Ann Arbor — The tale of Michigan’s season so far can be broken down into two chapters.
At home and at neutral sites, the No. 5 Wolverines have had no trouble getting shots to drop. But when Michigan has hit the road, it’s almost as if someone has put a lid on the basket.
"I looked at that, too,” coach Juwan Howard said Friday of his team’s shooting splits, “and those numbers are staggering.”
Heading into Saturday’s top-10 matchup against No. 10 Oregon, Michigan’s offense has hummed along at home. Through five games at Crisler Center, the Wolverines are averaging 88.4 points while shooting 52.7 percent (162-for-307) from the field and 39.5 percent (49-for-124) from 3-point range.
The numbers are just as impressive on a neutral court. During the three-game Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, Michigan averaged 79.3 points and shot 53.8 percent (92-for-171) from the field and 47.1 percent (33-for-70) from beyond the arc. That includes a pair of blistering performances on back-to-back days against Gonzaga and North Carolina, two teams who rank in the top 40 in defensive efficiency.
But Michigan’s trips to Louisville and Illinois have been a completely different story. In those contests — both losses — the Wolverines have averaged 52.5 points while shooting 35 percent (42-for-120) from the field and 16.2 percent (6-for-37) on 3-pointers.
Overall, Michigan (8-2) has shot at least 47.5 percent from the floor and made at least seven 3-pointers in every home and neutral site game — two marks it has yet to reach on the road.
“We've just got to stay the course and not think about it as far as, ‘OK the last two road games that we had, we didn't shoot well,’” Howard said. “It can't become a mental problem.
“We've got to just stay the course and know and trust ourselves and one another. I think if we did a better job of moving the basketball, I think a lot of those shots would've been a lot easier shots for us. At times it was just too many one-pass shots or there was an opportunity where we just went to an isolation and there was no space.”
Against Illinois on Wednesday, Michigan had 12 assists on 27 made baskets and plodded through several stagnant stretches. Then last week against Louisville, which ranks No. 3 nationally in defensive efficiency, those numbers were nearly half that as Michigan finished with six assists on 15 made field goals.
In the home and neutral court contests combined, the Wolverines have averaged 17.9 assists per game with a high of 29 and low of 12.
So, what’s at the root of the road shooting woes? The way Howard sees it, it’s a mix of Michigan’s execution on offense and the opponents’ game plan on defense.
“Give the other team credit. They do a really good job defensively,” Howard said. “I'm not going to ignore the fact what Louisville (has) done defensively. They're a very good defensive team. When you’re ranked No. 1 in the country, you’re there for a reason. Illinois, they're a very well-coached team and…it's been tough to win on the road in the Big Ten. I knew that coming in. It's a very competitive conference.
“I think our guys, the shot just didn't go in for them. They (Louisville and Illinois) played well defensively, but we also missed some open shots, too."
Even despite two rough outings, Michigan ranks No. 16 in the nation in field-goal percentage (49.5 percent), No. 24 in offensive efficiency (109.7 points per 100 possessions) and is tied at No. 36 in 3-point shooting (38.1 percent) heading into Saturday’s top-10 showdown.
While Michigan won’t hit the road again until Big Ten play resumes next month, Howard will continue to build confidence in his players and implore them to keep firing whenever they run into a rough shooting stretch.
“Keep encouraging them. Shoot it! Let it fly!” Howard said. “It's that simple. You have an open shot, hey, let it go. I trust that it will go in, but you have to trust it, too. When a shot doesn't fall, be patient and take the next open shot."
Oregon at Michigan
Tip-off: Noon Saturday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 10 Oregon 7-2; No. 5 Michigan 8-2
Outlook: Oregon will be without forward Shakur Juiston (leg injury), and freshman center N'Faly Dante, a five-star prospect from Mali, isn't expected to make his debut after recently joining the Ducks… This is the fifth meeting between the teams and first encounter since Oregon edged Michigan in a Sweet 16 matchup in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. This will be Oregon’s first time playing in Ann Arbor.