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The University of Michigan Wolverines basketball team seemed to start the 2018-19 season with a chip on their shoulder. Early rankings didn’t pay much respect to the team that finished one win from a national title the previous season. Last year’s NCAA Tournament runner-up wasn’t near the top of the rankings.
Many polls didn’t even feel the Wolverines were one of the top 10 college basketball teams in the nation. The departure of three key players was the most frequently mentioned reason. The Wolverines started out on a mission. They set a school record winning their first 17 games, including two impressively over ranked teams, North Carolina and Purdue.
However, they’ve dropped a pair of games over the last month and gradually slid down in the polls after peaking at number two in the nation. UM is still in very good position heading down the final month of the regular season, but there are few things they can do to recapture their early-season form.
School Record Broken
The feel of the polls actually started to change after the record-tying 16th straight win to open a Michigan basketball season. Playing on the road against a less-than-talented Illinois team, the Wolverines won by 10 but didn’t do so in impressive fashion.
A 20-point win against Northwestern set a new mark for wins to start a season. However, the Wolverines lost some ground in the polls points wise. Both these wins were against teams they were expected to beat soundly, but the scores were not indicative of how much the Wolverines struggled to maintain control throughout the game.
Coach Beilein’s squad couldn’t seem to get into a good flow and it led to a disappointing first loss, albeit on the road in a Big 10 Conference game. In spite of holding a two-point advantage after the first 20-minutes, the Wolverines were soundly outplayed by Wisconsin in the second half, losing by 10-points to the Badgers.
What was most glaring wasn’t the poor 3-point shooting percentage, but the 16 turnovers the Wolverines committed. UM went into the game the third-best team in the country for protecting the ball, but they lost the turnover battle by five to Wisconsin.
The Wolverines seemed to regroup and find their game flow, soundly pounding the Indiana Hoosiers and Ohio State Buckeyes to push 9-1 atop the conference standings. But, a trip to Iowa City the Wolverines unable to even make open shots.
The poorest shooting performance led to a 15-point drubbing at the hands of the Hawkeyes, and 3-place drop in the national rankings. Still easily holding a top-10 ranking position isn’t the problem, but the pair of conference losses stripped UM of an almost guaranteed regional number one seed in the tournament. It’s time for the Wolverines to regroup.
How the Wolverines Can Regroup
Win the Turnover Battle – The 10 turnover disparity in the Wisconsin loss was glaring. While they only turned the ball over eight times at Iowa, seven of those miscues were on steals that accounted for five Hawkeye buckets. Four of the Wolverine’s last seven games are against top-25 teams, so they must protect the basketball and win the battle of turnovers.
Rebound the Basketball Better – The Wolverines only rank in the middle of all DI schools in defensive rebounding, but with a pair of games against the third-best rebounding team in the country, the need to secure defensive rebounds. On the schedule horizon for the Wolverines, are two critical games during the final month of the season against their cross-state rival Spartans.
Defense, Defense, Defense – Iowa shot the ball very well at home, but the 74 points the Hawkeyes scored was 17 points higher than the average-per-game mark the Wolverines had heading into the night. UM has the second highest ranked scoring defense in the nation, and to regroup and climb back up the national rankings ladder, they must play strong defense again.
Stay Focused – The Wolverines did a nice job of regaining their focus after the Iowa loss. After a win at Rutgers, they extracted a measure of revenge beating Wisconsin by nine, holding the Badgers to only 52 points.
This type of focus will go a long way towards helping the Wolverines win down the stretch and claim the Big 10 regular season crown. To earn a number one regional seed in the NCAA Tournament, UM will almost have to take regular season honors in the Big 10. To get the job done, they will have to stay focused.
The Wolverines stubbed their toe after racing out to a school-record 17 consecutive victories to open a basketball season. Even after a pair of Big 10 losses, all is not lost by any stretch. There are a few things the Wolverines need to do to easily regroup their early season form.
Protect the ball, rebound the ball, and defend the basket. If they do these three things and remain focused, you may be wearing your Wolverine State wardrobe with pride again at the NCAA Championship game. When in Michigan, visit the LIVNFRESH store and see some of their best collections.