Questions We're Asking Following A Weekend Of Hoops, Hockey & Football
Is Alabama a good matchup for Michigan in the bowl game?
From a prestige standpoint, the Crimson Tide represent a tremendous opportunity for the Wolverines. With a win over Alabama, Michigan would likely vault from No. 14 to 10th or higher in the final polls, giving U-M its second Top 10 finish in five years under Jim Harbaugh (No. 10 in 2016).
With a more appealing matchup than the Gator Bowl, broadcast simultaneously on Jan. 1 at 1pm (Minnesota vs. Auburn), Michigan should have a massive audience with undivided attention to make an impression on recruits in the 2021 class (the majority of the 2020 class will sign Dec. 18).
It may seem hollow to a number of fans after the Maize and Blue missed out on Indianapolis and a Big Ten title game opportunity, and fell to Ohio State again, but in an effort to build a roster than can one day overtake the Buckeyes, every little bit helps, and a victory over Alabama could have a positive impact for U-M.
Unfortunately, a victory over the Tide is no guarantee. I haven't seen an early line yet on the game, but I would imagine Alabama will be favored. Last week, CBSSports.com included eight Crimson Tide players as potential first-round picks and if all of them sat out against Michigan, the Wolverines' chances to win would be greatly enhanced but that's unlikely.
The good news (if you want to call it that) is Bama starting QB Tua Tagovailoa is almost certainly out while recovering from injury sustained in Week 10, but this is still a very capable offense with weapons galore, if receivers Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III decide to play in the game.
It's an Alabama team that was favored in every contest this season. On talent alone, this is a more skilled team than Ohio State per 247Sports.com's college team composite talent rankings, but what is the Crimson Tide's motivation?
In 2018 and 2017, Michigan faced a pair of bowl opponents (Florida and South Carolina) eager to build momentum going into the offseason, motivated to play their best football, and the Wolverines fell. In 2015 and 2016, U-M met up with Florida and Florida State teams that were disappointed with how their seasons finished.
That gave Michigan a mental edge over the Gators, which it used to cruise to a 41-7 Citrus Bowl victory, but following the 2016 season, the Maize and Blue were also smarting from their losses to Iowa and OSU to end the year, and FSU's talent overwhelmed the Wolverines for most of the first half, staking the Seminoles to a 20-6 lead.
So what about now? Michigan was out of the Big Ten race by mid-October following its loss to Penn State, and was never expected to beat Ohio State in THE Game. Even in defeat, the Wolverines were playing outstanding football offensively and they should continue to put up numbers against Alabama. The defense will likely be motivated after a season-worst effort against OSU.
And Alabama? Who knows. Are the Tide ticked off and eager to exact revenge on an opponent following their loss to Auburn? How many players will sit out? On talent alone, U-M is outmanned by the Crimson Tide, but if Michigan brings its best to Orlando, it will have a good chance to score its biggest win of the year.
What did the Michigan hoops team prove in its win over Iowa?
Largely that it can take a hit and keep on going.
U-M suffered its first loss of the season at No. 1 Louisville last Tuesday, shooting just 25.9 percent from the floor, shooting worse than any game since Nov. 23, 2016 (19.2 percent in a loss to South Carolina).
On Friday, in Michigan's Big Ten opener, the Maize and Blue shot 55.2 percent, scoring 103 points in a 12-point victory over Iowa. It probably wasn't the defensive performance first-year head coach Juwan Howard was looking for, but it was a weird effort of sorts: U-M limited Iowa to 20.0 percent from threes but allowed big man Luka Garza 44 points (mostly in the paint).
The biggest focus should be on offense, though, as the Wolverines didn't let their porous shooting in Louisville linger and carry over into a second straight game. That Michigan immediately broke out of any shooting funk is a good sign that this team possesses the maturity to brush aside setbacks.
That mentality will come in handy as U-M navigates a Big Ten with five teams in KenPom.com's Top 12 and seven in the Top 30. There will be losses - No. 44 Illinois almost toppled No. 8 Maryland on Saturday (the Terrapins outscored the Illini 11-1 to end the game and win 59-58) -- but with no brutal stretches on the schedule (Michigan does not face three Top 40 opponents consecutively all year), the Maize and Blue should be able to keep any losing streaks to a minimum.
Michigan will get a crack at No. 4 Michigan State Jan. 5 and No. 6 Purdue Jan. 9 (using Kenpom.com rankings) and we'll learn a lot about this team then, but what U-M has demonstrated so far is it possess the mental acuity to win games it shouldn't and games it's supposed to, but most importantly games when the Wolverines have been knocked down and must rebound.
Yet again proof that Michigan possesses the physical and mental makeup necessary to compete for a Big Ten title this year.
Can hockey rebound during the season's second half?
Mel Pearson's squad split with No. 6 Penn State in a two-game series at Yost Ice Arena over the weekend, winning 4-1 Friday and losing 3-1 Saturday. That gives U-M a 3-3-0 mark over its past six, with wins over No. 32 New Hampshire, No. 33 Wisconsin and the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions.
An 0-6-1 stretch prior to a 4-1 win over New Hampshire Nov. 22 will handicap any thoughts this team had of an NCAA appearance (barring an incredible second-half run and Big Ten Tournament).
Like during that winless streak, Michigan's issue remains scoring. In its three recent victories, U-M netted 11 total goals. In its three losses to the Wildcats, Badgers and Nittany Lions, the Wolverines had five goals.
The good news: despite its 6-10-2 mark (2-7-1 in conference play), Michigan ranks 11th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 2.17 goals per game as sophomore goalie Strauss Mann has posted a .931 save percentage that ranks 12th in the country. U-M's success defensively will give the program a chance in a second half that includes at least two games against every other team in the Big Ten.
However, scoring continues to be a major issue for the Maize and Blue as Michigan ranks 49th nationally (out of 60 teams) and last (seventh) in the Big Ten with 2.17 goals per game. No one has emerged for U-M this season, with freshman Johnny Beecher leading the team in goals, with five.
According to collegehockeystats.com, 92 players in Division 1 have more than five goals this season.
Michigan was expecting to lean on seniors Jake Slaker, Will Lockwood, Nick Pastujov and senior grad transfer Jacob Hayhurst but the four have combined for only 11 goals in 18 games. Last year's late-surging breakthrough line of sophomores Nolan Moyle and Garrett Van Wyhe and junior Dakota Raabe has just four tallies.
Across the board, everyone is struggling to score goals. That hasn't been a problem for U-M previously under Pearson - Michigan ranked 17th in 2018-19 with 3.17 goals per game and ranked sixth in 20017-18 with 3.40 goals per contest - and the hope is the Wolverines can find some magic when they resume play Dec. 30 at the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit.
If Michigan can find its offense, and not sacrifice its defensive prowess, there is always a chance but U-M's lack of offense is not an anomaly. The Wolverines lack high-end skill players. That will change with talented players in the next two recruiting classes, but there are no early enrollees coming in January. Unfortunately.