If you happened to miss Michigan's loss to Indiana two weeks ago, a game in which the Wolverines never seemed to get on track and fumbled away a game they were expected to win, you needn't worry, you had another chance to watch it Sunday. With Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky playing the part of Yogi Ferrell (and channeling his inner Hakeem Olajuwon), Michigan fell at home to Wisconsin in a game that, despite a late rally, it was never really in. Perhaps the Wolverines were looking ahead to next weekend's showdown against Michigan State or were showing the effects of playing their fifth game in two weeks, but whatever the reason, Michigan didn't seem to bring the same energy and effort as did the Badgers, who seemed determined to avenge their earlier loss to the Wolverines.
In an up and down season that has included non-conference losses to Iowa State and Charlotte, road victories over Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin and a 8-0 start in conference play, Michigan has now lost three of its last five and is not exactly peaking at the right time. Sunday's loss may not have hurt the Wolverines' chances at a conference title, as Big Ten co-leader Michigan State suffered a surprising home loss to Nebraska Sunday (perhaps the Spartans were also caught looking ahead), but it raised concerns, nonetheless.
Michigan has a week to prepare for the Spartans, and it will need it, as it had difficulty in nearly every facet of the game Sunday. Michigan not only shot poorly, but also had trouble taking care of the ball, defending and rebounding. Caris LeVert poured in a career-high 25 points, appearing at times to be Michigan's sole offense, but nearly every other Wolverine struggled. Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III were not much of a factor and freshmen Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin were even less so. But most importantly, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, who have been such a large part of Michigan's early season success, were torched by Wisconsin's front court, as Kaminsky and Sam Dekker combined for 40 points and 20 rebounds, leading Wisconsin to a 32-14 edge in points-in-the-paint.
It's often said that if Michigan is not shooting well, it has little chance of winning. And while that may be slightly more true of Michigan, with its reliance on three-pointers, the same can be said of any team. It shouldn't surprise many that Michigan State is 0-2 in the two games that Gary Harris shot a combined 8-35 from the floor and 9-1 in games that he shot at least 45%. Michigan shot poorly against Wisconsin, hitting just 40% of its shots, but despite its offensive difficulties, it was Wisconsin's dominance inside that was the key to the game. That's something that Michigan has to correct - and quickly.
With Michigan State coming to town this weekend, Michigan likely won't be distracted and will bring the effort and energy that players said were missing from the start of Sunday's game against Wisconsin. But the same will be true of Michigan State. And the Spartans will also bring the conference's most talented big man in Adreian Payne. Morgan and Horford don't have to outplay Payne and fellow front court players Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski, but they do have to, pardon the cliché, contain them. Sure, Michigan needs to shoot better and be smarter with the ball, but how Michigan deals with Michigan State's front court will ultimately decide the next weekend's game, and with it, the conference championship.