Coming off one of the most heartbreaking losses of the season, Michigan looked to rebound as it traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to take on the Badgers. It was a must-win affair for the Wolverines, as essentially every game is from here on out at this point in the season.
Michigan didn’t rebound — literally or figuratively — as Wisconsin dominated the offensive glass to send the Wolverines back to Ann Arbor with yet another loss. The Badgers finished with 14 offensive rebounds in the win over Michigan.
Here are three takeaways from the crushing defeat.
Where’s the intensity?
There was about a three-minute stretch late in the first half when Michigan — mainly Hunter Dickinson — seemed to care about winning the game. The first 15 minutes featured lazy offense, defense and a slew of turnovers and poor rebounding, but Dickinson’s late burst of energy gave Michigan the lead at halftime.
Dickinson finished the first half with nine points, and he seemed to be embracing the villain role that associate head coach Phil Martelli coined last season. However, coming out of halftime, Michigan returned back to the lackadaisical basketball that it practiced early on in the game.
Kobe Bufkin had a nice seven-point scoring spurt of his own in the second half, but the Wolverines still lacked intensity as their season remained on life support. If Michigan has any hopes of making noise late in the regular season and into the postseason, it will need to increase the intensity in a major way.
Kobe Bufkin shines
When the season began, it was assumed that Kobe Bufkin would take on a larger role than he had in his freshman season, and he did. But the sophomore has perhaps found a deeper level to his game that not many thought he had prior to the season.
As a freshman, Bufkin averaged 3.0 points per game in just 10.8 minutes of action per game. Now, as a sophomore, Bufkin has established himself as a go-to scorer for Juwan Howard, and the 6-foot-4 guard just about saved the day for the Wolverines on Tuesday night.
It’s early to speculate, and Michigan still has a season to finish, but the odds that Bufkin at least tests the NBA Draft waters continue to increase.
Is winning the Big Ten Tournament the only hope?
Five games remain in the regular season, and Michigan’s season is in full life support mode. The Wolverines are now just two games above .500 (14-12) and the remaining schedule isn’t exactly a cakewalk.
Michigan still has to play Michigan State, Rutgers, Illinois and Indiana, all of which are currently above the Wolverines in the Big Ten standings. It’s obviously highly unlikely that Michigan runs the table, and even if it did, it still likely wouldn’t be a shoo in to make the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, every team in the country if offered a lifeline at the end of the season in the conference tournaments. Each conference tournament champion is awarded with an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, so the chances are never zero, but for Michigan, the chances seem about as close to zero as possible.
The Wolverines will likely have to win the Big Ten Tournament in order to punch a ticket to the big dance.
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