Orion Sang Detroit Free Press

Published 6:02 AM EST Jan 11, 2020

Michigan basketball found a way to hold serve in Big Ten play by grinding out a double overtime win over Purdue at Crisler Center on Thursday night.

Now the No. 19 Wolverines must leave the friendly confines of home — and continue the search for their first road victory of the season.

Michigan's next two games are at Minnesota and Iowa, and the Wolverines will likely be the underdog in both contests. The Wolverines and most other Big Ten teams have had trouble winning on the road this season. Can the Wolverines buck that trend Sunday?

Here are three things to watch for when Michigan plays at Minnesota (1 p.m., BTN):

[ Juwan Howard's winning move may have saved Michigan — for now ]

Defending Oturu

Sunday's contest is more tough luck for Michigan center Jon Teske, who had to defend Purdue's Trevion Williams one-on-one in the post — and saw Williams score a career-high 36 points. Minnesota's best player is center Daniel Oturu, who is averaging a team-best 19.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. 

Oturu, a former top-50 recruit who showed promise as a true freshman in 2018, is the go-to player for the Golden Gophers. When he's on the floor, he uses 26.7% of his team's possessions and takes 25.2% of the shots, according to KenPom.com. His effective field-goal percentage of 63.8% ranks No. 38 in the nation, as Oturu is shooting 65.9% on 2s and has made 8-of-24 3-pointers. As an effective post scorer, he's a load to stop down low and is also a top rebounder.

The big question: Will Michigan continue to refrain from doubling the post? The Wolverines left Teske on an island against Williams and Iowa's Luka Garza earlier this season (although Michigan won, Garza scored 44 points). Theoretically, it makes sense not to send a double-team — post-ups are mostly inefficient, and doubling the post can result in open 3s for the opposing team. The Golden Gophers shoot 34% from 3, which isn't elite but isn't bad, either; sending doubles could help Minnesota score in other ways. Michigan struggled to defend opposing big men in Garza, Williams and Illinois' Kofi Cockburn, but won two of those games despite allowing an average of 33 points to those three post scores. It'll be interesting to see how the Wolverines handle Oturu.

Road shooting

In three true road games, Michigan has shot 11-of-60 from 3-point range. In all other games this season, at Crisler Center or a neutral site, the Wolverines have shot 117-of-292 (40%) from outside. That is a significant difference, and while it doesn't completely explain Michigan's struggles on the road, it is one big reason why the Wolverines are 0-3. It'll only be tougher for Michigan to shoot well from outside without Isaiah Lives, who sat out his third consecutive game Thursday night with a groin injury. Livers is a proven, experienced player averaging 50% on 4.8 3-point attempts this year. The Wolverines already struggled to shoot on the road — without Livers, will those struggles be even more pronounced, or will someone like Franz Wagner or David DeJulius step up and hit some big 3s? 

More: Zavier Simpson's dissection of Purdue surprises nobody, not even Matt Painter

Small lineup usage

Juwan Howard might've discovered a winning formula late in Thursday's win when he elected to go small, playing three guards (Zavier Simpson, Eli Brooks and DeJulius) and moving Wagner to the 4 spot. That lineup played the final 9:13 of the second half and both overtime periods, with zero substitutions, as Michigan clawed its way to a win. According to Dylan Burkhardt of UMHoops, Michigan's small lineup scored 1.33 points per possession over the final 30 possessions, compared to 0.88 points per possession over the first 29 minutes of the game before Howard went small. 

Without Livers, Michigan struggles to space the floor and the offense has not performed like it did with Livers at the "4." Brandon Johns Jr. gives the Wolverines a different look and has been a helpful player with his energy and rebounding; he'll likely continue to play heavy minutes in Livers' absence. But Michigan's small lineup might be the best way to close out games, as Thursday showed. Going forward, how often will Howard use that grouping as Livers continues to recover?

Prediction

Winning on the road is going to be extremely difficult for Michigan this season. According to KenPom.com, the Wolverines are favored to win two of their remaining eight conference road games — against Nebraska and Northwestern. It'll be tough for Michigan to sneak out a win on the road Sunday. Pick: Minnesota 74, Michigan 70

Contact Orion Sang at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.


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