Michigan Basketball: Wolverines' Rocky February Is Eerily Similar to 2012-13

Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IIFebruary 19, 2014

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Following one of the most impressive months in all of college basketball, the Michigan basketball team has come back down from its hot streak.

The Wolverines have now lost three of their last five games, which is not exactly the kind of momentum they want to carry into their pivotal clash with Michigan State this weekend.

Seeing as the game of basketball is one of trends, runs and streaks, it is worth mentioning the Maize and Blue endured a similar rut last February.

A season ago, Michigan went 6-1 in the month of January, but only managed to scrap together a 3-4 record the next month.

The Wolverines were even better this January against a much tougher schedule. They won all eight games, including three against nationally ranked opponents, two of which came on the road. This month, things have taken a downward turn for a second straight year.

Losses at Iowa and at home against Wisconsin are not necessarily bad ones. However, falling at Indiana, the same team with a 4-8 Big Ten Conference record, seems like a more puzzling defeat with each passing day.

Those three losses also share a couple of things in common with the four decisions Michigan dropped a year ago: poor shooting and ineffective defense.

The Hawkeyes, Badgers and Hoosiers combined to shoot 48.1 percent from the field and 53.2 percent on three-pointers against the Wolverines this month.

It is tough to win games when an opponent can essentially get whatever it wants at the offensive end of the floor.

Conversely, Michigan made just 40.8 percent of its attempts in those three games.

It barely managed to shoot better than 40 percent in its victory over Ohio State this month as well. This is not due to a lack of clean looks either. There are plenty of open shots being created, they simply refuse to stay down.

On the season, the Wolverines rank No. 24 nationally in field-goal percentage (47.9 percent), which is why this current funk is a bit surprising.

Michigan endured a similar rut last February with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Michigan endured a similar rut last February with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Much of the same could be said for last February.

The Wolverines were porous defensively, and teams knocked down 41.5 percent of their attempts from three-point range.

Meanwhile, Trey Burke and Michigan went cold, shooting just 43.3 percent over the course of four losses. Throw out a 30-of-58 (51.7 percent) performance against lowly Penn State, and you are left with a 40.7 shooting percentage in three defeats.

With only Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. gone and two newcomers added to the mix this season, it is hard to believe this is merely a coincidence.

"What it is about is, we're playing really good teams and you have to play well, and sometimes you can't control that," Beilein said, per John Borton of TheWolverine. "Sometimes a ball is not going to bounce your way. Caris [LeVert] had one halfway down that would have made it a five-point game. That goes in other times."

The only silver lining for this year's team is that it will have this entire week off to regroup and regain some confidence heading into the clash with arch-rival Michigan State on Sunday.

This could also breathe some hope into any members of the Maize and Blue faithful on the verge of panicking.

The Big Ten title is still there for the taking, and Michigan has the easiest schedule of the remaining contenders. Aside from Michigan State, the Wolverines will not face a ranked opponent the rest of the way. The Spartans and Hawkeyes each have two more contests against ranked teams. 

Either way, this dip could be a sign of greater things on the horizon.

The Wolverines are still tied for first in the Big Ten standings, which means an outstanding March is all they need to close out a second league title in three seasons. Obviously, this Sunday's game will have a major impact on the championship race, but there are more mines in Michigan State's way than on Michigan's slate.

Also, last year's team seemingly lost all momentum going into the NCAA tournament, only to get it back and make a run to the national title game. Do not bet against that happening this season, considering the fact everything is trending in the same direction.

Beilein's teams are extremely difficult to prepare for on such short notice, which bodes well for the Wolverines once again.

Michigan State's loss to Nebraska essentially cancelled out Michigan's letdown at home. All the Wolverines have to do now is find the same gear they did after a cool February in 2013.