The Wolverines are coming off of their first loss of the season, to rival Ohio State. They had the opportunity to be the no. 1 team in the country with the win, and now find themselves potentially out of being a no.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament at this point. They really had a golden opportunity in Columbus that they squandered.
Michigan’s best players played horribly for most of the Ohio State game, with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. combining for just 9-28 on field goal attempts, and 3-11 on three pointers. The entire team played poorly on offense, partially due to their horrid shot selection. Michigan shot just 6-30 from three point range, with them missing 6 consecutive threes down the stretch, as Ohio State pulled away. Defensively, Michigan was not bad against Ohio State. They gave up too many fast break points early, but settled in to a groove in the second half, limiting the Buckeyes to 22 points.
Michigan still has all of the talent of a top team in the country. They just did not show the composure or intelligence to match that talent against Ohio State. The first loss always stings more for a team the later in the season it happens. However, Michigan can’t afford to dwell on what could have been, because this Minnesota game is what really is. They cannot afford to lose this game, as that would not only be two losses in a row, but also put doubt in to whether Michigan is alone at the top of the conference with Indiana (although Indiana is doing the same to themselves).
Even though Minnesota is coming off of a loss, they are still on an upswing. Their loss came at the hands of Indiana, in what became a close game after Indiana dominated the first half. However, that is just their second loss of the season, the other coming from Duke.
Minnesota has a chance here to show they are as good as anyone in the Big Ten. Michigan and Indiana are the class of the conference, but the Big Ten is so strong that that can change at anytime. The Gophers have as physical of a front-court as anyone, matching Rodney Williams with Trevor Mbakwe. This could certainly cause trouble for Michigan, especially with Minnesota’s home-court advantage.
Michigan has to be considered the favorite tonight, but this game looks a lot more closer now than it did in October. These are two top ten teams in the country, fighting for potential Big Ten supremacy From what we have seen in a small sample size of conference play, Michigan and Minnesota are two of the best three teams, along with Indiana. Wisconsin could add themselves with the mix, if they continue to play as well as they are. It is hard to call any game in January a must win, but this would certainly be nice for both teams. Michigan can’t continue its slide and Minnesota has a chance to make a real statement and challenge the perceived Big Ten hierarchy.