Michigan basketball hopes Illinois loss will be a fluke after 'horror film' performance

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Michigan basketball always watches film after it plays a game.

On the docket for the Wolverines' next review session: “A horror film,” according to Juwan Howard.

The Wolverines were dealt a nightmare 76-53 loss on Tuesday night at home by an Illinois team that was without leading scorer Ayo Dosunmu (facial injury).

Michigan could have clinched the Big Ten title with a win. Instead, it had its worst offensive outing of the season and second-worst defensive performance, based on points scored and allowed per possession, according to KenPom.com.

[ Michigan basketball draws comparisons to football after ugly loss to Illinois ]

“This is a game truly you can learn from and we will learn from a loss like this, and the type of performance we gave tonight was not acceptable at all,” Howard said. “We’re gonna come in tomorrow, watch film and see what areas where we can improve on.”

Michigan guard Mike Smith dribbles against  Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, left, and guard Jacob Grandison during the second half of U-M's 76-53 loss at the Crisler Center on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
Michigan guard Mike Smith dribbles against Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, left, and guard Jacob Grandison during the second half of U-M's 76-53 loss at the Crisler Center on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.

Illinois outplayed Michigan in just about every facet. The Illini's ball-screen defense shut down U-M's potent offense by utilizing the size of center Kofi Cockburn. With Cockburn playing drop coverage, sagging toward the basket after the screen, Michigan's ball-handlers were funneled into a variety of floaters, mid-range jumpers and difficult layups — a major reason why the Wolverines, who are averaging 54.3% on 2s, were just 15 of 42 (35.7%) on those shots.

“They watched their film,” said Isaiah Livers. “They made adjustments and they hit us first. They came out, jump ball, that first 4 minutes, they hit us first. It was only 2-2, but we weren't ready. We were playing back on our heels. We were being aggressive, but we were taking some, I wouldn’t say within the offense type shots that Coach Howard or Michigan basketball expects.

“They forced un-Michigan-like shots out of us, we took the bait and we just never got back on track, never found our momentum or flow.”

[ Howard: 'Not concerned' about status of Livers' rolled ankle ]

Defensively, the Wolverines jumped out to a great start when Hunter Dickinson forced a pair of early turnovers and a bad miss from Cockburn, one of the nation's top big men. But that quickly evaporated: The Illini brought in off the bench freshman guard Andre Curbelo, whose quickness was a problem. He made five of his first seven shots and scored a quick 11 points (he finished with 17 on 8 of 14 shooting).

Dickinson, meanwhile, picked up his second foul with just over 5 minutes remaining in the first half. He was in the game as Michigan cut Illinois' lead to single digits at the start of the second half, and there was a brief opportunity for a comeback as Cockburn picked up his third foul and exited the game. But on the ensuing possession, Dickinson was called for his third foul while rebounding. When he re-entered the game just over 5 minutes later, Illinois had stretched the lead to 20.

It was an uncharacteristic performance from Michigan. The Wolverines could not generate any quality looks on offense, with four of five starters scoring in single digits. Defensively, Michigan looked a step slow against Curbelo and Trent Frazier, who scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. And the Wolverines struggled to rebound, allowing Illinois to grab 12 offensive rebounds leading to to 22 second-chance points.

Michigan center Hunter Dickinson (1) makes a layup against Illinois center Kofi Cockburn (21) during the first half Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.
Michigan center Hunter Dickinson (1) makes a layup against Illinois center Kofi Cockburn (21) during the first half Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.

“I think they just hit first a lot of times,” said Austin Davis. “We just got outworked on the boards. It’s definitely something that we’ll be able to look at and learn from and improve upon.”

Not to diminish how well Illinois played, but the Wolverines are hoping Tuesday's blowout loss will prove to be a fluke. The postseason is rapidly approaching — and there are two regular-season games against rival Michigan State on Thursday and Sunday, with the Big Ten title still up for grabs.

“It’s definitely gonna sting a little bit,” Davis said. “We’re definitely gonna learn from it, you try to learn from a win or a loss, but obviously a game like this, we have a lot more to learn from. We’re gonna stay together, stay connected and focus up on our next opponent.”

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Michigan Wolverines content.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan hoops knows it must learn from blowout loss to Illinois