A 53-point second half performance on Wednesday night helped Michigan to the Legends Classic final against Arizona State. However, Michigan lost all of its mojo somewhere in that 24-hour span. The Wolverines came out uncharacteristically flat on Thursday night, and Arizona State jumped all over Juwan Howard’s team giving 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 the worst Michigan basketball games in recent memory.
There are five starters for a reason
Kobe Bufkin posted a career high 14 points in Michigan’s first-round win over Pittsburgh, but the sophomore was essentially a non-factor in the first half against Arizona State. The 6-foot-4 guard posted an empty stat line, with the exception of one assist. He shot 0-5 from the floor and was unable to stack two good nights on top of each other. He came to life 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 one time, missed, and didn’t record a single rebound, assist, block or steal. The 6-foot-7 forward was getting his cardio in, but that’s about it on Thursday night. He finished with four points on 2-5 shooting.
Jaelin Llewellyn also underperformed at point guard. The Princeton transfer has had a bit of a bumpy transition from the Ivy League to the Big Ten, and it definitely 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 aforementioned starters combined for 14 points on the night. Dickinson and Howard carried most of the workload on the night, but trotting out five starters and having three of them not play hardly any role in the game is not a recipe for success.
It was rather surprising to see such a lackluster outing from the team’s leaders on Thursday after such an onslaught on Wednesday night against Pittsburgh.
Defense needs to improve
Arizona State scored 46 points in the first half. That right there 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 an area of concern on Thursday night.
The Sun Devils shot 60.4% from the floor and 57.9% from deep. They had a remarkable shooting night, and that 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 it never looked back.
The Wolverines looked slow around the perimeter and couldn’t find any defensive rhythm. Even when man-to-man wasn’t working and Juwan Howard made the change to zone, the Sun Devils were still able to dice up the Michigan defense.
Arizona State shot the lights out tonight, but they aren’t a college basketball powerhouse. Michigan will get a little bit of an upcoming 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 will need to get its defense figured out against teams with even a modicum of talent.
Poor free throw shooting continues to haunt
Michigan stepped it up in the second half, but the poor free throw shooting continues to haunt this basketball team. The Wolverines shot 8-15 from the charity stripe in the first half, and they finished the game 14-22 (63.6%) from the free throw line. Meanwhile, Arizona State missed only one of their 12 attempts, which was good for a 91.7% clip.
Obviously, the game wasn’t decided at the free throw line. Even if Michigan had 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 a major area of concern right now for Michigan. Below is a full breakdown of Michigan’s free throw shooting through four games this season.
Purdue Fort Wayne: 6-9 (66.6%)
Eastern Michigan: 25-40 (62.5%)
Pittsburgh: 12-18 (66.6%)
Arizona State: 16-24 (66.6%)
Michigan has yet to shoot better than 70% from the free throw line as a team this season. Poor free throw shooting may come back to haunt the Wolverines late in tight games. It almost cost them against Eastern Michigan, but there will undoubtedly be plenty of tight games throughout the remainder of the season.
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