Ninth-ranked Michigan rocked visiting Nebraska 82-53 Thursday night at Crisler Center. The win lifted the Wolverines to 25-4 (14-4 Big Ten) to stay within a half-game in the conference regular season title race.
Head coach John Beilein flexed his rotation, as junior forward Charles Matthews (12.8 points a game) sat due to ligament damage in his right ankle. In his absence, Jon Teske, Ignas Brazdeikis and Isaiah Livers picked up the offensive slack by all scoring in double figures.
A pair of freshman in guard David DeJulius and center Colin Castleton also saw significant action, with the latter scoring his first points of Big Ten play. The 6-foot-10 youngster tallied 6 points (11 overall) en route to Michigan’s 43-21 halftime lead over the Cornhuskers.
The Wolverines cruised in the second half on their way to a double-digit rout over the Cornhuskers (15-14, 5-13 Big Ten).
With 2 games left, here’s the Maize and Blue’s conference title outlook:
Michigan Trails In-State Rival Michigan State, Also Purdue
Saturday’s 77-70 loss to in-state rival Michigan State at home put Michigan behind the 8-ball. While Nebraska ended up as a figurative layup, the final two games take the Wolverines to Maryland and then East Lansing on March 9 for the rematch.
This is a tough hill to climb, as the Spartans currently hold home-court advantage while leading in the standings with a 14-3 conference mark. Purdue holds the same record, despite a 19-point loss at Crisler Center back on Dec. 1.
If Michigan wants to take at least a share of the Big Ten, the likeliest road is winning out. Entering tonight, the Wolverines possessed just a 12 percent chance of doing so (according to percentages from Ken Pomeroy).
Tonight’s win boosted those chances by 3 percentage points. Below are the remaining games for the title contenders, as well as the Kenpom projections.
March 3 at Maryland (52 percent, 65-64 win)
March 9 at MSU (29 percent, 70-63 loss)
March 2 at Indiana (77 percent, 72-64 win)
March 5 against Nebraska (90 percent, 77-63 win)
March 9 against Michigan (71 percent, 70-63 win)
March 2 against Ohio State (78 percent, 72-63 win)
March 5 at Minnesota (66 percent, 73-69 win)
March 9 at Northwestern (73 percent, 70-63 win)
Based on those percentages, MSU holds a healthy 49 percent chance of sweeping its last three contests. Matt Painter’s crew in West Lafayette control their own destiny for a co-championship. They have a 37 percent chance of winning their last 3 games, which would force a tie at worst.
Basically, if Michigan sweeps its final 2 opponents, there’s a little over a one-and-three chance it ties for Big Ten title, as Purdue needs to drop one game to draw even.
Since the Wolverines hold the tiebreaker, it would give them a higher seed than the Boilermakers in the Big Ten Tournament, which returns to Chicago on March 13.
Injuries could be Michigan’s undoing late. Matthews’ ankle ailments, as mentioned earlier, contain ligament damage after a MRI scan. Recovery time can sometimes take up to 6 weeks, according to Physio Works.
Additionally, Brazdeikis came up gimpy near the end of the first half. Outside of Michigan’s 5 starters, the only other consistently effective player in the rotation is Livers (44 percent on 82 attempted threes).
With potentially no Matthews and a vulnerable Brazdeikis nearing March Madness, the margin for error is getting thin for John Beilein and company. It would take a lot for the Wolverines to return to the NCAA Tournament final like they did last year versus Villanova.