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Michigan Displays Youth In Two Road Losses

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In two road losses within the last week, Michigan came out of the gate extremely hot. Against defending champions North Carolina, Michigan couldn’t miss. Literally. The Wolverines started off making their first eight shots and kept UNC clinging to a slim 34-32 lead with 6:30 left in the first half. Then the wheels fell off. The Tar Heels closed the half on a 17-4 run plus a 6-0 run to start the second, and before Michigan could come up for air, the UNC lead was 20. Michigan’s trip to North Carolina proved the Wolverines weren’t ready to beat the country’s elite on the road.

Following a wire-to-wire victory over Indiana in which Michigan was never really challenged, the Wolverines drove down to Columbus for their annual tilt against Ohio State. Michigan never plays well in Columbus, but a depleted Buckeye roster and a talented Michigan one appeared to fit the equation for an upset. Michigan dominated in the first half, but the Buckeyes made a small run to end it.

Similar to Carolina, everything went wrong in the second. Michigan finished 5-29 with 19 total points. Despite the putrid shooting, the Wolverines only trailed by one with under three minutes to go. Ohio State’s borderline nonexistent backcourt (Ohio State’s three guards combined to play 62 minutes) meant that old friend and current traitor Andrew Dakich had to play down the stretch. The former Wolverine found Keita Bates-Diop on an entry pass, Michigan fouled, and the wing calmly knocked down two free throws to extend the lead to 63-60. Ohio State ended the game making all eight of their free throws; Michigan found an insignificant two points on a Charles Matthews dunk. After the Buckeyes extended their win streak to six over the Wolverines on the gridiron with a backup QB, it was a former Michigan walk-on that helped put the nail in the coffin on the hardwood.

There’s a lot to be pleased with, especially the first half of both road tests and the thorough domination of the Hoosiers. But losing a game in Columbus that Michigan had complete control over before the Buckeyes went on a 16-0 run is disheartening for a team that has legit NCAA Tournament aspirations. With that, let’s get to the awards for the week:

MVP of the Week: Moritz Wagner

Lost in the shuffle of an otherwise disappointing week is how quietly efficient Moritz Wagner has been. The junior was phenomenal against UNC going 9-13 for 20 points and nine rebounds in 34 minutes in a hostile environment. He followed that up with 13 and seven against Indiana, and 14 and nine against Ohio State. He shot 56% over the week and averaged 8.3 rebounds over the three games, a major improvement in both categories from past years. With Charles Matthews going through a bit of a funk (24 points in those three games), it’s great to see Wagner stepping up despite extra attention being paid to him.

Surprise of the Week: Jordan Poole

While Poole had another one of those “Oh, that’s why Beilein brought him in games” against Indiana, he was rather absent in two Michigan losses. Poole looked overwhelmed in North Carolina, only finishing 1-6 with four points. On Monday, Poole could have helped settle down Michigan’s offense against the Buckeyes. John Beilein elected to go elsewhere, only giving the freshman eight minutes where he finished 2-5 with five points. Duncan Robinson has been noticeably absent the last few weeks, and Poole’s bounce and shooting could have been a major spark against Ohio State. Does Beilein not trust the freshman in road games just yet? Regardless, it was frustrating not to see him get extra run when Michigan needed baskets.

Moritz Wagner Play of the Week:

Since Matthews had a pretty lackluster week, we’re changing this up so Wagner gets his due. The 7-footer has some pretty incredible ball-handling skills, and this video is no exception. Here’s Wagner carving up the Indiana defense, sweeping it through his legs on the way to the basket for an easy layup. Don’t expect Wagner to pull something like this every week (though he LOVES the behind-the-back dribble), but enjoy it this week.

The Week Ahead

Because of the bizarre early Big Ten scheduling to accommodate the Big Ten Tournament in New York, Michigan already got two of their 18 conference games out of the way and returns to the non-conference portion of the schedule. This week does no favors to Michigan as they welcome UCLA to Crisler Center. The Bruins have had an up-and-down season, including the adventures and LiAngelo Ball and friends and UCLA’s tilt against Montana being cancelled due to severe wildfires in the Los Angeles area. On the court, the Bruins are 7-1 with victories over two future Michigan opponents: Wisconsin and Detroit-Mercy.

After Saturday’s game, Michigan flies across the country to visit recruit finalist Mohamed Bamba and Texas. The Longhorns have been solid this season, accumulating a 6-2 record with their only losses to NCAA Tournament teams Duke and Gonzaga. Bamba has been as good as advertised, averaging a double-double in 28 minutes and a mind boggling four blocks per game. This will be an unbelievable test for Moritz Wagner to go against one of the country’s best centers, and Texas will be out for revenge after the Wolverines clipped them 53-50 last season.

With the rest of the non-conference schedule pretty weak following these two games, Michigan will be champing at the bit to pick up two signature wins against high-major opponents. I’d suspect Michigan goes 1-1 on the week, beating UCLA pretty convincingly and losing a close one to Texas, but two wins would have Michigan feeling pretty good despite the losses last week.