All season, the Michigan men’s basketball team has done one thing consistently: be inconsistent.
Each time the Wolverines claim an all-important win to push the needle in their favor, they come out flat the next game, taking away any momentum that they were building in the home stretch of the regular season.
On Thursday, Michigan (16-13 overall, 10-9 Big Ten) once again failed to claim a second all-important win in a row, falling 82-71 to No. 24 Iowa (22-8, 12-7) on Senior Night at the Crisler Center.
“I’m always disappointed on Senior Night when you don’t get a win,” Michigan acting head coach Phil Martelli said. “… I think a senior would say, ‘I want to go out feeling like a champion that particular night,’ so I’m disappointed that I was not able to deliver for those seniors.”
But the problems the Wolverines had were not exclusive to Senior Night.
Since its Feb. 10 home win against then-No. 3 Purdue, Michigan hasn’t won — or lost — two games in a row. The Wolverines have been stuck in an on-off cycle for nearly a month straight, and it was immediately clear that trend would not be bucked Thursday night.
The Wolverines came out of the gates with porous defense that the Hawkeyes quickly capitalized on. Whether it was star forward Keegan Murray, guard Jordan Bohannon or the remainder of the Iowa cast, the Hawkeyes had their way with Michigan.
“Something that hadn’t been happening to us — (that) had happened earlier in the year but hadn’t happened to us recently — is we didn’t guard the ball,” Martelli said.
Iowa shot a whopping 60% from the field and 70% from beyond the arc in the first half of play. The Hawkeyes’ stellar efficiency — accomplished through a tandem of open looks, blown Wolverine assignments and tough buckets — allowed them to cruise to a 47-30 lead at the half, all but patting down the dirt on Michigan’s grave.
In the second half, the Wolverines appeared to have some modicum of life — something that couldn’t be said of their first half performance. Michigan repeatedly cut into its deficit, feigning signs of a comeback.
Multiple times, the Wolverines reduced Iowa’s lead to just seven, but each time they were plagued by their own mistakes. Michigan constantly shot itself in the foot through untimely turnovers, plain-out missed shots or a blow-bys on the other end that allowed the Hawkeyes to keep it at an arm’s length.
Ultimately, the Wolverines’ mistakes proved too much for them to overcome.
“We were getting a couple of stops as well as scoring,” freshman wing Caleb Houstan said. “So that kind of helped us get in the game. But I feel like it was too little too late.”
The loss comes at a crucial point in the season. Thursday marked Michigan’s second-to-last game of the regular season and the final one with home-court advantage, and the Wolverines failed to secure the victory while squarely in the throes of a battle to make the NCAA Tournament.
A win would have added another Quadrant 1 victory to Michigan’s résumé and all-but assured it to make the Big Dance. Instead, the Wolverines are once again in jeopardy of missing the cut.
“We’re not really trying to look at what other people are ranking us or what they see us as,” senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. said. “… We just know that we have to focus on the next game, our next opponent, and just build from there.”
With each chance Michigan misses out on, its next game amplifies in importance. Now, with an away contest against No. 23 Ohio State the final regular-season opportunity on the Wolverines’ slate, Michigan will need to find a way to come away with a crucial road win.
If it doesn’t, the Wolverines will watch their tournament chances slip ever-further away.
“I’m not a must-win guy until the last game of the year,” Martelli said. “But, we can’t continue this pattern or we’ll be coming home real early in March.”