Following a deflating home loss to Seton Hall last Tuesday, then-No. 4 Michigan Wolverines basketball took a trip to Las Vegas for the Romain Main Event tournament, looking to prove Tuesday was just a fluke.
Its performance over the weekend, however, showed the Seton Hall loss may have stemmed from more systemic issues. The Wolverines were inconsistent from the 3-point line, lacked scoring options and struggled to handle up-tempo, physical opponent play.
Michigan (3-2) leaves Vegas 1-1 looking for answers, but one is without question: The Wolverines aren’t a top-four team in the nation right now.
They have the pieces, but certainly haven’t put them together yet. The weekend in Vegas proved the talented Michigan roster needs time to mesh and develop.
“We just gotta stay the course,” senior guard Eli Brooks said following the 80-62 loss to Arizona on Sunday. “… (We) just lock in to what coach is teaching and we apply it.”
The Wolverines’ outlook seemed bright following their hard-fought 74-61 win over UNLV late Friday night, but their contrasting performance in a blowout loss to Arizona raises questions as to whether this team will be ready to defend its Big Ten championship as conference play looms.
Entering Friday’s contest, improving on a woeful 3-for-15 3-point shooting performance against Seton Hall was a top priority for the Wolverines.
They shot 6-for-19 on 3s vs. UNLV for 31.6% — well below last season’s 38.1% — then cratered Sunday night. U-M shot a dismal 1-for-14 from 3 vs. Arizona, with the basket seemingly looking miles away.
When opposing defenses collapse in the paint to contain Michigan big men — including the team’s leading scorer in 7-foot-1 sophomore center Hunter Dickinson — hitting open 3-pointers off kick-out passes is vital. Should the Wolverines’ long-range struggles continue, defenses can swarm the post more aggressively, nullifying Michigan’s greatest offensive advantage.
Despite the struggles, Michigan coach Juwan Howard’s message is simple.
“When the team shoots open shots, let it fly,” Howard said. “Make or miss, we live with the results … but I encourage my guys to keep shooting.”
Questions on Michigan’s offense extended beyond just the arc. Whether it can find a third scorer to consistently aid Brooks and Dickinson in offensive production is paramount.
On Friday, the Wolverines looked like they may have found that guy. Freshman forward Moussa Diabate — a highly touted recruit known for his athleticism — had a breakout performance. He scored 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting, and was difficult to contain on the glass with four offensive rebounds.
On Sunday, however, he looked like a freshman, scoring four points in 19 minutes. Although his potential is limitless, he has a ways to go in developing it, and the verdict is out on how much time that will take.
Another stellar recruit, freshman Caleb Houstan, also came up short for the Michigan offense over the weekend, totaling 11 points in 66 minutes of play. The Wolverines must find a third scorer who can get a bucket, while also building their cohesion as a unit.
“There were some sets that maybe three guys knew what we were gonna run and two guys didn’t know,” Howard said. “… We had a lot of mental breakdowns.”
Following a weekend that was inconsistent at best and gravely concerning at worst, Michigan has its work cut out as the young season begins to heat up.
It better hope that what happened in Vegas, stays there.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball has more questions after shaky week