three points.
Senior center Jon Teske took a step backwards after a good showing at Purdue, scoring seven, while his backup, classmate Austin Davis, who is usually good for instant offense, had two points, missing three shots from within two feet of the basket.
And even though the lineup was more productive with DeJulius on the floor, he didn't exactly give Howard the warm and fuzzies, missing two first-half fast-break layups, in scoring just two points. One of Michigan's best three-point shooters, he didn't even attempt a triple.
Home-Court Disadvantage: Michigan has now dropped four Big Ten home games, each one - to Penn State, Illinois, Ohio State, and Wisconsin - damaging. Yes, the Wolverines grabbed two road games at Rutgers and Purdue in the past 10 days, but had they protected their home court, they would be 13-4 in conference play, good for second in the Big Ten and enjoying two byes in the league tournament.
Instead, U-M is 9-8, in seventh place, and following a five-game winning streak is staring a 1-3 finish in the face, with trips to Ohio State and Maryland looming. That would put Michigan at 10-10 in conference play, no chance it could finish higher than seventh but the possibility of falling all the way to 10th or even 11th place.
Michigan is just one of five teams in the Big Ten to lose three or more games at home in conference play. The others: Northwestern, Nebraska, Minnesota and Purdue represent the four worst teams in the league (by record).