Michigan basketball scorched by Sun Devils, endures first loss of the season

Just over 24 hours after seeming to click in every way in a 91-60 win over Pittsburgh, the No. 20 Michigan men’s basketball team could not have looked much Worse against Arizona State.

The setting was the same, and there was technically a Legends Classic Championship at stake in Brooklyn’s Barclays Arena. But from the jump, the Wolverines looked flatter and less organized. Arizona State, meanwhile, looked far removed from the team that entered the night 278th in effective field-goal percentage and lost to Texas Southern on Sunday.

In all, Michigan trailed for more than 38 minutes of the game, falling to Arizona State, 87-62. The Sun Devils drained 11 of 19 3-point attempts and scored 1.37 points per possession, scoring their largest win over a ranked team in program history. The Wolverines, meanwhile, endured their worst loss since Dec. 13, 2014 (80-53, to Arizona), making just 4 of 22 3-pointers, missing 15 dunks and layups and scoring just 0.95 points per possession.

Hunter Dickinson led Michigan with 14 points, but needed 14 shots to get there and committed three turnovers. Jett Howard was the Wolverines’ other double-digit scorer, but shot 3-for-10 from the field to get to his 12 points. Former Michigan guard and transfer standout Frankie Collins only scored four points — he entered the night averaging 16.0 points per game — but four of his teammates scored 13 or more points.

After both teams stumbled out of the gate, collectively going 0-for-5 from the field with two turnovers in the game’s opening 1:40 of play. But showing uncharacteristically sharp shooting and a stingy defense, Arizona State jumped out to a 15-5 lead. With Hunter Dickinson struggling to convert on offense and Michigan’s zone defense doing nothing to stop the Sun Devils on defense, that deficit ballooned to 19, 29-10, with 9:48 to go in the first half.

Arizona State eventually cooled off shooting the ball, missing 9 of its next 11 shots. But struggling by the rim, behind the 3-point line and even from the free-throw line, Michigan couldn’t meaningfully get off the mat. In the first half, the Wolverines made just 8 of 15 free throws, 7 of 17 dunks and layups and 2 of 14 3-pointers in a performance that will surely draw cringes in Michigan’s film review.

The Wolverines played the second half more evenly, but failed to string together enough of a run to make a difference. After fluctuating its deficit between 21 and 15 points for nearly 20 minutes of game action, an 11-0 Sun Devils run Midway through the second half put Michigan in a 71-43 hole, one the Wolverines would never dig out of.

The bottom line

Really from just a few minutes in, it was clear Michigan was out of it Thursday night. Arizona State made it look worse with by far its best shooting night of the season, but the Wolverines dared the Sun Devils to shoot with their zone defense, then lacked aggression when it was clear Arizona State was feeling it offensively. On offense, Michigan was uncharacteristically messy, making ill-advised passes while missing layups and free throws (and even a dunk). A 2-for-14 showing on 3-pointers also ensured that every mini-run Michigan went on only went so far.

What’s known is that the Wolverines endured an ugly loss to an Arizona State team that hasn’t looked particularly good this season, nearly losing to Tarleton State at home and losing at Texas Southern prior to trekking to Brooklyn. Given how the Sun Devils have looked in every previous game this season, this loss likely won’t age well on Michigan’s resume. At best, it’s an ugly loss the Wolverines can grow from, and a fire lit at a developmental time of the season.

What isn’t known, though, is if Michigan’s near-flawless performance Wednesday or fruitless showing Thursday is more indicative of the Wolverines’ season to come. The answer is likely in the middle, and Michigan has plenty of time to sort itself out, but the Wolverines’ defensive shortcomings and inconsistencies on offense were exposed in a significant way Thursday, and Michigan will go into practices needing to find answers before taking on Virginia, Kentucky, Minnesota and North Carolina in the coming weeks.

What’s next?

After Thursday, Michigan’s schedule slows down for just over two weeks. The Wolverines return to Ann Arbor, where it will host Ohio (1-2) Sunday (7:30 pm, Big Ten Network). Then, the Wolverines will host Jackson State Wednesday (8:30 pm, BTN) the night before Thanksgiving. In all, Michigan will have 12 days to regroup before it hosts a likely top-10 Virginia team on Nov. 29. Based on Thursday night, the 12-day stretch could prove important for the Wolverines to further develop as a team before the schedule gets significantly tougher.

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