At long last it has happened. The magical streak of conference wins has finally come to an end. The impressive streak, which featured monumental team wins, including at Wisconsin and at Michigan State, comes to an abrupt halt at 8 games after a heartbreaking suppressing at the hands of Indiana.
The Week That Was:
The Wolverines came into the week with a full head of steam, fresh off a shocking upending of Michigan State at the Breslin Center. Eager to show off their new 10th overall ranking, Michigan swiftly handled Purdue Thursday night 75-66. The convincing win highlighted Michigan’s offensive prowess, featuring four Wolverines in double figures, including a double-double from Caris LeVert. Michigan would finish at an extraordinary 61% from the field on almost 54% from behind the arc. Sunday’s showdown in Assembly Hall would not prove nearly as fruitful for the Wolverines’ offense. Merely two players cracked double-digit scoring, as the struggling offense sputtered to 40% shooting from the field and an abysmal 23% from downtown. Formally fastening the final nail in the coffin was Indiana sensation Yogi Ferrell, who finished with 27 of the team’s 63 total points and a downright jaw dropping 7-of-8 from three-point land. Ferrell was also chiefly responsible for the consistent stifling of Nik Stauskas, co-leader in Big Ten scoring, who only managed to fire off six shots from the field, converting one of them en route to a disconcerting 6 points.
Last week, through a still-relevant Home Alone reference, I described the potential tailspin into which the Wolverines could fall if they were not careful this week against, frankly, a very underrated Indiana team on the road. Well, here we are, but things are not as bad as they seem. Luckily, five of the Top 10 teams in the nation lost this weekend. Read that sentence again. Arizona, Kansas, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, and now Michigan, all fell to lower ranked opponents, and now brace for the impending rankings slide. The collective free fall could mean a bit of leniency expressed toward the Wolverines.
Ironically enough, the past week signified arguably the easiest stint in Michigan’s Big Ten schedule. Now anxious to dispel the rumors of their incapacity, the Wolverines will look to bounce back strongly against conference bottom-feeder Nebraska Wednesday night, before a sizeable challenge on the road in Iowa on Saturday. The scoring presence of Nik Stauskas has emerged as a must-have if the Wolverines want to win, but there are a number of trends that must also be maintained in order to label the Indiana loss as a surmountable speed bump, and move forward into the tournament. First, Jordan Morgan will need to keep up the stellar rebounding numbers. Still no word concerning McGary injury timetable, so Morgan and Horford (which Bill Raftery insists people are calling ‘Morford’, though I’ve never heard the term) must continue to fill the void left by McGary, especially against lengthy teams like Iowa. Morgan has been a staple on the boards, though essentially a nonfactor on offense. Second, Derrick Walton Jr. must continue to play at a high level. The free-throw hero against Michigan State and the leading scorer at Indiana, Walton has emerged as a legitimate offensive threat from anywhere on the court. His reliability has become a crutch for the Wolverines late in games, and should only increase as teams increasingly start to key in and lockdown on Stauskas. The Wolverines face off against Nebraska Wednesday at 6:30 in Ann Arbor, followed by a 2 PM showdown Saturday in Iowa.