The Michigan men’s basketball team’s season thus far can be easily summed up in one word:
The preseason No. 6 team in the country and favorites to win the Big Ten are now scraping along at 7-7, sitting on the outside of the NCAA Tournament bubble and having lost three-straight conference games.
“Look, every win is not a winning experience,” associate head coach Phil Martelli said Monday. “And every loss is not a losing experience. Friday night was not a losing experience — it was just a loss.”
But there’s only so far that “non-losing experiences” can take a team. Despite his amiable tune toward Friday’s loss, Martelli knows that effort alone will not be enough for his team to turn the downward spiral of its season around.
“Whenever you’re in a situation in sport,” Martelli said. “And the other guys, the other team, the other coaching staff says to you, ‘You really played hard.’ What they’re really saying — that’s coach speak — what that really means is ‘You weren’t good enough tonight.’
“We weren’t good enough Friday. We weren’t good enough in basketball.”
When it comes down to it, Friday wasn’t the first time the Wolverines weren’t good enough in basketball en route to a loss. Of course, sometimes other teams are simply better, but Michigan has shown time in and time out that its own shortcomings have directly led to its downfall.
Case in point: After trailing by as many as 16 points, the Wolverines found themselves down six with four minutes to go against Minnesota in December. They had scored 10 straight and the momentum had swung in their favor, but a series of missed shots and defensive lapses ultimately led to their downfall. Or against Central Florida, when Michigan’s defensive inability in a five-minute span led to the Knights putting them away. Or Rutgers, when a slow start kept the Wolverines out of the game for the remainder of the night.
Now, in the thick of Big Ten play, Michigan has to play better basketball — and quickly — if it wants to amount to anything this season. The remedy it needs, however, is something it can only gain by playing more games.
“I’d probably say the (problem is) the lack of experience that we have as a group,” sophomore forward Jace Howard said. “I was thinking about it last night. We only have three players that really played last year on this team.”
But the schedule, and the game of basketball, don’t care about whether a team has experience or not. Over the course of the next five games, Michigan will have to find a way to gain its footing by not only acquiring experience, but producing wins. Playing against the No. 13, 7, 10, 3 and 9 teams in the Big Ten, the Wolverines have the opportunity to gain some inertia. Realistically, Michigan needs to take four out of those five to stay afloat.
Still, Howard has confidence that he and his teammates have what it takes to make the turnaround.
“We’re only four games into Big Ten play,” Howard said. “And it still shows that this will be a team that could still be very competitive by the time late February early March hits. And that’s why I feel like we haven’t given up.”