There’s an obvious reason why No. 25 Michigan struggled last week.
In losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State, the Wolverines’ normally stout perimeter defense allowed a combined 22 3-pointers.
Limiting those good looks from outside will be a point of emphasis when the Wolverines (18-11, 9-9 Big Ten) host Nebraska (7-22, 2-16) on Thursday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“We have to do a better job of having a certain level of focus and making sure that we close all the way to those 3-point shooters,” head coach Juwan Howard said. “I’d rather see a lot of these stickers (3-point shooters) be able to shoot the ball with no air space with a hand-ball contest. But we will improve in that area. I trust we will.”
Prior to last week, Howard’s club appeared to be picking up steam. It reeled off five consecutive Big Ten victories and had held opponents below the 70-point mark in nine consecutive games. During the winning streak, the Wolverines only gave up a combined 21 3-point baskets.
The Badgers racked up 81 points and the Buckeyes scored 77, with each team knocking down 11 shots from behind the arc.
“Everything has got to be better,” freshman forward Franz Wagner told the Detroit News. “Everybody has to be closer to their man, more in his face and more ready to close out to the shooter. … We weren’t ready, we weren’t communicating and not everybody was aware of that what was happening on the floor. If I had an explanation for this, I wouldn’t let that happen. Nobody would on the team.”
Wagner collected his first career double-double at Ohio State with 18 points and 10 rebounds but only one other Michigan player reached double digits in points.
Intensity shouldn’t be an issue against the Cornhuskers on Senior Night at the Crisler Center. Starters Jon Teske and Zavier Simpson and key reserve Austin Davis will be playing their last home game.
The Wolverines also have a road game against No. 9 Maryland on Sunday prior to the Big Ten tournament.
Michigan expects a quick turnaround.
“The confidence is at the same point it was during the five-game win streak because we know we can do it,” Wagner said. “We know we have everything we need. It’s just a matter of if we’re able to show what we can do.”
The Cornhuskers are tied for last place in the league with Northwestern. They’re saddled with a 14-game losing streak, all against Big Ten opponents. That includes a 79-68 home loss to the Wolverines on Jan. 28.
Nebraska had a golden opportunity to end its slide against the Wildcats on Sunday, but woeful free throw shooting led to an 81-76 overtime loss. Nebraska was just 8 of 30 at the line.
The Cornhuskers have only knocked down 58.6 percent of their free throws this season.
“It’s contagious,” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I’ve been around this game long enough, when you miss a few early, it just seems to get in everybody’s head. Tempo gets quick, you don’t trust your stroke. It’s hard. We’ve been shooting better the last five games, about 65 percent. Then to have a night like this where you make a couple more and you’re on the winning end.”
–Field Level Media