It’s definitely raining on the boat that is the Michigan men’s basketball season. Now the only thing left to be seen is whether the Wolverines will jump ship or grab buckets and start bailing water.
Michigan (3-4 Big Ten, 12-9 overall) is coming off Saturday’s embarrassing 84-55 road loss — its fourth consecutive, making the longest such streak of the season.
The Wolverines will return home tonight to take on Minnesota (4-3, 14-6) in what some people are grumbling might already be a must-win game for the Wolverines.
“I do think, obviously, it’s an important game, from a lot of different areas for our team,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I’m sure if you’re Minnesota, you’re looking at it as a winnable road game … Both teams are looking at it as an opportunity to win a conference game.”
After allowing Purdue to notch its first win in conference play, the Wolverines are trying to avoid falling out of the action in the Big Ten. What could have earlier been considered an easy stretch in the schedule has suddenly become a series of games that Michigan has to win to keep its hopes up for an NCAA Tournament appearance.
“We came back (Monday) and told coach some things we wanted to do, and he agreed with a lot of things,” sophomore Brent Petway said. “We all came out with our heads up and had a great practice (Monday). And we are just ready to turn it up and get a win (tonight).”
But the Wolverines will have to do more than change their attitude just to pull out a win at Crisler Arena. Sunday’s thumping in West Lafayette was more than just a few minor setbacks. At the game’s end, it looked as if Michigan would need a total overhaul to get back on track.
Offensive rebounding may be one of the biggest problems that the Wolverines need to remedy. Opponents have garnered at least 11 offensive rebounds in Michigan’s last five games.
“We can’t let them get those easy offensive rebounds,” junior tri-captain Graham Brown said. “That’s what has been killing us.”
The Golden Gophers are currently fifth in the conference in offensive rebounding at 10.95 per game. If Michigan can hold that number down, it just might show signs of improvement.
But despite all the negatives Michigan has to improve on this week in practice, Amaker and his staff actually wanted to highlight the positives that they could take from the loss at Purdue.
“We wanted to pull all the positives things that we felt that we did do well, and we wanted them to see that,” Amaker said. “So we wanted them to see what we want done. I think it’s more important to see what we want to have happen as opposed to … the things they didn’t do very well.”
Michigan’s bench play is one thing that has worked for the Wolverines. Nonstarters scored 26 of Michigan’s 55 points. Junior forward Chris Hunter led the way off the bench with 11 points.
While Michigan has brought a balanced scoring attack to the table, the Golden Gophers have rallied behind two players. Minnesota has nine freshmen on its roster, and the play of junior Vincent Grier and senior Jeff Hagen has held the team together. Grier averages 16.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while Hagen adds 11.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
The pressure is on to keep pace with the rest of the Big Ten, and tonight’s game may be a good barometer for just how good the Wolverines can be.
“(Tonight) will be a good opportunity for us to come out and get a win,” sophomore Dion Harris said. ‘We have nine games left.”