Offensive struggles, Eli Brooks injury leave Michigan basketball with postseason concerns

Wolverines lose two of final three games heading into tournament

Michigan guard Eli Brooks (55) makes a layup as Michigan State guard Joshua Langford (1) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan basketball team didn’t face much adversity on the court this season, as it won 19 of 22 games and captured the regular-season Big Ten title.

But now, as the team looks ahead to the conference and NCAA tournaments, the Wolverines don’t look as formidable as a week ago.

On Sunday, Michigan trailed nearly wire-to-wire against Michigan State for its second loss in three games. After starting the season 18-1 with an embarrassment of impressive wins, Michigan tripled its loss count in the final six days, including a 23-point loss at home to Illinois.

An offense that was clicking on all cylinders as recently as last weekend has become stagnant. Maybe it has something to do with playing five games in 11 days -- or maybe this is an ill-timed slump for critical players such as Franz Wagner, Isaiah Livers and Hunter Dickinson.

Worst of all, Michigan might be without senior starter Eli Brooks in Indianapolis. Brooks injured his ankle at Michigan State and returned to the bench wearing street clothes and a boot on his left leg.

Michigan is 0-2 without Brooks this season. While he doesn’t get the recognition of Dickinson or Livers, he’s one of the most important players on the team thanks to his elite on-ball defense and ability to handle the ball. Brooks has found his shot lately, too, which helped Michigan stick with MSU early in the game Sunday.

It’s unclear if or when Brooks could return to the court. Michigan’s next game begins Friday morning in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, against either Michigan State or Maryland.

The Wolverines are the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and will also be a No. 1 seed when the NCAA bracket is revealed. Michigan will either be the No. 3 overall seed or the No. 4 overall seed, if Illinois wins the Big Ten Tournament and jumps to third.

While Sunday’s game didn’t technically matter for Michigan’s postseason standing, the injury to Brooks could be the most significant moment of the regular season, and it came at the worst time.

One week ago, people were talking about Michigan in the Gonzaga-Baylor tier. Now the postseason is here, and there are major questions surrounding the Wolverines.

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