The Detroit News’ James Hawkins breaks down three keys for Michigan in Saturday’s game against Michigan State at Crisler Center (noon, Fox/WJR 760, WWJ 950).
Find shooting touch
In order for Michigan to snap its four-game losing streak to Michigan State — and three-game skid at home — the Wolverines are going to need to shoot better than they have in recent weeks at Crisler Center.
In the home losses to Penn State, Illinois and Ohio State, Michigan posted three of its five worst shooting marks of the season at 35.3 percent, 39 percent and 33.3 percent, respectively, from the field. Over those three games, the Wolverines also shot 25 percent from 3-point range.
Each of those contests included stretches where the misses piled up in bunches. The Wolverines missed 18 of 21 shots to open the second half against the Nittany Lions, missed 20 of their first 25 attempts against the Illini and 14 of their first 17 shots against the Buckeyes.
For the Wolverines, the dividing line is at 45 percent. Shoot better than that figure, they’ve gone 13-1. Shoot below it, they’ve gone 0-8.
“We've got to keep working. It's that simple,” coach Juwan Howard said after Tuesday's Ohio State loss. “I'm going to keep feeding confidence in our guys and staying positive.”
Corral the star
It’s a broken record at this point, but Michigan’s top defensive priority is to find a way to contain Michigan State senior guard Cassius Winston.
That, of course, has been easier said than done. Over the past four meetings, the Wolverines have failed to come up with a solution as Winston has averaged 24 points and 8.8 assists while shooting 48.4 percent from the field.
In the Jan. 5 matchup in East Lansing, Winston was the best player on the floor — by far. He picked apart Michigan’s ball-screen coverages and was simply able to do whatever he wanted, whether it was creating offense for himself or others.
“Let's be real, he's an elite playmaker,” assistant coach Saddi Washington said after Michigan’s 87-69 loss. “We'll look at film and continue to figure out some different ways that we can slow him down because I don't think you can really totally stop a guy like that. There were some times where we've got to do a better job of trying to bother the ball a little bit more, try to take away his vision, contest some more of his mid-range shots.”
Slow the break
In the first meeting this season, the Spartans gashed the Wolverines for 21 fast-break points, which is the most Michigan has surrendered in Big Ten play by a wide margin.
According to Howard, a lack of communication played a big role in that figure. After watching the film, he cited breakdowns that allowed Michigan State to get to the basket and several instances where two players picked up the ball that led to an open 3-pointer.
“That was one of the areas where Michigan State really beat us up on,” Howard said. “We had bad communication.”
It’s an area the Wolverines have seemingly cleaned up as of late. Over the last four games, they’ve allowed 19 fast-break points against Ohio State (three), Rutgers (11), Nebraska (five) and Illinois (zero).