Last season’s Michigan Basketball team was a dream from a fan’s perspective. They started the campaign 11–0 and only lost when the season was almost two months old. They only lost again when they were 17-1 and the season had passed more than three months. College basketball isn’t normally like that. Most teams face adversity, hit bumps in the road and don’t walk all over everyone for several months until a key component gets injured. Michigan fans were reminded of that fact tonight. Seton Hall’s 67-65 upset win over the Wolverines at Crisler Center was a good throwback to the reality for the Michigan fanbase about what college hoops normally look like, and the transition costs associated with losing four of your six playables. documents from the previous year.
The easiest way to distil this game is a presentation of two true statements: Seton Hall is an excellent rim protecting team with length on the inside. Michigan shot 3/15 from past the arc on mostly open cans. That’s all you need to know.
Of course, much more happened than just that. In fact, for most of the game, it looked like Michigan was still going to win, despite an offensive performance that capitalized on Seton Hall’s strengths. After taking a lead with 3:34 remaining in the first half, they held it for almost 20 minutes before the Pirates took command again. Michigan led 31-28 at halftime, despite going 0/7 to three in the first half, shooting a total of 39% from the field. They played a great team defense in the first half, forcing Seton Hall into some tough marks, while Michigan’s offense was carried by Eli Brooks and Hunter Dickinson, who accounted for nearly two-thirds of Michigan’s points in the half.
Dickinson helped Michigan in the first half [Campredon]
The Wolverines came out of halftime roaring on an 8-1 run, fueled by lock-down defenses from Brooks and DeVante’ Jones. Dickinson flashed his growing game in the second half with two mid-range open jumpers and eventually Eli Brooks ended Michigan’s 0/11 three-point drought. But every time Michigan started to pull away, Seton Hall came back roaring. The Wolverines led 39-29, 45-34, 52-44 and 57-49 at various points in the opening 13 minutes of the second half, but the wily Pirates had their answer ready at every turn.
Jared Rhoden, Bryce Aiken, and Tray Jackson all made key buckets for Seton Hall to pull them back into the game, and while Michigan got a good defense from its big men and guards, the wing striker—and Caleb Houston in particular—was a significant defensive liability everywhere. As long as Michigan continued to do enough despite the perimeter firing problems, they had a small lead. When the violation stopped, things went wrong.
After Eli Brooks nailed a jumper with just over seven minutes to go, the Maize & Blue scored a total of 8 points in the last 7:09 of the match. That just won’t be good enough to pull it off most nights against a decent to good team like Seton Hall. Michigan struggled to get the ball up the post to Dickinson with regularity, which, coupled with a lack of shooting or on-ball creation from their wing position, left the Wolverines in trouble. Too often they counted on the big man and Brooks to get things done. Those two did for a while. In the end it wasn’t enough. Rhoden and Aiken both moved into threes in the next three minutes and the game was tied at 57 with 4:30 to go.
Eli Brooks was Michigan’s floor general tonight [Campredon]
Michigan regained the lead on a DeVante’ Jones three and then again on an underhanded scoop from Eli Brooks, making the last 62-60 with 2:09 to go. But again Seton Hall came back, this time on Aiken, who fired a step-back shot over Brandon Johns Jr.’s arms. shot to put it at 62. The next two possessions were pivotal and controversial. On the one hand Michigan saw Houston get a decent look but miss, and then Dickinson appeared to be tackled under the basket by Pirates big man Ike Obiagu, but there was no whistle. Seconds later, Jones attempted to sign a charge that the umpires called a blocking foul. Repeatedly, it turned out to be a marginal call. Seton Hall was in the bonus and Aiken went one-on-one, meaning the first only missed the second.
Seton Hall led 63-62 on this point and on the other side Johns missed a shot, but Dickinson grabbed the rebound and fouled. The center stepped to the line and calmed them both down, putting Michigan back at 64-63 with 52 seconds left. Michigan went on to play a great defense for the first 20 seconds of Seton Hall’s subsequent possession, but a terrible decision by Jones to steal cost him a blocking foul. Seton Hall was now in the double bonus and Aiken didn’t miss this time, they nailed them both and the visitors jumped 65-64 with 32 seconds to go.
Michigan made Eli Brooks look good for a floater, which bounced back, but the Wolverines did well to mistake a weak free-throw shooter in Myles Cale, who made only one of the two. Disappointingly, it was Jones who committed the intentional foul, his third in just over a minute and his fifth before the game, disqualifying him from the rest. Michigan turned to Kobe Bufkin for their last chance, a strange possession that ended in Terrance Williams II making a desperate attempt and fouling. The whistle was great for Michigan. Realizing who would have to make the shooter go from the free throw to the line, both with only 0.8 seconds to go, was not the case. Nearly every Michigan basketball fan had a flash back to last season’s Penn State game, when Williams collapsed late at the line. That proved prescient, as the sophomore missed the first free throw, then, to make matters worse, made the second, which he deliberately tried to miss. Game is over.
Heavy night at the office
Overall, Michigan shot 42% from the floor, but only 20% from three. The six-shot gap between Seton Hall and Michigan was more than enough to decide the game. The Wolverines were 10/12 from the line, but one of the two they missed was the main one.
A few conclusions from the game are clear at this point. The returning Michigan starters who played a major role in last year’s squad are exactly what we expected. Dickinson’s 18 points and Brooks’ 17 points carried the team, and both provided an effective defense. It’s the new pieces, the players being elevated to higher roles or new to Michigan, who are arguing. The Vante Jones defense looked good, but is still adapting to a higher level of competition and has made several bad decisions later on.
Brandon Johns Jr. seems to have sunk back into the mental state that has plagued his career, 3/9 from the floor in this one and 0/1 from distance. Caleb Houstan was a horrendous 1/9 from the floor and 0/4 from three, while being completely overwhelmed and losing defensively. Juwan Howard’s decision to drive him 39 minutes (!) is mind-boggling because if he doesn’t engage his three quickly, it’s not clear what he’s giving this team. Between Johns and Houston, Michigan now needs more out of its wings.
It also needs more from the bench, who only had 31 minutes and 9 points in this combined. Kobe Bufkin showed flashes but played only 4 minutes. Terrance Williams II showed his hustle but went 1/5 of the field and missed the crucial free throw. The rotation is far from settled and the pieces have not gelled yet. And the three-point shot, which your author repeatedly emphasized in his seasonal example, can be a problem.
College basketball is a long season, and almost all teams, with the exception of last year’s Michigan team, encounter bumps along the way. This is the first of several that the Wolverines will see this year. It’s been a frustrating night, but the 2017-18 Michigan Wolverines were defined not by their ugly losses in Maui, but by their run to the Final Four in March. This Michigan team, too, will be judged by what happens in the winter and spring, not what happened tonight.
Michigan is now heading to Las Vegas, NV, to play a late night game against UNLV that takes place on Friday night or Saturday morning, depending on the time zone you live in. It’s scheduled to tip at 12:30 p.m. EST, or 9:30 p.m. PST, and airs on ESPN2.