Michigan basketball is chasing championships and, after dismantling Wisconsin, looks capable

by 24USATVJan. 13, 2021, 3 p.m. 19
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ANN ARBOR -- Eventually, Michigan is going to lose a game.

There hasn’t been a perfect season in men’s college basketball in more than 40 years, and in the rugged Big Ten, the Wolverines are bound to slip up at some point.

Right now, though, the Wolverines look invincible.

The latest exhibit was Tuesday’s 77-54 win over No. 9 Wisconsin. Like several of Michigan’s recent wins, this one was far more lopsided than the already lopsided score suggests. Michigan led by as many as 40 points.

The game followed a similar script to Michigan’s blowouts of Minnesota and Northwestern last week.

If beating three consecutive ranked teams by at least 19 points seems like some sort of record, ESPN says Michigan is in fact the first team to do that.

“Wow,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said after being told that nugget. “I hope our guys don’t get too high on that.”

As good as Michigan (11-0, 6-0) is playing, Howard knows it means little. Several times this season, including on Tuesday, he’s mentioned his desire to be the last team standing in April.

The Wolverines’ championship goals seem attainable thanks to their focus on the daily grind.

Michigan’s motto this week was “don’t get bored with the basics,” a quote Howard borrowed from Kobe Bryant.

Turnovers had been a problem for the Wolverines. They committed just eight against Wisconsin, their lowest rate in Big Ten play. They shared the ball -- four different Wolverines attempted between 9 and 11 shots and scored in double figures -- and turned simple plays into highlights.

Michigan’s dismantling of the Badgers (and the Gophers and Wildcats before that) went beyond fundamentals.

Michigan made 9-of-16 3s on Tuesday, with six players connecting from deep. The Wolverines blocked five shots in the first nine minutes and finished with eight rejections, their length once again bothering the opponent.

A three-point lead late in the first half became 17 by halftime. A 22-0 run early in the second half made it a blowout.

Michigan has a killer instinct, and sophomore forward Franz Wagner credited the coaches for instilling that mentality. “We keep playing our game no matter if we’re down, up one, or up 25.”

Howard said he could hear the players in the locker room at half reminding each other not to let up, to treat the game as if it were tied. “They’re holding each other accountable,” Howard said.

Big runs can’t happen without getting stops, and Michigan forced the Badgers into their worst offensive performance of the season. Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said Michigan put the Badgers on their heels.

Michigan senior forward Isaiah Livers, who scored 13 on Tuesday, saw Michigan’s defensive potential over the summer, during scrimmages. “I’m trying to get a shot and I can’t get it,” he recalled.

The Badgers shot just 31 percent. Five of their eventual nine made 3s and four of their six free throw attempts came in the final 10 minutes, after Michigan had pushed its lead to 40 points.

Following the win, Michigan moved up to No. 3 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, behind only fellow unbeatens Gonzaga and Baylor.

Howard was pleased with how hard Michigan played on Tuesday but still sees areas for improvement. He’ll earn his paycheck coming up with that list before the next practice.

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