In a season beyond saving, Michigan had an opportunity to salvage a good day at the very least. The Wolverines were hosting the second-worst team in the league and led by 15 points with 17 minutes to play in the second half.
Rutgers had struggled to make shots, and Michigan had made them. For 23 minutes, everything was going according to plan until it wasn’t. The Wolverines invented yet another way to lose a game and were outscored 37-12 over the final 17 minutes.
They didn’t make another three and only made six baskets over the final 17 minutes of action. Rutgers, a team with one of the worst offenses in the sport, ended the game on an 18-2 run to walk away with a double-digit victory.
It was Michigan’s fifth consecutive double-digit loss and 10th loss in 11 games. The Wolverines fell to 7-15 on the year (2-9 in the Big Ten) and will be underdogs in their final nine games of the regular season as the search for rock bottom continues.
Everyone knows the deal against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights swarm the ball and force turnovers but give up open jump shots. In the first half, Michigan made those jumpers. In the second half, Michigan didn’t.
The turnovers were bad, but the story of the game offensively for Michigan was as simple as making or missing shots. Michigan shot 9-of-18 on other twos and threes in the first half; Michigan shot 5-of-23 on other twos and three in the second half.
That’s how you score .61 points per possession in the second half, and that’s how you lose to Rutgers.
The slump to close the game is hard to pin on any one thing or one player. It felt like everyone on the roster had chances to make simple plays, and didn’t. Nimari Burnett missed a wide-open corner three, Dug McDaniel lobbed passes he shouldn’t have, Terrance Williams II passed up good looks for contested pull-ups, and Jaelin Llewellyn struggled to get the ball across half-court.
There are no answers, only frustration. It’s not one thing; it’s everything. On an individual level, almost every player on the roster is struggling and failing to make winning plays for obvious reasons — and their backup is so much worse that it is nearly impossible to play them.
One stat that is telling in the first half is the rim attempts. Rutgers only scored .84 points per trip in the first half but out-shot Michigan at the rim (8 of 12 vs. 5 of 7).
That rim volume advantage continued in the second half when Rutgers went 10 of 17 on dunks and layups, and Michigan went 4 of 5. If you are getting more than doubled up on attempts at the rim, you aren’t going to win many games.
The combination of that rim volume and a few extra jumpers going down was the difference in the game, combined with horrific defensive rebounding (RU boarded 37% of misses for 18 second-chance points) and transition defense.
Rutgers won the paint battle (40-20), the second-chance battle (18-6), the transition battle (8-2), the points off of turnovers battle (19-4), and, of course, won the game.
Michigan has gone from a bad team to a broken team. There are obvious liabilities why this isn’t a good team. Still, the level of ineptitude since Christmas is a product of a dysfunctional, broken team that has gone wrong beyond anything to do with basketball.
Michigan’s next six games are Q1 games, three away from home without Dug McDaniel, so that should be fun.
- Olivier Nkamhoua: At this point, Nkamhoua sort of is what he is. Thinking of Michigan without him is terrifying, but he isn’t good enough to carry the team. He’s not getting good shots at the rim, he’ll hit a few tough twos, and he’s not great with the ball (5 turnovers) despite clearly wanting to be a good passer. He’s going to give you 15 or 16 points every night, struggles to guard four-out offenses, and that’s that.
- Dug McDaniel: McDaniel was only credited with one turnover, but at least one or two others were the product of his decisions. It feels like every game he’s played since Christmas has essentially been going through the motions.
- Tarris Reed Jr.: Reed finished with 12 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks, and five turnovers. There were some good moments for him, but this is unacceptable at this level. He gets beat down the floor, despite starting the possession at the 3-point line, then steps into play with the ball to turn it over. That’s just not serious basketball at this level.
- Nimari Burnett: Burnett had a big dunk in traffic but otherwise struggled. He was 1-of-6 from deep despite some great looks, and he can’t create anything with the ball against a good defensive team. Burnett has struggled defensively and feels increasingly lost offensively. He shot 36% from three in non-conference play but only 28% in conference games.
- Terrance Williams II: Williams was 0-of-5 from three and seems to have lost his confidence beyond the arc. It isn’t that he missed those five; it is that he passed up three or four other good opportunities from three to drive into a tough turnaround or pull-up long two off the bounce. That felt a lot like 2022-23 Williams.
- Jaelin Llewellyn: Llewellyn hit a three, but it is pretty clear that his handle, burst, and athleticism aren’t there to play at this level. He’s a liability defensively, and Michigan struggles to even get into its offense when he’s on the floor.
- Will Tschetter: Tschetter hit a three and scored five points but also fouled himself out of the first half with two quick whistles. He’s incredibly limited defensively and on the glass because he almost always has to play as a tiny center which isn’t working.
- Tray Jackson: Jackson hit a three, which brings me back to why he hasn’t attempted more threes and seems dead set on trying to drive the ball into traffic repeatedly. I’m not sure, but he’s going to have one of the worst seasons of his career despite moving to a team that was supposed to optimize his role.