As Michigan’s season wound down, the Wolverines became known for their inability to string together consecutive victories – alternating wins and losses over their final ten games of the season. Coming off a loss in the Big Ten tournament, it would seem to hold that Michigan would get back on the positive side of the ledger in its NCAA tournament opener against Colorado State. That didn’t look so likely, however, once the game started. Niko Medved’s Rams came out firing, and on the strength of stellar three-point shooting, built a 15-point first half lead.
Michigan was playing without starting point guard, DeVante Jones (who is in concussion protocol after taking an inadvertent elbow in practice) and it showed. “Disorganized” was how head coach Juwan Howard described Michigan’s play, and he may have been kind with his description. The Wolverines were disjointed on offense (with more turnovers than field goals) and even more so on defense, giving Colorado State clean look after clean look from deep.
More often than not, it seemed, the Rams took advantage of the open looks, raining in eight first-half threes. With five minutes left in the half, the Rams lead reached 15 points. Dickinson was dominant inside for Michigan (12 first-half points), but the big man wasn’t getting much help. Down 28-13, it was getting late early for the Wolverines.
Enter freshman Frankie Collins. Collins, who started in place of the injured Jones, came to life at just the right time for Michigan. Over the final five minutes of the half, Collins tallied seven points, an assist and a steal to breathe life into the Wolverines. Led by Collins, Michigan cut Colorado State’s lead to seven at the break.
That Colorado State took a lead into the locker room wasn’t surprising. How it did so, on the other hand, was. Colorado State is led by Mountain West player of the year David Roddy, who averages 19.4 points and 7.6 rebounds a game. A match-up nightmare, Roddy is a load inside who also shoots three-pointers at a 45.5% clip. Point guard Isaiah Stevens plays Robin to Roddy’s Batman, averaging 14.9 points and 4.8 assists per game. The two juniors account for nearly 50% of Colorado State’s scoring and were undoubtedly on the top of Michigan’s scouting report. Yet it was Dischon Thomas who led the way early for the Rams. The junior forward scored 12 first-half points on four-of-five shooting from beyond the arc.
With Thomas leading the way, Colorado State enjoyed a comfortable lead at the break. Michigan, however, would turn things around.
Collins continued his strong play in the second half and Michigan chipped away at Colorado State’s lead. Michigan also got strong second-half contributions from Caleb Houstan (13 points) and Eli Brooks (16 points) and at the ten-minute mark of the second half, took a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Brooks in particular was key down the stretch. The super senior 12 second-half points served as somewhat of a closer for the Wolverines, doing much of his damage in the game’s final minutes. In the end, Michigan hit its free throws and pulled away for a 12-point victory in a game that was much closer than that.
Michigan played better offensively in the second half, but its improved defensive play was even more of a factor in its comeback victory. The open looks Michigan gave Colorado State in the first half were fewer and farther between in the game’s final 20 minutes. As a result, the Rams made just four of 15 three-pointers in the second half. In addition to tightening its perimeter defense, the Wolverines continued their strong defense on Roddy and Stevens, holding the pair to 13 and eight points respectively - and holding the Rams more than ten points below their season average.
A week after being on the wrong side of a 22-point swing in its Big Ten tournament loss to Indiana, the Wolverines found themselves on the right side of a 27-point swing in its first-round victory over Colorado State. With the victory, Michigan survived and advances to the second round, where it will face a Tennessee team that’s playing as well as any team in the country.
Playing a team like Tennessee, for Michigan to break its recent trend and string together two consecutive victories, it will first have to string together two consecutive good halves.