After rising to No. 7 and opening the week with a resounding victory over No. 9 Wisconsin, Michigan found out what the other side of a blowout feels like on Saturday in Minneapolis.
The Wolverines were without starting shooting guard Eli Brooks, and lacked the energy we’ve seen out of them in recent weeks in a 75-57 loss to Minnesota.
After getting embarrassed themselves in Ann Arbor just ten days ago, the Golden Gophers played with an edge defensively, and never allowed Michigan to get comfortable in their offensive sets.
Michigan got off to a slow start, which has been something of a trend this season, turning the ball over five times in the opening five minutes of play. As a result, Minnesota jumped out to an 8-2 lead.
Unlike in previous outings however, the Wolverines were never able to settle into the game. Michigan continued to struggle offensively through the half, finishing with 11 turnovers and shooting 42% after 20 minutes of play, including 1-of-4 from the three-point line.
The only thing that kept the game moderately close in the opening frame was Michigan’s defense, which limited the Golden Gophers to 36% from the floor. Minnesota went 0-for-10 from deep to start the game, but led 30-23 at the break.
The second half opened in similar fashion, with the Wolverines turning the ball over on their first possession. It would be an omen for what was to come. Minnesota slowly exerted its will on Michigan, snuffing out any Wolverine runs before momentum could be built.
Michigan was outscored 45-34 in the second half, and was never able to threaten the Gophers’ control of the contest.
1. Eli Brooks was clearly missed
The absence of the senior shooting guard was noticeable and impactful. Brooks is averaging about 9 points per game this season, and gives the Wolverines another outside threat on the offensive end. But Brooks’ defensive value was probably the bigger loss. Michigan, collectively, did a good job forcing Minnesota's leading-scorer Malik Carr into tough shots – he was 6-of-18 from the floor – but Carr hurt the Wolverines with his dribble penetration. He finished well at the rim and found teammates for open looks. Had Brooks been able to go, his on-ball defense on Carr likely would have had an impact on the game. This was concerning for the Wolverines. For the first time this season, Michigan’s lack of depth in the backcourt was evident behind Mike Smith and Brooks. Freshman guard Zeb Jackson is a good prospect with a bright future, but he’s not quite ready for the role he was asked to play today.
2. Dickinson struggled for first time
Hunter Dickinson has had his way with every opponent Michigan has faced this season, but he finally came back down to Earth this second time around against the Gophers. Dickinson was held to single-digit scoring for the first time in his college career (9 points) and was limited to 5 rebounds. The freshman also struggled against Minnesota’s aggressive double teams, finishing with 5 turnovers from the post. That’s something Juwan Howard will have to coach him through, because future opponents will watch this game tape and utilize a similar strategy. At the defensive end of the floor, Dickinson’s matchup – Liam Robbins – got payback for the beatdown the freshman put on him in the first matchup. Robbins was instrumental for Minnesota, finishing with 22 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Dickinson will learn and grow from this game, but this wasn’t an impressive outing from the freshman.
3. Livers, Wagner go cold from the floor
With Brooks out and Dickinson struggling, Michigan needed big offensive games out of Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner, but neither shot well from the floor. The two combined to shoot 7-of-20 overall, and 3-for-11 from beyond the three-point arc. Wagner still played really well on the defensive end, finishing with 9 rebounds, 2 steals and a blocked shot. The sophomore has been pretty consistent throughout the season, and had played extraordinary in the last couple games – he’ll be fine. Livers’ play, however, is a little more concerning. The senior played really well in the non-conference for the Wolverines, but hasn’t shot the ball all that well in Big Ten play. There were rumblings that Livers had a minor lower leg injury in an early Big Ten game, but there haven’t been any signs of that affecting his movement or leaping ability. With as grueling as the Big Ten schedule promises to be, Michigan will need Livers to pick up his game moving forward in order to win a league title.
4. Michigan has more to prove on the road
After their 11-0 start, which included three consecutive blowout victories over ranked opponents, the only remaining question on-lookers had for the Wolverines was how they would look on the road. This was just the third road game of the year for Michigan, and its first against a ranked opponent. It went the way that most road games against ranked opponents go – the Wolverines lost. Minnesota is 11-0 at home this season with wins over Iowa, Ohio State and now Michigan. The Golden Gophers are a good basketball team, and good basketball teams take care of business on their home floor. Elite basketball teams go on the road and win big games, and that is what remains in the air for Michigan. These Wolverines are capable of being elite – they have the talent, and they have the depth. Three of Michigan’s next four games will be played away from Ann Arbor (Nebraska, Purdue, Rutgers).
5. Wolverines remain in first place
The Wolverines took their lumps on Saturday. They played subpar on the road against a Top 25 opponent, and the result was thusly predictable. But there’s no need to panic. Losses are going to happen in the Big Ten, particularly on the road. With as many good teams as there are in this league, even the best of the conference are going to come out of this schedule a little bloody. Losses can serve as a wakeup call to teams who have been lulled to sleep by their success – just look at how the Gophers responded to being humiliated by Michigan a week and a half ago. The Wolverines remain in first place atop the Big Ten, a half-game ahead of Iowa. Howard will need to rally his guys, get in the film room and hopefully get Eli Brooks healthy and back in the starting lineup soon. This remains one of the top teams in the country, and a contender for a Big Ten championship.