I’m beginning to worry about sounding repetitive with my frequent references to the dichotomy that is the Michigan basketball team this season. And I assure you that should the team begin to display signs of straying from this trend, I will be the first one to point it out. But until that day comes, we must resort to frustrating speculation as to which version of the Wolverines will show up to play.
The past week reaffirmed this unsettling trend, as Michigan forcibly triumphed in Columbus over longtime nemesis Ohio State on Tuesday, only to squander a heartbreaker in the Crisler Center against always dangerous Wisconsin Sunday afternoon. The Wolverines found themselves behind in both games after one half, but the similarities cease to exist there, as the lopsided second halves in each game effectively mirrored the ultimate results: a commanding upending of the Buckeyes behind a near triple-double from Derrick Walton Jr., and a puncturing fall to the Badgers despite clawing back to the threshold of victory, after an offensive drought in the first half.
Both games last week yielded a couple of longstanding, as well as newly emerging, and increasingly disconcerting trends:
- Big Names Failing to Produce: Realistically this category could be subdivided into the recent underperforming of both Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. Stauskas was integral in the win over Ohio State, but contributed comparatively minimal scoring in the foreground of his explosive offensive season, and with this article, we add another week to the ticking clock eagerly awaiting the grandiose return of the infallible Nik Stauskas. GR3 was not nearly as efficient; 3-of-10 totaling 9 points adds another to the tally of underperformances from Robinson this season. But thanks to man-sized contributions from Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin, the Wolverines escaped with a win from the jaws of the beast against OSU. Sunday’s matchup with Wisconsin would not end so fortunately. Stauskas and Robinson (check that. Let’s call it the entire Michigan offense except Caris LeVert) failed to piece together any sort of scoring run, specifically in the first half, creating an insurmountable deficit for the Wolverines. Through the first 20, the offense was stagnant, as players essentially took turns driving against their man while the other four watched statically from the perimeter. Passing was minimal, dribbling was the opposite, and the understandably poor shot selection, and subsequent scoring shortage, reflected an offense completely stumped by the lengthy and lethal Badgers defense. Despite narrowing the deficit to as much as 3, Michigan was ultimately incapable of stifling the colossal Frank Kaminsky, who poured in an outrageous 25 points and 11 rebounds to effectively suppress the Wolverines’ late run. Kaminsky’s frontcourt dominance was a real-life portrayal of the ever-looming nightmare that has haunted Michigan since the untimely exit of Mitch McGary. Most games, it is nothing more than a figment of imagination. But on days like Sunday, and, say, on the road in Iowa last weekend, the nightmare materializes and Michigan is pounded in the paint. The exceedingly disproportionate low-post scoring totals adequately summarize the damage incurred by the Wolverines; 32-14 in favor of Wisconsin.
- Relying on the Understudies: Luckily for Michigan, both of last week’s games produced a clear star responsible for lugging the majority of the weight. First we find Derrick Walton, who aggressively flirted with a triple-double in Columbus, as the Wolverines mounted a second half comeback in which they outscored the Buckeyes by two touchdowns en route to a double-digit victory. And despite the ill-fated result Sunday afternoon, the tremendous performance of Caris LeVert is frankly impossible to ignore. Adding 25 points, including 5-of-6 from downtown, LeVert was the sole beacon of offensive output against Wisconsin, also tacking on 6 rebounds in the Wolverines’ first loss at home since narrowly falling to Arizona in December. With their impressive performances, Walton and LeVert have carried the Wolverines offensively while the stars continue to grapple with offensive struggles.
Just what the doctor ordered, Michigan embraces a full week of rest before squaring off with in-state foe Michigan State next Sunday in the Crisler Center. The 9th-ranked Spartans were shocked by Nebraska in East Lansing on Sunday, maintaining their stalemate with the Wolverines atop the Big Ten. Only one question remains: Which Michigan team will show up this Sunday?