Takeaways: Michigan Doesn't Have The Horses Without Livers
Deja Vu: For Michigan to beat Illinois, especially after Isaiah Livers went down with about 14 minutes left in the contest, the Wolverines needed a total team effort. And for a few stretches, it looked like they would deliver.
But as we've seen in previous losses at Minnesota and Iowa, Michigan simply doesn't make plays in the final three minutes of close games.
Leading 60-58 with 3:24, here's what transpired:
• Senior Zavier Simpson misses a pair of free throws.
• Senior Austin Davis misses a left-handed shot about two feet from the basket.
• Davis misses another layup, gets the offensive rebound and gets fouled. He proceeds to miss the front end of a one-and-one.
• Leading 62-60, freshman Franz Wagner gets a defensive board, gets fouled but proceeds to miss both free throws.
• Tied 62-62, senior Jon Teske misses a turnaround shot from about three feet away.
That's four players on all the floor that all had a chance to dramatically impact the final outcome of the game, and all four came up short.
For Teske, it was his fifth miss from inside five feet on a day he shot 4 for 14 overall and air-balled two threes in the second half (going 1 for 6 from behind the arc in taking too many head-scratching threes).
For Wagner, an 87.0% free-throw shooter, it was the culmination of a day in which he went 1 for 6 from threes (and is now 2 for 14 in his last two games) and 3 for 6 at the line.
For Simpson, 3 for 6 at the line today, it's now a stretch in which he's made 7 of 16 at the charity stripe dating back to the start of the New Year.
Simply put, this team doesn't have anyone making key plays for the Maize and Blue in the critical moments, from the seniors on down, and a fourth straight loss, a 2-6 conference record, and a likely season lost are the result.
From bad to worse: Even with Livers returning to the lineup, Michigan needed consistent production from the trio of Wagner, junior Eli Brooks and sophomore David DeJulius. Those three had combined for 20 points on 5 of 24 from the floor, 20.8 percent, (2 of 14 on threes) in U-M's midweek home loss to Purdue.
On Saturday, they were just as ineffective, scoring 23 points on 9 of 22 (40.9 percent), including 2 of 9 from threes.
Wagner has been especially poor, just 5 of 20 from the floor the past two games. His paltry 14.3 percent shooting from behind the arc has largely included wide-open looks. The rookie appeared to adjust throughout the game, trying to get to the hoop more often - he was 3 for 5 on layups and didn't take a three in the second half - but then the O-fer at the line made for a forgettable game for the freshman.
Overall, the Wolverines finished 4 of 17 from threes (23.5 percent), somehow proving even worse from three than they had been in league action coming into the contest (27.7 percent in their first seven conference games) as their shooting woes go from bad to worse.
Adding even further insult, Livers re-aggravated his groin injury and is likely lost for the season.
Big Dance No More: With the loss, Michigan will likely tumble into the 40s of the NCAA Net Rankings, putting their NCAA Tournament hopes very much in doubt. Yes, there is a lot of season left, but if Livers is done for the year, the Maize and Blue's chances for the postseason diminish greatly.
With the exception of the Northwestern game in Evanston Feb. 12 and Nebraska at home March 5, there are no 'gimme' games remaining on the schedule. It's quite possible, Michigan could drop its next two, in Lincoln on Tuesday and at Madison Square Garden against Rutgers Feb. 1.
U-M's four-game losing streak, in other words, could spiral even further, and it's quite possible Michigan wakes up in mid-February needing a Big Ten Tournament miracle run to qualify for NCAAs.
Considering the excitement for the season when the Wolverines won the Battle 4 Atlantis championship Thanksgiving weekend, including a win over No. 1 Gonzaga, missing out on the tournament - even taking into consideration the hole created with the Livers' injury - would be a huge shock and significant disappointment in Juwan Howard's first year.