Michigan was only favored by 5.5 points against Northwestern in Evanston and early, it looked like the Wolverines would struggle to take any sort of lead. Michigan started the game 0-for-11, including 0-for-5 from Jon Teske from within about six feet, but eventually things started to click the Wolverines pulled away big time. Northwestern is obviously the cellar dweller of the Big Ten, but a 25-point road win over any team is noteworthy in the country's best conference. Here are some takeaways from Michigan's 79-54 win over Northwestern.
While Michigan continues to start slowly on offense...
Wednesday marked the third consecutive game that the Wolverines looked sluggish to begin the game on the offensive end of the floor. Last Tuesday vs Ohio State, Michigan didn’t reach double figures in points until there was 8:40 left in the first half. The offensive issues were prominent throughout as the Wolverines could only muster 58 points in a tough home defeat. They almost one-upped themselves Saturday against rival Michigan State at Crisler. Michigan didn’t get on the scoreboard until the game was 3:20 old, en route to their second consecutive first half under 30 points. Luckily, the offense came around in the second half to secure a key road win. Many figured the Wolverines were due to get off to a roaring start against a Northwestern team that entered at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Instead, Michigan started a stunning 0-for-11 from the floor, with eight of those looks in the paint. While the offense quickly came alive to secure a comfortable road win, how the Wolverines start games will be something to monitor going forward.
…the defense is rounding into form at the right time.
You’d be forgiven for expecting Michigan to have to score at least 70 points to win a conference game. Beginning with the loss at then No. 14 Michigan State on January 5, the Wolverines gave up at least 70 points in five consecutive games. Not unrelated, four of those were losses, with the sole win coming in double overtime at home against Purdue. In the five games beginning with the 79-68 road victory at Nebraska, Michigan has not yielded 70 points. Also not unrelated, four of those games have been wins. As the competition heats up down the stretch, the drastic improvement on the less glamorous end should keep them in most games.
What happened to Jon Teske?
This has been one of the most mystifying questions of the regular season. Senior center Jon Teske came into the 2019-20 season as one of the top bigs in the country after showing drastic improvement during his junior season on both ends. The 7-1 big more than doubled his points per game, rebounds per game, blocks per game and three-point percentage between his second and third years. After a strong start to the season, including being named the MVP of the Battle of Atlantis, Teske has fallen off of a cliff, with the recent three game stretch culminating Wednesday night. Against Ohio State, Michigan State and Northwestern, Teske has shot an egregious 8-29 from the floor, while failing to connect on a single three-pointer. Early in the game against the Wildcats, Teske began 0-5, with many of those brutal misses around the basket. It remains to be seen how much the Wolverines will continue to look to him down the stretch, but a bounce back from Teske seems important for Michigan’s prospects come postseason play.
Isaiah Livers’ Return stabilizes the Michigan rotation
The continual day-to-day condition of Isiah Livers during his month-plus absence had Wolverine fans on the edge of their seats as the losses began to come more frequently. In the nine conference games that Livers missed or failed to complete, Michigan struggled to a 3-6 mark. Almost every member of the rotation looked uncomfortable at times, and Brandon Johns and Franz Wagner were often forced to play heavy minutes guarding the opponent’s best forward. In the two games since Livers’ return, The Wolverines’ rotation has straightened itself out, with Johns and Austin Davis looking much more comfortable playing impact minutes off of the bench. It’s hard to overstate how tough the junior forward’s absence was. With Livers in the lineup for the entirety of the game, Michigan is 12-3. Extend that mark throughout the season, and the Wolverines would likely find themselves ranked in the top 20 of the national polls. As its most important player continues to get re-acclimated, Michigan is gaining confidence to continue to rack up wins down the regular season stretch.
What stood out to you? Is Michigan ascending at the right time? Comment below!!!
*Brandon Brown contributed to this article