Right now, the Michigan men’s basketball team does not have a tournament resumé.
0-5 in quad one games. 1-4 on the road. And an uncanny ability to be run out of gyms.
But, the Wolverines’ season is not over yet. Far from it actually. With 15 Big Ten games left to play, there are ample opportunities for resumé-boosting wins, the first of which comes Sunday at Assembly Hall where a confident Indiana team awaits. The Hoosiers have won all 12 of their games at home this season and knocked off No. 4 Purdue in their most recent bout.
“I think we’ve got to lock in,” freshman wing Caleb Houstan said. “Everything will come together, I think we can go on a little streak here.”
In order for Michigan to do that, to beat Indiana and get itself a win that can be looked back on as a catalyst, it needs to do something that it hasn’t done yet.
It needs to carry over momentum.
Because the Wolverines have had chances like this before. This isn’t the first time that they have seemingly been trending in the right direction. Just a little over a month ago, they rattled off two wins in a row — their lone road win of the season at Nebraska and their only strong non-conference win against San Diego State — only to have the curtain pulled in an embarrassing home loss to Minnesota.
Will it be any different this time?
Well for starters, Michigan is coming off of just one win — against Maryland — and a “non-losing experience” — at Illinois — according to associate head coach Phil Martelli. And, those games did feel a bit different for the Wolverines. It was something tangible, something more than just simply their outside shots at last falling. It was diving for loose balls, it was fewer defensive breakdowns and it was generally just more optimism.
“I just think our intensity, our level of play has gone up,” assistant coach Howard Eisley said. “We’re more active with our hand defensively, we’re getting more deflections. We really are taking an individual challenge of guarding one on one.”
Intensity and defense typically are things that travel. They can keep a team afloat, even when shots aren’t falling. It’s what kept Michigan in the game against the Illini on Jan. 14.
In the Wolverines’ loss to the Golden Gophers on Dec. 11, they got out-hustled, outplayed and plain beat. They were flat. Games are decided by more than hustle and intensity but, if it’s obvious that the other team wants it more, that makes a difference.
If Michigan continues its recent trend of playing with intensity, especially on defense, then at the very least coming out flat, like it has done so many times this season, won’t be the problem.
But, that would require the Wolverines to do something that they haven’t demonstrated yet. To keep momentum up.
When asked about how they can build on their recent success, Houstan struck a similar tune to Eisley:
“I think just continuing with the intensity on defense, I think it really starts there,” he said. “Our offense can kinda stem from that, just making sure we’re communicating… Just staying intense on defense, communicating, and then just playing free on offense and letting the game come to you.
“And, I think we’ll be good.”