There was a moment deep in the second half that illustrated Michigan’s offensive struggles as well as any.
Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson held the ball in the post, surrounded by swarming hordes of Tarleton State players — a common occurrence Wednesday night. He had no outlets, nowhere to go.
This was due, in part, to the Wolverines’ complete lack of spacing. Generally their spacing hasn’t been very good in a normal possession — a general lack of outside shooting is to blame for that — but this one exaggerated the effect.
Freshman forward Caleb Houstan stood at the top of the key, and literally right next to him was fifth-year guard Eli Brooks. Brooks frantically motioned to Houstan to move out more and stand on the right wing where there was ample space. By the time Houstan got the picture and put some distance in between him and Brooks, though, it was too late.
Dickinson made an errant pass since no one was open, adding another turnover to Michigan’s tally. It finished with 21.
“Some of the passes that we were making were, I would say in a respectful way, mindless. Forcing when it wasn’t available,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said.
But turnovers aren’t everything. There’s also no rhythm, drives that lead to nowhere except a pack of defenders and a general lack of creativity in the halfcourt.
A common occurrence on Wednesday night were offensive possessions that were stymied immediately as the Wolverines crossed the halfcourt with multiple players in purple rushing the ball handler. Oftentimes, this would push Michigan out of rhythm and the Wolverines would watch the shot clock drain as they played hot potato with the basketball five feet from the 3-point arc.
Instead of working the space to generate an open shot, they would typically have to settle for one of their guards taking a few dribbles and driving into traffic to hoist up a contested shot.
“Slowing down a little bit,” Houstan said in response to how they needed to do a better job against the Texans’ pressure. “Making the easy pass, not always the homerun play… Making the right pass instead of trying to make the big play.”
Only once Tarleton State closed the gap to three did Michigan slow down and its offense look dangerous — finally giving the Wolverines an ounce of breathing room.
Consecutive possessions found swarms of Tarleton State players rushing to Michigan’s ball handler. But, instead of throwing out a forced pass, the Wolverines broke down the Texan’s defense with multiple passes leading eventually to a dunk by either Dickinson or freshman big man Moussa Diabate.
But, in large part, those possessions of fluid basketball were the exception for Michigan, not the norm.
The norm, of course, was a turnover.
The Wolverines actually had one of their better shooting days: They shot 55% from the field and 33% from three. Neither numbers instantly jump off of the page, but for Michigan both are over its season averages. It was just the fact that it attempted 18 fewer shots than Tarleton State throughout the game because of how many possessions ended with turnovers.
If the Wolverines can channel what it found at the end of the game — look for the easy pass, remain calm — most of those offensive struggles will disappear. Instead, Michigan will string together multiple possessions with quality looks and run away from teams.