Not long ago, the Michigan Wolverines were ranked in the Top 10 in the country. Suddenly, they find themselves near the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
Michigan (11-7) has dropped three straight games, including a 72-63 home loss to Penn State on Wednesday, while tumbling to 2-5 in conference play.
The Wolverines shot just 35.3 percent from the field against the Nittany Lions, including a 17.9-percent success rate on 3-point attempts. They will try to end their slide when they host No. 21 Illinois at Ann Arbor’s Crisler Center on Saturday.
“We’ve got to win at home in the Big Ten. Since I’ve been a part of here, you’re in contention if you win all your Big Ten games at home,” guard Eli Brooks told the Detroit News. “We can’t forfeit the games coming up, so something has to give at the end of the day. You have to fight through it and take pride in it.”
Michigan won its first seven games, including a Thanksgiving week tournament in the Bahamas. The Wolverines went from unranked all the way to No. 4 after beating then-Top 10 ranked North Carolina and Gonzaga back to back.
Starting forward Isaiah Livers has not played this month due to a groin injury but the Wolverines cannot blame all their woes on that.
Their confidence is shaken but first-year coach Juwan Howard vows his team will not crumble.
“There’s not going to be any doubt in that locker room,” he said. “We will not lose trust in one another. There is a lot of season to be played. You learn from games like this.
“No one said we were going to win every game this season,” he added. “Yes, our goal was to win every game this season. Our goal was to protect home court, have an undefeated record at home but that has not happened. We will continue to keep grinding throughout the process.”
The Wolverines will be looking for a little revenge as well on Saturday. The Fighting Illini handed them their first conference loss this season, 71-62, on Dec. 11.
Illinois (14-5, 6-2) will try to extend a five-game winning streak, all against Big Ten opponents. The Illini’s conference record is their best through eight Big Ten games since the 2005-06 season. Their winning streak is their longest in conference games since Feb. 7-21, 2013.
In their latest triumph, the Illini won at Purdue, 79-62, on Tuesday. They outscored the Boilermakers 50-32 in the second half.
“I don’t know if you can ever count on going 9 of 10 to start the second half, but I thought our guys executed,” coach Brad Underwood said. “All you can ask is for an opposing coach or players to say ‘You guys played really, really hard and out-toughed us.'”
Toughness was the theme throughout the locker room.
“It was amazing to watch that scoreboard and see the time run out to just know that we got a victory,” guard Trent Frazier said. “All week they’ve been saying Purdue this, Purdue that and how they’re the toughest team, how this is the toughest arena. We’re tough too.”
Illinois was the tougher team in the first meeting with Michigan, outrebounding the Wolverines 44-28 and holding them to 3-for-18 shooting from beyond the arc.
–Field Level Media