The Wolverines believe they’re close, but need to start proving it soon
The defeat on Tuesday was, to be honest, somewhat expected. With about eight minutes remaining in regulation, Michigan blew a seven-point lead, and it was obvious that the Wolverines were going to be playing in close quarters again and that their fortitude would be put to the test against a club that had a stronger bench. As expected, the Wolverines missed a number of late opportunities and ran out of steam in overtime as it became evident that the Gators were better rested. Naturally, it was expected, given that during the previous two seasons, Michigan has suffered more than a dozen games in a remarkably similar manner.
Tuesday’s close basketball game is essentially a coin flip. If a single shot, call, or bounce goes against the Gators, Michigan might be celebrating a valiant win and the Gators may be furious about what might have been.
However, over the previous two seasons, Michigan is currently 5-17 in two-possession games and 1-8 in one-possession games or overtime. It’s time to take a closer look at the coaches overseeing the tossing if a team performs that poorly in toss-up games.
There is a pause in the Wolverines’ schedule. After ten days to recover from their defeat on Tuesday, they will play three straight home games against Penn State, McNeese State, and Minnesota. On paper, those three games are significantly more winnable than a matchup against Florida at a neutral site. Since Michigan’s conference schedule is more backloaded in light of this season’s outcomes, analytical sites actually forecast Michigan to win eight of its next eleven games.
That isn’t a reason to celebrate, though, as Michigan hasn’t demonstrated the depth or consistency to look past any opponent.
What kind of team Michigan will be for the remainder of the season will be decided in the next ten days. If they keep improving, they could make it to tournament contention, and as evidenced by their close defeats to Memphis, Indiana, Florida, and Oregon, the Wolverines are playing closer to that caliber of play than the general public would have them believe. At the end of the season, though, the Wolverines’ entire program might be in for a makeover if defensive, depth, and late-game improvements don’t materialize.
Some good, but more bad in crunch time
It would be incorrect to claim that Michigan showed no improvement in late-game play, even though Tuesday’s loss was yet another setback that occurred in overtime and in the closing minutes of the game.
Nimari Burnett’s second-chance jumper with 33 seconds remaining and Olivier Nkamhoua’s put-back dunk with 12 seconds remaining helped the Wolverines overcome an 81-77 lead with 59 seconds remaining. After the jumper, Michigan forced a turnover, and Florida fouled out on two consecutive shots following the slam, forcing overtime.
The Wolverines kept Florida to 3-for-11 field goal shooting in the first overtime period and even managed to hang around with a couple threes in the second overtime period, in addition to their crucial play at the free-throw line.
However, Michigan also made its fair share of mistakes, as has been the case far too often over the previous five seasons. The Wolverines led the game for more than thirty minutes, but in the second half, they let up a 12-2 run with eleven minutes remaining and a 9-2 run with less than five minutes remaining, thereby turning the game into a coin flip.
In a second overtime that it could and should have avoided, Michigan was unable to maintain pace due to a lack of nearly enough depth.
The game on Tuesday was much more than a few late possessions, but after being 5-17 in the previous two seasons in games decided by six points or less, and 4-14 in one-possession or overtime games against high-major schools in the previous five years, it’s more than just a few plays here and there. Michigan’s players are either unable of carrying out their coaches’ late-game strategy or they are ignorant of how to create one. In any case, Michigan is still losing money as a result of the coaching staff issue.
The Wolverines’ lack of depth tanked Michigan in the second overtime
Just how much deeper Florida was than the Wolverines is shown by two statistics. First, Michigan’s reserves shot 1 for 2 from the field, committed four fouls, and committed six turnovers, while Florida’s reserves outscored Michigan’s bench 43-3. Second, of the 250 possible minutes played in the game, the starting five of the Wolverines played 227, while the starting five of the Gators played 160.
Considering those numbers, is it any wonder that Michigan ran out of steam in the second overtime period, giving up an 11-0 run to put the score 102-93 before making a few clutch 3-pointers to bring the score closer? Or that, despite making a solid 48.4% of its field goals in regulation, Michigan only managed to shoot 3 for 12 from the field in the extra periods?
On Tuesday, the Wolverines’ starting five performed admirably in several areas. However, Michigan should not expect its starting five to play so many minutes in a game where there were a lot of possessions (182 total in 50 minutes). After another highly winnable non-conference game was lost in the closing minutes, the Wolverines’ recruiting losses and choice to start the season with 11 scholarship players, one of whom (Jaelin Llewellyn) coming off a serious injury, are becoming more significant than ever.
Michigan gave up too many freebies
If the Wolverines had triumphed on Tuesday, we could have forgiven their defensive failings. Whether the game is fast-paced or slow-paced, low-scoring or high-scoring, close or blowout, the only thing that matters in the end is winning. However, it would be foolish to overlook another poor post-defense effort given that Michigan lost.
Florida scored an incredible 60 points in the paint during the contest. The Gators made 39 dunks and layups for 46 points in total. They also added four free throws to their total because they were able to draw fouls. Florida outscored Michigan 17–9 on fast-break points and pulled down 21 offensive rebounds for 18 second-chance points.
The fact that the Gators made only 8 of 29 3-pointers (27.5%) and 36.2 percent of total jump shots yet still managed to win and score 106 points is telling. Florida didn’t have a great shooting night, but Michigan had enough blow-bys to save the Gators.
McDaniel recorded 33 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal, and a block in the game’s conclusion. He finished the game 9-for-19, committing six turnovers, struggling defensively in OT, and missing his last four field goal attempts. However, he carried Michigan’s offense by being able to drive to the basket, hit 12 of 13 free throw tries, and drain three threes.
One more illustrative statistic? Despite playing an astounding 45 minutes on Tuesday, McDaniel’s five minutes on the bench during a five-point setback saw the Wolverines outscored by six points.
Thus far, McDaniel has offered the same kind of breakout sophomore season that Michigan experienced during its incredible run of titles and postseason games from 2012 to 2021. The issue is that he isn’t receiving nearly enough support—either from his employer or from other sources—for his record to improve.