ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan basketball is one win away from reaching the Sweet 16, but to do so, it will need to play its best game since last month.
The Wolverines, who earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament thanks to a 20-4 record and regular-season Big Ten title, aren’t playing their best basketball. Part of that is due to an injured Isaiah Livers, who hasn’t played since the Big Ten quarterfinals due to a stress injury in his foot.
Aside from being a captain and on-court leader, Livers also gives Michigan 13.1 points, six rebounds and two assists per game. He’s a valuable defender who stretches the floor on the offensive end with his 43.1% mark from three-point range.
The loss of Livers has definitely affected Michigan, but even when he was playing, the team finished the season in a bit of a rut.
After the win over No. 16 seed Texas Southern in the opening round, Michigan improved to 3-3 in its last six games. The first of those losses came by 23 points at home against Illinois. The others were against Michigan State and Ohio State -- two teams Michigan had already beaten this season.
Even in its wins over Michigan State, Maryland and Texas Southern, Michigan hasn’t really put together a complete game.
In the first Michigan State game, the Wolverines committed 20 fouls and 14 turnovers. Their offense got off to a slow start before the talent on the roster simply started to overwhelm the Spartans late in the first half.
Three days later, Michigan trailed that same MSU team nearly wire-to-wire. It took a late push to even make the final score close.
Then, in the Big Ten quarterfinals, Michigan came out of the gates groggy, letting a Maryland team it had crushed twice by double figures rush out to a 12-point lead before fighting back late in the first half.
Against Ohio State, it was the second half that burned Michigan, as a one-point halftime lead turned into an 11-point deficit by the under-eight timeout. Michigan made a furious run at the end and had a shot to win the game, but ultimately couldn’t dig out of the deep hole.
Even the 16-point win over Texas Southern came with extended stretches of uninspired play. Michigan was never in danger of losing the game, but it saw a 24-point second-half lead dwindle to 12, and the Wolverines were actually outscored in the second half.
That’s all going to have to change Monday night if Michigan wants to keep its season alive.
No. 8 seed LSU was very impressive in its first-round win over No. 9 seed St. Bonaventure, winning by a comfortable 15 points. The Tigers are playing their best basketball of the season, winning five of their last six games, with the only loss by one point against SEC champion Alabama.
LSU had four players score in double figures Saturday, led by 27 points from Cameron Thomas. The high-flying LSU offense ranks fifth in the nation, according to Kenpom, and will test a Michigan team that allowed 42 points to Texas Southern in the second half.
The kryptonite for LSU is defense, as it ranks just 122nd in the nation, per Kenpom. Michigan could use an efficient shooting performance from the likes of Mike Smith, Franz Wagner, Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown.
Since the Livers injury, Brown has scored just three points in two games, going 1-7 from the floor.
When Michigan beat Indiana on Feb. 27 to improve to 18-1, there were discussions about whether this was one of the three best teams in the nation. That version of the Wolverines will need to show up Monday if Juwan Howard wants to coach in the Sweet 16.