Michigan is going through the roughest stretch of their season. The murderers row that is the Big Ten schedule, has not been kind to the Wolverines, who have lost three of their last five games. So, on Sunday when they host a red hot Illinois team, Michigan will be in a huge spot in their season. A loss could really hurt their season’s projection and mark a continuation in their three-week funk, while a win could quickly turn the tides and put them back on a winning streak.
Michigan’s most recent game, a win over Penn State, was nearly as disappointing for them as their prior losses to Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Many expected the Wolverines to respond with some fight, after getting demolished at Michigan State, but they instead won in a lethargic, sloppy manner. A Nittany Lion team with zero Big Ten wins was tied with Michigan at half, with Trey Burke once again being the only player being consistently productive.
The trio of high profile freshmen, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas, who were so productive earlier in the season, have really slowed down. Especially in big games, Stauskas and Robinson have struggled. Robinson did bounce back on Sunday, going for 21 points after scoring just two points in the blowout loss to Michigan State.
Stauskas has regressed to the mean, dramatically; having his three point shooting % decrease every month of the season. In February, he has shot just .360 on three pointers, down from .583 in November. In big games he has been ineffective, and his downward trend has to be alarming for Michigan fans. I know they are both true freshmen, but the Wolverines can’t reach their potential without Robinson and Stauskas picking up their level of play.
Tim Hardaway Jr. has also been in a rut, having scored just 10 points in their last two games. He has made just four field goals since he hit the big three pointer against Wisconsin, before the Ben Brust half-court buzzer beater. As much as Michigan needs Stauskas and Robinson to play better to go deep in the tournament, it won’t matter how they do if Hardaway does not play well. I am sure he will come out of his funk, as this has been his worst two game stretch of the season by far.
Burke can only carry the Wolverines so far, that is what their last five games have shown. He is tremendous, and as dominant as any player in the country, but Burke cannot carry Michigan to their potential if the supporting cast plays poorly.
That all has to start on Sunday against Illinois. If Michigan plays like they have been recently, Illinois will beat them. But, if Michigan can return to their January form of dominance, they can kill the Illini at Crisler tomorrow. Burke is going to play well, he always does, the question is, can Michigan’s supporting cast step up?