What Michigan’s loss to Michigan State really means


An image just before tipoff of Michigan vs. Michigan State, from March 3, 2013.

On Jan. 13, 2019, the Michigan Wolverines had been undefeated for 286 days. Now, following their loss to the Michigan State Spartans, they have lost four games in the past 36, and the fanbase is in full panic mode. Fortunately for them, Michigan’s head coach, John Beilein, is feeling just the opposite.

On a cold Sunday in February, the Spartans came from East Lansing to Crisler Center for arguably the biggest game of the season for either side. Not only was it a rivalry game, but both teams were among the top ten in the AP poll and tied at the top of the Big Ten standings.

This game was also important because it recognized the 1989 Michigan national championship team, which featured three-time NBA All-Star Glen Rice. To honor the past team, the Wolverines wore retro uniforms that are very similar to the ones worn in 1989 (image shown to the left). Still after all the buzz revolving this game, the Wolverines were outplayed in all phases of the game.

The game started very close with the Spartans winning 27-23 with about ten minutes to go in the first half. However for the third ranked defense in the country, this many points in only ten minutes was out of the ordinary. The Wolverines had only two days following their game against Minnesota to prepare and rest, and it showed. The Wolverines practically played only six players throughout the season and the fatigue was setting in.

Zavier Simpson wearing the 1989 retro jersey that the Wolverines wore against Michigan State (picture via @umichbball).

Zavier Simpson played 37 minutes against Minnesota, and never had the chance to sit against the Spartans. Simpson is the Wolverine’s star defender, and it is not a formula for success for him to be physically drained, especially when he is matched up against Cassius Winston, a player of the year candidate, and the point guard for the Spartans.

Winston dropped 27 points on 13 shot attempts, and would repeatedly blow by Simpson. He made seven shots in the game, all within ten feet. The Wolverines collectively could not keep up with Winston, and resorted to fouling or double-teaming to prevent him from taking wide open layups. This was unsuccessful as he was 13 of 14 from the foul line and ended up with a game high eight assists — two more than the entire Wolverine team combined.

As defense was an issue, the Wolverines were going to have to convert on a high percentage of their shots to win the game. Unfortunately, their offense was stagnant, leading to an atrocious 36.5 percent from the field and 20.8 percent from three point range, excluding the four garbage time baskets made by Zavier Simpson and Jordan Poole.

With such poor defense and dreadful shooting, it was no shock that the Wolverines ended up losing the game, 77-70. After such a historic start to the season, the Wolverines have started to slip and their fans have been showing concern. Many remember the NCAA tournament run they experienced last year and are worried that they will not get close to emulating that this year. What many fans do not remember is that at this time last year, the Wolverines were not even a top 15 ranked team and had three more losses than they have today.

To say that there should not be at least a little concern for Wolverine fans is unreasonable, but to say that the season is over, is simply illogical. During the 1989 championship season the Wolverines had seven losses going into the NCAA tournament, and finished that season in third place in the Big Ten. Today, the Wolverines are in a similar position at third in the Big Ten, except with three less losses overall than that 89’ national championship team.

“There’s so much more to our season than beating Michigan State and I know that hurts some of our fans who love this game,” Beilein said to MLive postgame after the Michigan State game. “We’ve had some success, they’ve had success, we have two incredible programs in this state.”

The Wolverines will continue their season this Thursday against Nebraska in the final home game of the season. It will be senior night, and Crisler Center will be electric one last time before the Wolverines travel to Maryland on March third, before concluding their regular season in East Lansing. The Wolverines will look to end their regular season with three straight wins before entering the postseason, which many college basketball fans know is, Madness.