The Michigan men’s basketball team sits at a crossroads. Two separate paths — dramatically different — lay ahead of it.
The Wolverines almost veered down one of them at home Tuesday against Nebraska when they trailed late in the game to the Big Ten’s worst team. But, heroics from sophomore center Hunter Dickinson kept them afloat, just barely in control of the outcome of their season.
While Michigan narrowly avoided what would’ve been a catastrophic loss to the Cornhuskers, what’s next is still up in the air.
Starting Saturday, the Wolverines will play four games in eight days, two of which will be against a top-10 Purdue team, another a quad-one opportunity at home against Ohio State and the fourth a road game against pesky Penn State.
It’s the type of stretch that will likely determine Michigan’s season.
“Hopefully we can win all the games, honestly that’s the goal,” graduate guard DeVante’ Jones said of the stretch. “It’s one game at a time though, so right now, rest tomorrow, come back Thursday, get a good practice in, and hopefully we can get the win on Saturday.”
Beating the Boilermakers on the road would certainly help the Wolverines’ case for the NCAA tournament and would catapult them back on the path that they were on before the Michigan State loss. At the same time, it would be their biggest win of the season by far, and an unlikely one.
So then it becomes all about looking past Saturday. While four games in eight days would be hard against any opponents, Michigan’s stretch just so happens to include three games against the Big Ten’s elite. If the Wolverines lose three of the four, they will be set down the path that doesn’t lead towards an NCAA tournament bid. If they can grab two of the four, they will be exactly where they’ve been:
At the bare minimum, this next stretch presents an opportunity to pick up more quad-one victories, a commodity that Michigan desperately needs.
“I just feel like if we put together a full 40 minutes, we’re a hard team for anybody in the country,” Dickinson said after the Nebraska game. “I think there are some games (such as) today that we just have a couple of lapses for a stretch that can break the game open for the other team. Luckily today we had the halftime to come back and readjust. But, next time we might not be as fortunate.”
The Wolverines will most likely not have the margin of error in any of their upcoming games that they enjoyed against the Cornhuskers. They will not be able to sleepwalk through first halves and sit their best player for large stretches of the game.
It’ll be a tall task for Michigan to put together a full 40 minutes for multiple games in a row, especially with minimal rest in between. A team without bench production that has struggled to find consistency has its work cut out for itself over a stretch like this.
Still, the possible reward is high. Only now the risk is greater. And the margin of error for the Wolverines is just so slim.
This is something that Dickinson is keenly aware of. He put it bluntly:
“At this point, we can’t lose any game, pretty much. We have a very small window for error.”