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What Wolverines loss to Illinois taught us

If you’re in the Big Ten every loss on the court hurts. But the Wolverines loss to Illinois stung a bit more because of the fact that their opponent was unranked. But as any good coach will tell you, you can learn more from your loss than you can from wins. (Of course, that doesn’t help take away the sting.)

So, here’s what we learned from Wednesday’s Wolverines loss.

For one thing, we learned that Zavier Simpson can be stopped. As the Detroit News put it, he’s become the focal point of opponents’ scouting reports anytime they take on the Michigan Wolverines. 

Previously, Louisville tried to stop Simpson by shutting down his opportunities in the lane. Illinois had a different strategy: They focused on shutting his options down by keeping the ball in his hands as long as possible. In other words, don’t let him pass.

After all, Simpson went into Wednesday’s Big Ten contest as one of premier players in the country when it comes to assists (8.7 per game). In three games he had at least 13.

“You have no idea how much respect I have for Zavier Simpson and how good he is. I think he’s one of the elite passing guards in this country,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said.

 “We feared his passing more than we did his scoring. (Eli) Brooks and (Isaiah) Livers and (David) DeJulius and Brandon Johns, all those guys become really effective players because of his passing.”

How did the strategy work? Judge for yourself. Illinois won 71-62.

“We just tried to make it hard,” Underwood said.

“We knew we were going to give up some points there, but we wanted them to be 2s and challenged 2s.”

The Wolverines also learned that it’s tough to win when you’re not at home. 

It’s not easy winning on the road for the best of teams. But when you’re in the Big Ten it’s a necessity if you want to be around at the end of the season. The Fighting Illini lived up to their name when the Wolverines entered State Farm Center. They weren’t about to give up home court advantage.

And finally, we also learned that Franz Wagner still has to have a break out performance, and not just for one game. Sure Wagner played solid on Wednesday, but the Wolverines will need to see a lot more of his spark if they’re going to the top of the Big Ten. He’s been especially weak on three-pointers. He’s just 22% for the season and he was shut out of four attempts against Illinois.

To be fair, he is still recovering from an injured wrist. The team, overall, wasn’t great, either, when it came to three pointers. The Wolverines missed 15 out of 18 from 3-point-range. 

This isn’t something that’s a big secret. Teams know that if they can keep the Wolverines from making those big shots, they can be taken down. Illinois went into the game with just that in mind.

“Our game plan was to let them play two-on-two and take away the 3s,” said Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili.

So, Michigan fans, it may not be what you want to hear after a loss. But the game’s over and there’s nothing you can do about it now. All that’s left is to use it as a learning opportunity and see what you can learn from being on the low end of the final score.

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