Gopher Nation laid it out pretty simply in his post a couple of weeks ago: there are three remaining absolute, no doubt about it, nothing else is acceptable must win games. You need at least one and more likely two wins out of the remaining games, but there are three that if you lose you might as well just pack it in. This is one of them. And it's the most dangerous.
Michigan is just 11-12 and has lost to Indiana, Utah, and Boston College and been swept by Northwestern, but you really just can't sleep on this team. This is essentially the same team that went 21-14 last year and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They also have Manny Harris, who is still incredible and still opened the season with a triple-double. It's still mind-boggling how bad they are, although keep in mind they did beat UCONN last month.
Obviously, I'm a bit worried here. Let's just get on to the five questions that I know you are so desperate to read
1. What's wrong with Michigan? Well I sort of broke this down a little bit with a post last week, but in a nutshell they are extremely reliant on the three point shot, but can't make it. They are twelfth in the country in the % of their field goal attempts that come behind the line, with 43.5% of their attempts being three-pointers, but they shoot a terrible 28.9% from there. How bad is that? It's 324th in the country and last in the Big Ten.
The best team in the country is Marquette at 42.4%, which means if the two teams played and only shot three-pointers and each got exactly 60 possessions and there were no turnovers or offensive rebounds, Marquette would win 76-52. That's bad. And since Beilein is apparently incapable of altering his offensive strategies to fit his players, they lose. And lose. And lose.
2. But Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims were going to be the Big Ten's answer to the Shaq & Penny from NBA Jam. What happened? Actually those two have been excellent. His scoring is up a bit while his rebounding and assists are down slightly, but his turnovers are down as well and he's really upped his steals. He has also improved his overall shooting, and outside of his three-point accuracy going from below average to "god awful", he's been every bit as good as expected and ranks in the top 10 in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.
Sims has increased his production in pretty much every metric and kept his shooting percentages nearly identical to last year, and ranks in the top six in the conference in both scoring and rebounding. He's not the problem either.
Stu Douglass is shooting less than 32% from the floor this year. Laval Lucas-Perry is playing 25% more minutes this year compared to last year, but is scoring less and turning it over more. Zack Novak, maybe the most likely candidate to jump into third banana status, has stagnated/regressed, and is shooting just 28% from three. Freshman Darius Morris has proven to be almost zero offensive threat, with more turnovers so far this year than made field goals.
Harris and Sims are going to be major handfuls, but if one of these clowns gets off and has a big game, it could be a long, long night.
3. So are the Wolverines the most disappointing team this year? If it wasn't for the baby blues down in Chapel Hill, I'd say yes for sure, but it's hard to beat a Carolina team that was expected to be a sweet 16 type team but is struggling to even make the NIT for disappointment. Using my handy-dandy Athlon preview magazine as a guide, we could put Oklahoma up in that range as well, since they were also picked as a sweet 16 team but are going to be lucky to make it to the NIT. Toss in UCLA and (for me at least) Cincinnati and you have a hell of a starting five of disappointment.
4. Gopher pick to click? Which Gopher(s) can we expect to come up big? Other than none of them, you mean? Well, if I have to pick somebody I'm going with Hoffarber. Although the Wolverines season-long numbers don't show them particularly deficient at defending the three, they've been shredded lately, allowing 52% to Wisconsin and 50% to Northwestern last week. They allowed Jason Bohannon of all people to go off for 18, and he's a poor man's Hoffarber, so I'd expect the real deal (not J.D. Durbin) to have an even bigger night. The Wolverines are not a deep team, and it takes a lot of effort and energy to keep defending the perimeter when you're playing 35+ minutes.
5. So what do we think? Normally I'm pretty pessimistic, and normally I'd probably pick a Michigan win here. In fact, I was pretty sure I was going to be predicting a Wolverine win. Yet instead, I believe I will listen to the words written oh so elegantly on the ample rumps of the lovely young lasses below: F Michigan.
Minnesota 67, Michigan 66.
In any case, I predict the Gophers control the game most of the way and collapse in the last five minutes. In this case, I think they manage to pull it out.