Fresh off of two 2-0 weeks, Michigan was seemingly in cruise control. Wins against the mid to bottom tier of the Big Ten gave the Wolverines tons of confidence going into the past week, and games against Indiana and Michigan State were supposed to be the perfect measuring stick to see how good the team was.
As I wrote last Wednesday, Michigan played a horrific game against Indiana. Giving up a 25-0 run to end the first half, at home, against an Indiana team that Michigan coaches, players and fans absolutely hate, is just about the worst thing that could have happened. Fast-forward to Saturday, and the hope was that Michigan would be able to rebound against in-state rival and top-25 team Michigan State.
Instead, the Wolverines arguably got their asses kicked even worse than the drubbing Tuesday night. While Indiana started off extremely slow, including down 15-4, Michigan State didn't waste a minute messing around. Bryn Forbes was unstoppable, finishing with 29 points, including 8-10 on 3-pointers. Denzel Valentine didn't seem to break a sweat, but the senior still had 21 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. Valentine might not ever be an NBA star, but after watching him up close, he's silky smooth, never goes too fast and seems to have an extremely high IQ for the game.
The Spartans were dominant in almost every aspect, including out-rebounding Michigan 35-20 and finishing with 18 assists to Michigan's ten. Matt Costello also had a monster game, and had a highlight reel spin and reverse dunk for good measure. It's unclear how good Michigan State is, but they looked like one of the ten best teams in the country on Saturday. If it wasn't for the 19 turnovers, they would have scored 100 at Crisler. Ouch.
On the flip side, it's really hard to find positives for Michigan. Zak Irvin phrased it best, pointing out how Michigan just doesn't seem to want it. Irvin was the best player for the Wolverines, going 8-16 en route to 19 points. Aubrey Dawkins had 14 that was aided by a few buckets in garbage time, Derrick Walton Jr. stumbled to 11, and every other Wolverine was manhandled and looked lost.
While it looks like the sky is falling down, Michigan still sits at 17-7 overall and 7-4 in the Big Ten. The dream of winning the Big Ten is essentially all but dead, but finishing in the top four, trying to win 21 or 22 games and helping to boost a seed in the NCAA Tournament is all on the table and attainable.
Before any of that happens, the Wolverines need to take a long look in the mirror and figure out how to halt whatever disastrous play has gone on the last 80 minutes. You can't point a finger at one guy, but Irvin is absolutely right that the Wolverines just seem to be outworked and outhustled by more talented teams. They simply can't win games by exerting such a weak effort.
One player who needs to get out of a slump in the worst way is Duncan Robinson. The redshirt sophomore hasn't looked comfortable at all, and finished 1-5 with two points, a turnover and a foul in 25 minutes. For a player that has become one of the Wolverines' most reliable scorers, this type of offensive (and rebounding) production is unacceptable.
Michigan has a chance to get right back on track this week, however, with two winnable games. The first is against Minnesota, a team still winless in the Big Ten that the Wolverines beat at Crisler. Winning at the Barn in Minneapolis is never an easy task, but this is simply a must-win game.
On Saturday, the Wolverines welcome another top-25 team to Crisler with a chance at a massive resume boost. Purdue is a nightmare matchup for Michigan, with A.J. Hammons playing out of his mind recently and his backup, 7'2" Isaac Haas, providing Michigan with the same problems. This Purdue team doesn't seem nearly as formidable as they did when Michigan traveled to West Lafayette, but they're still an extremely talented team.
There's no two ways around it, but this is a massive week for Michigan. A win against Minnesota needs to happen, and Michigan needs to find a way to limit the Purdue interior players and make a ton of outside shots. If this team can't regain the confidence it once had, a stumble into the NCAA Tournament or potentially missing it altogether is a serious possibility. Let's hope John Beilein gets these guys prepared for a massive week.