Beating Oakland is no big achievement, but Bowling Green is a worthy opponent. They’re picked to win the MAC, which would make them an NCAA Tournament team. Michigan handled them calmly and efficiently, leading the whole way, and keeping a solid lead for most of the game. Michigan led BG by 7 points (43-36) at halftime, and pushed the lead up into the 11-13 point range in the first 8 minutes of the 2nd half, then to the 16-18 point range for the last 7 minutes of the game. Michigan looked good and confident.
Then came the Oakland game. Oakland came into the game having played (and lost) games on Wednesday (Xavier 101-49), Thursday (Toledo 80-53), and Friday (Bradley 74-60). Due to COVID-19 quarantine, they had only practiced for 3 days before their opener. It looked like an easy win for Michigan, but no one told Oakland. The game was close early, then Michigan jumped out to a nice 8 point lead (27-19) with 7:15 to go in the 1st half. That’s when the game turned ugly. Michigan went stone cold, and Oakland went on a 14-4 run to end the half up 33-31. The 2nd half wasn’t much better, as Oakland extended their lead to 6 points, and Michigan continued to struggle. UM crept back into the lead, 57-56 with 8:01 to go, then the teams traded the lead for the rest of regulation. Michigan had a 2 point lead (67-65) with 2:26 to go, but Oakland tied the game (67-67) with 28 seconds left, and we played overtime.
Fortunately, Michigan woke up in overtime, scoring the first 9 points, and holding Oakland scoreless for the first 3:46. Michigan looked good in the overtime, after looking terrible for most of regulation.
The stats for the BG game are pretty good. Michigan shot well overall (33-for-61 = 54.1%), they shot 3-pointers pretty well (10-for-27 = 37.0%), and they shot free throws pretty well (20-for-26 = 76.9%). They won the rebounding battle handily (44-34), but lost the turnover battle (10-6). They won this game with 3-point shooting and rebounding.
The stats for the Oakland game are decent, except for one category: turnovers. Michigan shot pretty well overall (29-for-62 = 46.8%), they shot 3-pointers decently (8-for-27 = 29.6%), and they shot free throws decently (15-for-22 = 68.2%). They crushed Oakland on the boards (45-33), but lost the turnover battle in tragic fashion (20-16). Those 20 turnovers almost cost UM this game.
Livers was the only starter to hit double figures in both games, with 17 points vs. BG and 22 vs. Oakland. He was the leading scorer in the Oakland game. He was also the leading rebounder vs. BG, with 9. He shot pretty well: 7-for-14 (3-for-8 from 3-point range) vs. BG, and 8-for-12 (5-for-7 from 3-point range) vs. Oakland.
Hunter Dickinson was the only other player to hit double figures in both games, with 11 and 19 points. He also had 8 rebounds vs. BG. He kept Michigan in the Oakland game, and was the reason UM won. Oakland couldn’t stop him in the paint.
Smith had a great debut game vs. BG, with 16 points and 8 assists, but he didn’t do much in the Oakland game, with only 2 points and 4 fouls.
Brooks also did well in the BG game, with 11 points, but didn’t do as well vs. Oakland, with only 6 points.
Wagner had a below-average (for him) week, with 9 points vs. BG and 6 points vs. Oakland. He’s 0-for-6 from 3-point range so far. He did have a monster game rebounding vs. Oakland, with 13 boards.
Davis started both games, but only played 12 minutes vs. BG and 13 minutes vs. Oakland. He scored 2 points vs. BG and 6 points vs. Oakland.
Chaundee Brown, Jr. was the leading scorer in the BG game, with 19 points, including 5-for-7 from 3-point range. He came back to Earth in the Oakland game, with 5 points, on 1-for-10 shooting from 3-point range.
The good news is that Michigan is 2-0, which is as good a record as they could hope for. They took care of business. The bad news is that the BG game exposed some flaws in the Michigan defense, and the Oakland game exposed some flaws in the Michigan offense. Future opponents will try to exploit these flaws. We’ll see if Coach Howard can correct these flaws in time.
This week, Michigan plays two games, both in Crisler Arena. On Wednesday (12/02/2020, 7:00 p.m., BTN) they play Ball State, then on Sunday (12/06/2020, 4:00 p.m., BTN) they play Central Florida (UCF).
Ball State was 18-13 (11-7 in the MAC) last season. They have a couple good players, and some height. This will be another “not your typical cupcake game” for Michigan, similar to the Oakland game. If Michigan plays poorly, they could be in for a long evening.
UCF was 16-14 (7-11 in the AAC) last season. They have a couple good players, and they even have some height. This game should be like the other 3 non-conference games: if Michigan plays well, they should win. If they bumble around like they did for most of the Oakland game, they could lose.
Final Score: 17-27, Penn State by 10 over Michigan SP+ Projection: Penn State by 1.0 (-9.0) CD Projection: Michigan by 1 (-11)
WEEK 6 RECAP vs. Penn State
Offensively, the Wolverines lost their first-half rhythm when Cade McNamara left the game with a shoulder injury. The broadcast team mentioned that Joe MIlton was also less than 100%, and he was unable to mount a charge. The salt in the wound for this week was Michigan netted 174 rushing yards. In my data set, they averaged 6.5 yards per run play (garbage time & sacks removed). However, they could not sustain drives and continue to move the chains. While McNamara was hurt, Hassan Haskins was inexplicably standing on the sideline. This week, Josh Gattis was unable to scheme his WRs open, and Michigan could only muster a 28% success rate on pass plays.
Defensively, I saw just about what I expected. While the defensive line was boosted by Kwity Paye’s return, the defensive interior could not stand up to Penn State’s mediocre offensive line. The Nittany Lions netted 254 rushing yards, and averaged 5.2 yards per run play in my data set. Michigan needed a big stop after tightening the score to 20-17 in the 4th quarter. The Wolverines were merely an annoyance to Penn State as they marched 75 yards in 5:00 to stretch the lead to 10. I think the defensive staff has adjusted to help mitigate the huge plays against man coverage outside, and that is commendable. I thought holding PSU under 30 would be enough to win, but instead James Franklin has his first win of 2020.
Last week, special teams hurt Michigan with 3 missed FGs. This week, it was 2 muffed punts, one of which resulted in a turnover and a field goal for Penn State. Michigan certainly missed Giles Jackson, who was the latest to hit the injury report. This year cannot end soon enough.
Every problem that plagues Michigan right now is also weighing down the Nittany Lions. The game was in Ann Arbor on a beautiful November day. All the potential excuses have withered and Michigan is left with just one option: acknowledging that they don’t know how to win football games right now.
The Wolverines survived three OTs against Rutgers to win 48-42 on the road. The offense did a near-180 degree turnaround under Cade McNamara. The defense did not.
NEXT UP: vs. Penn State: 29th, 9.8
PREGAME SP+: Penn State by 1.0, Michigan Win Probability 48% Michigan & Penn State both look radically different than anybody expected before the Big Ten kicked off in October. Michigan has underperformed SP+ expectations on defense allowing an average of 12.8 points more than SP+ projections. Penn State has underperformed on both sides of the ball. The Nittany Lion defense gives up an average of 11.2 more points than projections. Their offense has scored 6.6 points less than projected.
Michigan Offense (44th) vs. Penn State Defense (30th) Michigan may have answered a couple big questions on offense. It looks like Hassan Haskins will get a larger share of the running back carries going forward. Also, Josh Gattis seemed to have more plays that use post-snap reads at his disposal once Cade McNamara took over at quarterback. Still, the largest question mark still looms: how healthy will the Wolverines’ offensive line be? We asked the same question headed into the Rutgers game, but lost center Andrew Vastardis to injury instead of regaining Jaylen Mayfield or Ryan Hayes at tackle. Regardless, this Penn State defense is also short handed and just gave up 34 points to Iowa (54th SP+ offense).
Michigan Defense (37th) vs. Penn State Offense (34th) In my mind, this game will be decided in big moments while Penn State has the ball. First, it’s critical for Michigan to get off to a solid start. Penn State has yet to score more than 7 points in the first half in any game in 2020. That includes games against Maryland (67th SP+ defense, PSU 19 points) and against Nebraska (76th SP+ defense, PSU 23 points). Second, the Wolverines need to keep the Penn State quarterbacks uncomfortable. If Don Brown can get back to using havoc and confusion to create turnovers, then the defensive unit could give their offensive teammates a big boost. That may be too big an “IF” statement though, given the injuries stretching the defensive two deep perilously thin.
PREDICTION: Michigan should be able to string together successful offensive plays against this diminished Penn State defensive unit. If I was confident that Michigan would have their best 5 offensive linemen healthy, I would feel much more comfortable heading into Saturday. While we are starting to see a few playmakers emerge on offense, the Wolverines need some young defenders to step forward. I will be looking for DT Chris Hinton, LB Michael Barrett, and S Daxton Hill to be difference makers during crunch time in Ann Arbor.
Michigan 28 Penn State 27 (PRESEASON Michigan 27 Penn State 21)
Here we are, at the start of another college basketball season, but what a ride it’s been. So much has changed and so much has happened since my last column, eight months ago (03/23/2020). Of course, the big news is COVID-19. It changed everything.
Eight months ago, the whole world shut down, including college basketball. On the day the Big Ten (along with many, many other organizations) shut things down (03/12/2020), Michigan was just minutes away from tipping off against Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament. Since then, the world has been turned upside down, including sports. After a pause, some sports finished up their seasons (NBA and NHL), some shortened their seasons (MLB), and some delayed starting up (NFL and NCAA). It wasn’t clear if there would even be any NCAA fall sports, and the startup of college football has been … ragged … to say the least. Each conference was left to decide on if/when they would start up, how many games they would play, and how they would handle COVID-19 outbreaks. There was no central authority. The NCAA just sat back and watched. By contrast, the NCAA took a firm leadership role in the startup of college basketball. They pushed the starting date back a few weeks, to 11/25/2020, and they announced other changes. They did leave the scheduling up to the individual conferences, as usual.
So, that’s why the season is starting about 3 weeks later than expected, and has 6 fewer games than usual. The University of Michigan men’s basketball team’s first game is this Wednesday (11/25/2020) in Crisler Arena at 4:00 p.m., against Bowling Green. There are no exhibition games this season, and there is no open practice, like there usually is. In fact, there are no fans allowed in the building for any of the games this season, only families of the players and coaches. The games will be televised, but no fans will be present. That also means that I won’t be ushering this season. Sigh.
Here’s my standard description of this weekly column:
Yeah, it’s time for University of Michigan men’s basketball, and this is the place to read all about it: “Nothing But ‘Net” on UMGoBlue.com. Check back every Monday morning between now and the end of the season for a quick, concise wrap-up of the previous week, and a look ahead at the upcoming week, all in one easy-to-read article.
As always here at UMGoBlue.com, the perspective is “by fans, for fans”. I’m a fan (since 1974), and I go to all the home games, and watch/listen to all the away games. I don’t have any special access (other than being an usher in Sections 209-210), I don’t go to the press conferences, and I don’t interview high school recruits. I see the same things you do, and write about them as a fan.
Once again, it was a very busy off-season, with lots of surprises and changes. Let’s get to it.
The big question: how good is Michigan going to be this season?
The big answer: it’s hard to guess, with all the changes (see below), but I’m going to say “about the same as last year”.
There are lots of changes to the roster from last season:
2 graduating seniors
3 player departures
4 incoming freshmen
3 incoming transfer players
Graduating seniors are a natural part of the college sports experience. In the current environment of players leaving early for the NBA, or transferring to other schools, it is getting to be a rare event when a player stays all 4 years at the same school and graduates. While it is sad to see players leave after having watched them for 4 years, it is really something to be celebrated and appreciated. Michigan was blessed to have had Jon Teske and Zavier Simpson in their basketball program for the last 4 years, and we wish them well.
I can understand that sometimes a player commits to a school, plays there for a year or two, and just doesn’t feel like he’s fitting in. I can understand that sometimes players get homesick, and want to transfer to a school closer to their hometown, so their families and friends can watch them play and visit with them. I understand why the transfer rules are in place, and they seem fair and fine to me. I just don’t like the recent trend in the last 3-4 years for players to transfer for frivolous reasons. It has become a disturbing trend.
At the end of last season, 3 players transferred out of the Michigan program:
Cole Bajema – Cole played for just 37 minutes as a freshman, and transferred to Washington. He had plenty of potential, but didn’t really show much in his limited appearances. He is from the Washington area, and I’m sure he wants to play closer to home. He will be missed, but he is replaceable.
David DeJulius – This transfer makes the least sense of the 3 of them. David transferred to Cincinnati, even though he is from the Detroit area. He just finished his sophomore year, and he did very well. With Zavier Simpson graduating, he was the obvious heir apparent to the starting point guard position. He will be missed very much, and I’m afraid that the point guard position is going to be a problem this season.
Colin Castleton – This is the transfer than makes the most sense. Colin transferred to Florida, which is his home state. He played very poorly for 2 seasons at Michigan, and he could see that he wasn’t going to play very much going forward. He won’t be missed.
Michigan has 4 incoming freshman players this season:
Hunter Dickinson #1 (7’1”, 255 pounds, C) – Hunter is a 4-star center, the #6 center in his class. He’s a big, tough kid, a traditional “back to the basket” center. I can’t wait to see him play. He’ll be part of the “center by committee” plan this season, so he’ll need to grow up quickly.
Zeb Jackson #3 (6’5”, 180 pounds, G) – Zeb is a 4-star point guard, the #10 point guard in his class. He’ll be part of the “point guard by committee” plan this season.
Terrance Williams II #5 (6’7”, 240 pounds, F) – Terrance is good friends with Hunter Dickinson (above), and the two of them were a “package deal”. He’s a 4-star forward, the #15 power forward in his class.
This is the #1 recruiting class in the Big Ten this season. If they can grow up quickly, Michigan will be much better than predicted.
Brandon Wade #4 (6’1”, 185 pounds, G) – Brandon transferred to Michigan from Duquesne at the end of the first semester last season. He had to sit out a full year, so he’ll be eligible to play in January 2021, with sophomore eligibility. He’s a preferred walk-on, not a scholarship player. He played his high school ball at Ann Arbor Skyline, so this is a homecoming for him.
Who’s Coming Back?
After all the talk about who left, it’s time to talk about who’s coming back. Michigan has the core of a very good team, but much will depend on the development of the returning role players.
Let’s look at the returning players on the team:
Franz Wagner #21 (6’9”, 220 pounds, G) – Franz was one of the stars on last season’s team, and he toyed with the idea of entering the NBA draft, but eventually decided to return to Michigan for his sophomore season. Unless something crazy happens, he will certainly enter the NBA draft after this season, so enjoy him while you can. He will undoubtedly be one of the top players in the Big Ten.
Brandon Johns, Jr. #23 (6’8”, 240 pounds, F) – Brandon filled in nicely for Livers when he was injured, but he still had too many games where he didn’t contribute much. He is very good at offensive rebounding. He’s a good option at center when Michigan plays “small ball”, so he’s part of the “center by committee” plan.
Adrien Nuñez #0 (6’6”, 210 pounds, G) – Adrien had another “lost season” last year, and it’s time for him to step up and contribute. Note that he changed his number from #5 to #0.
C.J. Baird #24 (6’5”, 225 pounds, F) – C.J. only played in 7 games, and scored 8 points last season. He’s on the practice squad, and only plays in “garbage time”.
Eli Brooks #55 (6’1”, 185 pounds, G) – Eli did a good job at shooting guard, and even played some point guard when needed last season. He led the team in 3-point attempts and makes, and shot a nice percentage (52-for-143 = 36.4%). He is a very important player on this season’s team. He’ll be part of the “point guard by committee” plan.
Austin Davis #51 (6’10”, 250 pounds, F/C) – Austin really improved last season, especially during the second half of the season. It took 2.5 seasons, but he finally started playing with smoothness and confidence. He shot a nice percentage (52-for-75 = 69.3%), and he cut way down on his silly fouls. He’ll be part of the “center by committee” plan. Note that Austin is a rare 5th year senior, after voluntarily redshirting his freshman year.
Isaiah Livers #2 (6’7”, 230 pounds, F) – Isaiah is the most versatile player on the team, and arguably the most valuable. Before he went out with a groin injury last season near the end of the non-conference season, he was leading the team in scoring (13.6 points/game) and 3-point shooting percentage (29-for-58 = 50.0%). When he came back, he was good-but-not-great. He is the undisputed leader of this team, and he needs to have a strong senior season. He also toyed with the idea of leaving at the end of last season for the NBA draft, but decided to return for his final year.
Rico Ozuna-Harrison #14 (5’11”, 175 pounds, G) – Rico only played in 4 games, and scored 2 points. He’s on the practice squad, and only plays in “garbage time”.
Luke Wilson #32 (6’0”, 175 pounds, G) – Luke only played in 6 games, and scored 3 points. He’s on the practice squad, and only plays in “garbage time”.
Starting Lineup/Depth Chart
This is really tricky this season, with all the new players. My guess:
Point guard: Smith (backups: Brooks and Jackson)
Shooting guard: Wagner (backups: Brooks, Brown, Howard, and Nuñez)
Small forward: Johns (backups: Livers, Williams, and Brown)
Power forward: Livers (backups: Johns and Williams)
Center: Dickinson (backups: Davis and Johns)
From last season’s Wrap-Up article:
The 2019-2020 season was a rollercoaster for Michigan. The ride to the top of the biggest hill started with wins over three “cupcakes”, along with an impressive win over a team that finished the season ranked #7 (Creighton), for a 4-0 start. The top of the biggest hill was the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Michigan wasn’t picked to do much in the tournament, but they won three games in three days, beating a good Iowa State team and two Top-10 teams [(#6) North Carolina and (#8) Gonzaga], winning the championship, and moving to 7-0 and a #4 ranking in the AP poll. The championship game was on 11/29/2019, and that was the top of the hill, the high water mark, the best moment of the whole season. It didn’t last long. From that point on, Michigan was a 0.500 team: 12-12 (10-10 in the Big Ten).
An 0-5 record at this point in true road games (Louisville, Illinois, MSU, Minnesota, and Iowa). Sure, it’s tough to win on the road, but Michigan probably should have won two or three of those games (Illinois, Minnesota, and Iowa).
Three home losses at this point (Oregon, Penn State, and Illinois). Michigan went 17-1 at home in the 2018-2019 season and 15-1 in the 2017-2018 season. Having three home losses at this point in the season was not a good sign.
Looking back on the season, there were some high points and some low points:
The Battle 4 Atlantis championship was definitely the highest point of the season. At the time, the win over (#6) North Carolina looked huge, although UNC ended up with their worst season in years. The win over (#8) Gonzaga ended up being much more impressive, since Gonzaga ended up 31-2 and ranked #2 in the final AP poll.
Wins over a few other teams that ended up ranked in the final AP poll: (#7) Creighton, (#9) Michigan State, and (#25) Iowa.
The lowest point of the season was the loss at Minnesota. Sure, Minnesota can be tough to beat in The Barn, but they ended up with a 15-16 record, including 5 home losses. Michigan should have won that one.
The home loss to Penn State really stung. This was one of the better teams that PSU has had in the last 20 years, but they didn’t end up with a record much better than Michigan’s (21-10, 11-9 in the Big Ten). Michigan should have won that one as well.
The home loss to Ohio State was a travesty. The officials called a ridiculous “flagrant 1” foul on Simpson in the last minute, and it was just enough to hand the game to OSU.
The home loss to Illinois was very depressing. Once again, this was one of the better Illinois teams in a while, but they weren’t any better than teams Michigan beat earlier and later in the season. They just caught Michigan in a slump.
As I mentioned above, because of COVID-19, this season is a little different. Instead of 31 games, there are only 25 (5 non-conference and 20 Big Ten), with no exhibition games and no holiday tournament.
Let’s look at Michigan’s schedule for this season:
If UM can win all 11 of the “Should Win” games, and half (5) of the 10 “Toss Up” games, that would give them a record of 16-9 (12-8 in the Big Ten). That should be good enough to get UM into the NCAA Tournament, depending on how they do in the Big Ten Tournament.
This week, Michigan plays two games, both in Crisler Arena. On Wednesday (11/25/2020, 4:00 p.m., ESPN2) they play Bowling Green, then on Sunday (11/29/2020, 6:00 p.m., BTN) they play Oakland.
Bowling Green was 21-10 (12-6 in the MAC) last season, and they’re picked to win the MAC this season. They have a few good players, although they don’t have much height. This will not be your typical “cupcake” game for Michigan, especially for an opener with no exhibition game to try things out.
Oakland was 14-19 (8-10 in the Horizon League) last season, and they’re picked to finish 6th this season in the Horizon. They have a couple good players, and they even have some height. This game should be a little easier than the Bowling Green game, but a lot harder than the typical “cupcake” games that Michigan normally starts with.