On Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines returned home after a tough loss on the road to Illinois on Wednesday night. However, Michigan wouldn’t get an easy matchup to get back on track as the team faced off against the Oregon Ducks, who entered the game ranked in the top 10 nationally. It figured to be one of the biggest matchups of the weekend.
Early on, Michigan struggled out of the gates. The Wolverines couldn’t seem to connect on anything as Anthony Mathis lit it up from deep for the Ducks. By the 7:07 mark, Oregon held a 16-point lead on the road against Michigan. And while the Wolverines did cut it before halftime, Oregon still led 31-23 at the break.
In the second half, Michigan continued its positive momentum. Brandon Johns provided some valuable minutes and David DeJulius provided a boost as well. The Wolverines gradually cut the lead, tied it up, then grabbed the lead with less than 10 minutes remaining.
However, Oregon wasn’t done yet as the Ducks continued to battle. The game went back and forth for the final 10 minutes. A missed buzzer beater pushed it to overtime, where Payton Pritchard put together a great performance and led the Ducks to a 71-70 victory on the road over Michigan.
So, what did we learn?
What We Learned:
1. These slow starts are beginning to look like a trend.
While this game is going to be remembered for the dramatic final minutes of regulation and overtime, fans shouldn’t forget about how things started. Michigan got off to a horrendous start and was fighting behind all afternoon. Not only is overcoming a 16-point deficit a challenge in its own right, but it’s also a physiological burden, as the team has to not only keep pace, but outperform a great opponent for an extended period of time.
All told, Michigan was able to get things close in the final minutes and overtime, but there’s really no debating the slow start cost the Wolverines the win on Saturday. And this isn’t the first game this season where Michigan has started slowly. The Wolverines have now lost three of four games and have gotten off to slow starts in every game.
There’s still a long way to go, but Michigan has to figure out how to start off with more energy out of the gate. Otherwise, it’s going to be tough to keep up with the better teams it will see in the months to come.
2. Brandon Johns is starting to put it together.
While nobody knew what this Michigan team would look like in the offseason with a new head coach in Juwan Howard, we had some idea on how the roster would look given the last few seasons. However, one major wildcard was how some of the returning bench players like Johns would perform. I recall routinely referring to Johns as one of the biggest x-factors for the team this season.
And if Saturday was any indication, things might finally be coming together for the sophomore forward.
Johns wasn’t the only player responsible for Michigan’s comeback in the second half, but he certainly played a significant role in it. He was a monster on the boards all night and single-handedly derailed Oregon’s zone defense. Johns ended up finishing the night with eight points and nine rebounds. If he can keep building on this performance, watch out.
3. Michigan’s going to need more from Jon Teske and Zavier Simpson.
No game is won or loss by a single player, but Saturday’s loss was a tough one for Zavier Simpson, who has largely been Michigan’s do-it-all guard over his career. He ended up finishing with eight points and 11 assists, but he had some frustrating turnovers in the second half and had trouble containing Pritchard all afternoon defensively.
And in a lot of ways, this has been the tale of Simpson’s season so far. He’s had some outstanding play, but has been more inconsistent than we’ve seen in years past. One has to guess a decent hunk of this has to do with the coaching transition from John Beilein to Howard. However, Michigan made some major mistakes in the closing minutes of Saturday’s contest and it certainly had an impact on the outcome.
Teske also had a really quiet night, finishing with just four points and four rebounds. Part of this was Oregon’s defensive scheme, where the Ducks doubled Teske nearly every time he touched the ball. Still, Teske had a tough night and was sitting on the bench for most of the key minutes down the stretch.
We’ll see how Simpson, Teske, and the rest of the Wolverines grow in the weeks ahead, when Michigan gets two weaker opponents before entering Big Ten play. Either way, this team is largely going to ride with its leaders in Simpson and Teske.
Michigan got off to a rough start on Saturday night, came back in dramatic fashion, but fell short in the final minutes of overtime. The loss dropped the Wolverines to 8-3 overall and to just 1-3 over the team’s last four games. It was a frustrating loss, but the team did show a lot of fight in the second half and overtime.
Michigan will now enter an “easier” portion of its schedule with a week off before facing off against Presbyterian at home next Saturday. The Wolverines will be significant favorites.