Caris LeVert's 25 points ultimately weren't enough [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Oh, it should've been, could've been worse than you would ever know.
Well, you told me about nowhere well it sounds like someplace I'd like to go.
You know it's not going well when the arena staff decides Modest Mouse's "Dashboard" is an appropriate song to play during halftime. With Michigan down 34-19 to Wisconsin at the break, however, the choice proved prescient.
If not for Caris LeVert's 17 second-half points, this game never would've been close, and even the final 13-point margin doesn't capture Wisconsin's dominance. The Badgers raced out to a 14-4 lead as Michigan's familiar defensive woes reared their ugly head, dominated the boards, and pushed the gap as wide as 18 points when U-M went 5:05 without hitting a field goal.
The deficit proved too much to overcome despite LeVert's best efforts. After the sophomore connected on a pair of three throws to cut Wisconsin's lead to three points with 6:16 remaining, Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky answered with a post-up finish. Kaminsky proceeded to take over, hitting his next three shots—including an and-one and a stepback three—to give the Badgers an insurmountable 65-52 edge with just over two minutes left.
Michigan couldn't find an answer all afternoon for Kaminsky, who finished with 25 points (10/14 2-pt, 1/2 3-pt) and 11 rebounds (four offensive). He attacked Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford in the post, caught them flat-footed when he got the ball on the perimeter, and capped it off with that late triple.
While the Wolverines—namely LeVert—found their shot in the second half after going just 7/22 from the field in the first, Wisconsin's major edge in rebounding and turnovers proved to be the difference.
The Badgers coughed the ball up just twice; Michigan had seven turnovers in the first half alone. In a 59-possession slog, those mistakes proved quite costly, especially with Wisconsin generating lots of second-chance opportunities. The rebounding numbers would look much worse if Bo Ryan didn't play it conservative and start sending all five players back with a comfortable lead in the second half.
Wisconsin also prevented Michigan from getting the shots they wanted, especially in the first half. U-M only attempted 16 three-pointers, couldn't get to the rim, and had to settle for a series of long two-pointers. This showed up in the numbers. Nik Stauskas scored 11 points on 13 shot equivalents, going 0/2 from beyond the arc. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin were a combined 1/13 from the field, the only make a meaningless late three from Irvin.
While Glenn Robinson finished with ten points on ten shots and the Morgan/Horford pairing hit 3/4 FGs, the open inside looks that Michigan generated in the first matchup just weren't there. Just five of Michigan's 20 made field goals were assisted; none of those came in the first half.
Dropping a winnable game at home is a big blow to Michigan's chances of winning the Big Ten title outright, but it's far too early to count them out, especially if Michigan State trips up in one of their games (Nebraska, @Purdue) between now and Sunday's in-state battle at Crisler.
Make no mistake, though: this was a blown opportunity, and the state of the defense isn't pretty. After ceding 1.28 points per trip to Wisconsin, Michigan ranks 10th in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency, 11th in eFG% against, and 9th in both turnovers forced and defensive rebounding. If there isn't improvement between now and the postseason, there won't be much madness in March for Michigan.