Deciding that Saturday’s near-football disaster wasn’t stressful enough, the Michigan Wolverines almost fell flat on their faces against the Ohio Bobcats on Sunday. While that eventual win put the basketball team 4-1, none of those four wins was all-out dominance, and even Pitt’s blowout got off to a slow start in the first half.
This is a young roster with some clear issues, but there isn’t much time to stay on the schedule with Virginia and Kentucky over the next week and a half. If eastern Michigan and Ohio bring the Wolverines to the brink, better competition will likely make Arizona State’s performance look relatively tame.
One contest remains before the Big Ten/ACC Challenge: a buying game against Jackson State hours before Thanksgiving. There is no Deion Sanders here; this is a rough bunch. Michigan could probably fight again and still come out with a double-digit win, but this team desperately needs to show they’re actually capable of a quality 40 minutes. This is the easiest game on the board, so no excuses.
Jackson State (0-3) at Michigan Wolverines (4-1)
appointment time: Wednesday, November 23 at 8:30 p.m
location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Literally the basics
The attacking issues for the Wolverines are numerous, but it really starts with depth. Except for Hunter Dickinson and Jett Howard, no one is remotely reliable. Starters Kobe Bufkin (2-on-19) and Terrance Williams (6-on-20) are particularly tough of the three, and while both had some positive moments, their overall game was inconsistent.
The only player who really hasn’t lived up to expectations is Jaelin Llewellyn, who doesn’t seem ready for this level of competition just yet. The transfer is also a black hole from the deep (2-for-17) and doesn’t seem capable of running the offense, although he does offer insight through decent assist counts. With so many other inexperienced players in the rotation, it really hurts when Llewellyn struggles.
All three of those starters should be able to thrive against Jackson State, which has given away buckets to much worse competition. Bufkin and Williams should be able to outsell and trump the Tigers, but look to Llewellyn for perhaps some solace against a team that’s even a few notches below the MAC.
One thing Michigan needs to fix isn’t even opponent dependent. A 64 percent free throw rate is simply unacceptable, and again, the problem is widespread. Llewellyn (57.9 percent) was certainly a culprit, but sniper Joey Baker (42.9 percent) has issues, too. That has to change quickly.
100 percent mental
There’s nothing Jackson State can do to seriously challenge Michigan when the home team is maxing out at their abilities. The Tigers have one of the worst offenses in the country, posting eFG rates of 41.8 percent and 43.5 percent ahead of a big game against a Little Rock team that also sits outside the top 300 in Kenpom.
Defense was just as bad for the Tigers, with an allowable eFG rate of 56.9 percent at the bottom of the rankings. Opponents score at high rates inside the paint and behind the arc, and this would be a great time for the Wolverine shooters to find their punch against a malleable defense.
Michigan’s biggest barrier will be Wednesday itself. Jackson State doesn’t have the roster to challenge a Big Ten-caliber roster, and solid fundamentals (read: hitting free throws, guarding the ball, etc.) should be more than enough for a comfortable win. The way the past week has unfolded, a real win feels like a necessity.