A 53-point performance in the second half on Wednesday night helped lead Michigan to the Legends Classic Final against Arizona State. However, Michigan lost all of its mojo sometime in that 24-hour period. The Wolverines came out uncharacteristically flat on Thursday night, and Arizona State leapfrogged Juwan Howard’s entire team to hand Michigan its first loss of the season in what will be a game Michigan fans hope to forget.
Here are three takeaways from one of Michigan’s worst basketball games in recent memory.
There are five starters for a reason
Kobe Bufkin posted a record-high 14 points in Michigan’s first-round victory over Pittsburgh, but the sophomore essentially played a non-factor in the first half against Arizona State. The 6-foot-4 guard posted an empty stat line, excluding one assist. He shot 0-5 from the floor and couldn’t stack two good nights together. He came alive a little bit in the second half, but he finished with only five points on 1-9 shooting.
Terrance Williams was also absent in the first half. The junior finished the first 20 minutes with an empty stat line. He shot the ball once, missed, and didn’t register a single rebound, assist, block, or steal. The six-foot striker was doing cardio, but that was about it on Thursday night. He finished with four points on 2-5 shooting.
Jaelin Llewellyn also underperformed at point guard. Princeton’s transfer has had a somewhat bumpy transition from the Ivy League to the Big Ten, and things certainly didn’t get any smoother on Thursday night. The 6-foot-2 guard was 2-6 from the floor, 0-3 from distance and he scored five points on the night.
The three starters mentioned above combined for 14 points on the night. Dickinson and Howard carried most of the workload on the night, but trotting out five starters and letting three of them barely feature in the game is no recipe for success.
It was quite surprising to see such a lackluster performance from the team leaders on Thursday after such an attack on Wednesday night against Pittsburgh.
Defense needs to improve
Arizona State scored 46 points in the first half. That should be enough said as a takeaway from this game. Sure, the Sun Devils seemingly couldn’t miss in the first half, and they shot it pretty well in the second half, too, but Michigan’s defense was a concern Thursday night.
The Sun Devils shot 60.4% from the floor and 57.9% from the deep. They had a remarkable shooting night, and it happens. However, Michigan came out flat and it showed. Arizona State jumped out to a 10-point lead less than five minutes into the game and never looked back.
The Wolverines looked sluggish around the perimeter and couldn’t find a defensive rhythm. Even when hand-to-hand didn’t work and Juwan Howard made the zone switch, the Sun Devils were still able to slice up Michigan’s defense.
The state of Arizona turned off the lights tonight, but they are not a college basketball powerhouse. Michigan gets a little break as it hosts Ohio and Jackson State, but if the Wolverines want to compete in the Big Ten and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to have to figure out its defense against teams with even an ounce of talent.
Bad free throw shooting continues to haunt
Michigan stepped it up in the second half, but poor free throw shooting continues to haunt this basketball team. The Wolverines shot 8-15 from the charity line in the first half and they finished the game 14-22 (63.6%) from the free throw line. Meanwhile, Arizona State missed just one of their 12 attempts, which accounted for a 91.7% clip.
Of course, the game was not decided at the free-throw line. Even if Michigan made all of its free throws and Arizona State missed its share, this game still wouldn’t have been close. However, free throw shooting is currently a major concern for Michigan. Below is a full rundown of Michigan’s four-game free throws this season.
Purdue Fort Wayne: 6-9 (66.6%)
Eastern Michigan: 25-40 (62.5%)
Pittsburgh: 12-18 (66.6%)
State of Arizona: 16-24 (66.6%)
Michigan has yet to shoot more than 70% from the free throw line as a team this season. Poor free throw shooting can come back to haunt the Wolverines late into tight games. It almost cost them against Eastern Michigan, but there will no doubt be plenty of exciting games throughout the rest of the season.
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