Wolverines look to rebound Sunday against Rutgers
Suddenly, the feeling around the Michigan basketball team has changed.
Just a week ago, the 23rd-ranked Wolverines (5-2 Big Ten, 16-4 overall) jolted themselves into the national conversation with a victory over then-No. 4 Michigan State in East Lansing. But in the two games since, the Wolverines haven’t looked the same.
On Monday, it took a perfect in-bounds play and two clutch free-throws from senior guard Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman to save Michigan from a complete collapse against Maryland.
Sluggishness again bled into its play three days later, and this time, there would be no chance for last-second heroics. Behind a ruckus crowd, a hungry Nebraska dominated from start to finish for a 72-52 win. It was the Wolverines’ largest loss since 2015.
“We were all frustrated, I hope we were frustrated,” said Michigan coach John Beilein on Thursday. “We were disappointed, but we understand we were beaten by a better team that day.”
The Cornhuskers were strong in almost every facet, while the Wolverines reverted to old habits. The first-half turnovers that irked Michigan at the end of non-conference play came back — nine giveaways allowed Nebraska a double-digit lead at the half.
“(The turnovers) are unexplainable,” Beilein said. “I don’t know what we were doing a few times.”
Outside the giveaways, the Wolverine offense sputtered, shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor. Much of that can be attributed to Nebraska’s switching on screens, forcing Michigan guards to make plays off the dribble.
They couldn’t consistently, leading the Wolverines’ lowest scoring output of the season, 52 points.
“That’s not a lot for a whole basketball game,” said redshirt junior guard Charles Matthews. “When you don’t make shots they make shots, on the road especially, that’s just tough, man.”
Added Beilein: “People switching every screen, I mean every screen, it comes down to 1-on-1 matchups. We’ll find something to get more than 50 next time when we play Nebraska.”
Michigan could finish with a similarly lackluster total this Sunday. Rutgers (2-5, 12-8) possesses a stronger threat than its record indicates.
The Scarlett Knights are one of the country’s strongest defensively, averaging nearly eight steals and 62.2 allowed points-per-game — good for 12th-best nationally.
On Jan. 10, that defense held Michigan State to just 59 points in regulation, as Rutgers nearly pulled off the upset in an eventual overtime loss.
“That’s the most physical team we’ve played,” said Spartan coach Tom Izzo afterwards.
Still, that physicality hasn’t translated to buckets at the other end. The Scarlet Knights score less than any team in the Big Ten, averaging below 70 points a contest.
Double-digit scorers in guard Corey Sanders and Geo Baker comprise Rutgers’ most potent offensive threats. Its frontcourt, meanwhile, pairs two 6-foot-10 Africa natives in Issa Thiam and Mamadou Doucoure.
That size could give the Wolverines troubles on the interior, as Nebraska’s did.
“We were trying to make feeds inside,” Beilein said. “We couldn’t utilize any height advantage inside.”
Still, Sunday’s matchup gives Beilein’s group a chance to flash the resilience its shown all year. Even with quick turnarounds in a challenging schedule, the Wolverines have yet to lose back-to-back games.
But as Michigan’s recent stretch indicates, that can change quickly.