Wolverines begin “soul-searching” after another blowout loss

Zach Shaw

After a successful January, the Michigan basketball team managed to pour out every ounce of momentum it had on the Crisler Center court less than a week into February.

In back-to-back blowout losses, the Wolverines went from borderline Big Ten title contenders to the NCAA Tournament bubble watch in a matter of days. Empty possession after empty possession highlighting a handful of issues.

Everything was set up for Michigan, too, but it didn’t matter: A packed arena, national TV coverage, ranked but flawed rivals that could pad the Wolverines’ resume. In fact, the only thing that didn’t show up was Michigan’s pulse.

The Wolverines were on the tail end of high school-type runs (28-0 against Indiana, 26-6 against Michigan State), and looked broken as a top-50 team could look on both offense and defense.

“You’ve got them laughing at us on our own home court,” said junior forward Zak Irvin. “These past two games, teams have just punked us.”

In addition to missing on the signature wins they needed, the Wolverines (7-4 Big Ten, 17-7 overall) are now scratching and clawing for answers months after those answers were supposed to be in place.

Though not ideal, Michigan’s desperate search for answers lends to a few diagnoses. After Saturday’s game, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo excused his colleague and Michigan coach John Beilein, noting that teams can become inconsistent without senior leaders to provide heart (Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert remain sidelined with injuries); players such as Irvin openly discussed a lack of mental toughness and courage on the court; Beilein shut down both theories, instead citing a lack of basketball abilities and brainpower to stay in games.

As absurd as it seemed just a few days ago, all three are correct. Through depth, skill and consistency, Michigan experiences a substantial dropoff without LeVert. The Wolverines looked out of both games as soon as the wheels began to fall off and the Spartans looked superior against every defensive set or offensive effort Michigan tried out.

“We’ve got to get better,” Beilein said. “We just have to get better through improvement, maturation, through our guys getting older and avoiding injuries. Then we can play. It’s really hard right now against teams like this.”

Added Irvin: “We just really need to do some soul searching and get back on track. It’s been a tough week for us. No one is going to feel sorry for us.”

Poor timing can also be added to the list of Michigan’s woes. The Wolverines don’t get much time to find answers, and still have games against No. 4 Maryland, No. 5 Iowa and No. 18 Purdue and road bouts against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

A home game against Northwestern theoretically provides a cushion, but after the Wolverines’ performances against the Hoosiers and Spartans, no games are gimmes anymore.

“This is going to be a real test of our guys and how tough we are,” Beilein said of the final stretch of the season. “What we’re going to do and, win or lose, how we’re going to grow from it.”

Michigan is as lost as ever at an inconvenient time to be lost, and needs to find the way out before the season falls apart.

For better or for worse, it doesn’t have a way out. It has three.

“You get knocked down, and now somebody just stepped on your head, what are you going to do?” Beilein said. “We’re going to have to work hard and get that back.”

  • CZGuy99

    Lack of floor leadership is key. Through no fault of their own, Caris and Spike cannot lead from the bench. Somebody needs to step up and grab the rest by the cahones and say “Hey…. we are MICHIGAN! Act like it!” I would hope their is a players only meeting scheduled.

  • section13row15

    A couple things…Michigan has no consistent way to score points. Everything has to be manufactured through the sets. Second, they simply lack defensive awareness on shooters. Over-helping on screens, bad switches, you name it, we have a huge problem.

  • Michael S. Bennett

    At one time I had hopes of Michigan fighting its way through the B1G, landing a spot in the Dance, getting to the Elite 8 or even the Final 4, then meeting UVa. While UVa recovered from a glitch (3 road losses to minor league ACC teams), UM just doesn’t have the ball-players. or the mental toughness, or the desire/hunger to win the way UVa does. So UVa will be in the field and UM can go to the NIT if it is lucky enough to get 3 more wins. While they may beat Minnesota and Northwestern, the rematches against Purdue, Maryland, and Iowa all look like blowout losses. Even Ohio State and Wisconsin appear to be more possible losses than wins. So UM loses 5 of its last 7, and that ends the run. The team has known it was going to have to play without LeVert for a long time—they just cannot get that idea through their thick heads. Time to “man up” UM, if you have any real men left on your team. Why not just keep feeding Robinson and let him shoot all the 3’s he wants to. He is a better choice than either Walton Jr. or Irvin or Dawkins.

  • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

    “We just have to get better through improvement, maturation, through our guys getting older and avoiding injuries.”

    It sounds like Beilien is fed up with the injuries. Sorry, but you can’t get this badly injured every time you step on someone’s foot. The great ones will themselves through injuries and just manage themselves to avoid them.

    Given Beilein’s tone, its starting to feel like Levert is healthy enough, but doesn’t want to or isn’t willing to risk it. There was “very knowledgeable” intel that Caris Levert was going to play. Sooner or later you have to play. You can’t just rest on your laurels. Getting to the NBA shouldn’t be the end goal, but going into the NBA with momentum and honed skills to help you be more ready for the grind and competition is what you need. Hoping to perform well in workouts will get you drafted and to “make the NBA”, but playing actual basketball and getting better will give you the chance to have a “NBA career.”

  • Doctorbusiness-TrebLe

    What it comes down to is this: When challenged, Real Men step up! Along with UM’s lack of senior leadership, we have no physical toughness, (outside of Walton and Irvin) on the team! Check the stats, we are out manned, at the power positions that matter for winning programs! Man up BLUE!

  • Jam05

    We (Michigan) Just don’t have the Talent. …for big Ten Basketball. …..we have No Athletic Bigs…..we bring on to many Projects hoping 1 day they will be good……Every lost we have are against team with just better athletes. ..it confuses me how a great University With big time sports doesn’t have top talent. ……I Question The Coachs Recruiting. ….we got lucky with trey burke…..but none of these guys are highly rated Nationally. ….JMOP

    • Chris De Sana

      Probably got a little lucky with THjr and Nik as well.