LINCOLN, Neb. – Never, ever judge a college basketball team in November.
No team will ever embody that principal more than the 2019-20 Michigan Wolverines. After sprinting out to an impressive 7-0 start the first month of the season, Michigan was ranked No. 4 in the country and among early consideration for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Since then, the proverbial house of cards has come crashing down to the tune of eight losses in 12 games, including back-to-back home slip-ups last week. Now Juwan Howard’s team is perched precariously on the edge of the tournament bubble.
On Tuesday, all of Michigan’s demons will collide.
Most notably, the Wolverines face their sixth true road test of the season. Individually, the first five have been disappointing. Cumulatively, they’ve been disastrous. Michigan is 0-5 in those games with an average margin of defeat north of 11 points.
Nebraska is by far the worst team Michigan has seen on the road this season. The Cornhuskers, themselves under a new head coach in Fred Hoiberg, have lost five straight games. Nebraska has already lost to Indiana, Rutgers, North Dakota, UC Riverside and Southern Utah at home.
But Michigan is a completely different team on the road, and if Nebraska can knock off Purdue and Iowa, as it did earlier this season at Pinnacle Bank Arena, it can surely hold serve Tuesday night.
Short-handed starting lineup
The Wolverines will also be without starting point guard and leader Zavier Simpson, who was suspended for the game due to a violation of team policies.
Simpson’s shooting has handicapped the offense since it returned from the Bahamas, but he’s also kept the Wolverines in games with his ability to be creative and finish at the rim. He also leads the country at 8.3 assists per game.
Perhaps more crippling is the second injury to forward Isaiah Livers, who finally returned from a six-game absence over the weekend but went down again in the second half. With Livers, Michigan had taken a lead against Illinois and was looking more like the team that began the season undefeated.
Howard said Livers is day-to-day again, so it’s unclear if he’ll suit up in Lincoln. It doesn’t help that Michigan has only had two days off since the Illinois game.
A stretch that once looked like the most manageable on Michigan’s schedule looks much more daunting through the lens of a team that has lost four in a row. If Michigan loses to Nebraska, the No. 131 team in Kenpom, the road won’t get any easier when it plays three straight against top 30 teams in Rutgers, Ohio State and Michigan State.
Then, after those games, Michigan finishes the season with five of eight games on the road. The NCAA Tournament looks like a long shot from where it stands.
If Michigan loses to Nebraska, making the dance will be more of a pipe dream.