The LGHail Blog returns to discuss the red-hot Michigan basketball team that’s sweeping the state – literally.
Is this Wolverines hoop team poised to make another run in the NCAA Tournament?
LGHail is back to give his thoughts on the potential run.
What?s helping Michigan basketball at making another run?
John Beilein?s NCAA Tournament History Under Beilein, Michigan is 13-7 in the NCAA Tournament. This 13-7 includes a 7-2 record as the better seed, and a very solid 6-5 record as the same or worse seed. The fact that his record has been better than a coin flip in even matchups or as the underdog means a deep run is always possible.
Simply put, John Beilein has been a reliable coach in March. Part of the reason for this is that Michigan?s offense is pretty unique, and none of the 19 teams he?s faced in the tournament are from the Big Ten, so they have all scrambled to prepare for the offense in a short period of time. This has been especially true in the 2nd game of the weekend. Nearly knocking off a #1 seed Duke led by Kyrie Irving in 2011 as a #8, throttling a #2 seeded Florida team in 2013, and beating Louisville last year are 3 great examples. This is certainly a proud moment for basketball fans across the country. With victories like these, you don’t want to miss out in predicting who you think will win each game, even if you do have a slight idea. Check out sites like https://www.interbasket.net/brackets/ncaa-tournament/blank/ to print off a copy of this years NCAA tournament sheet and play along at home. Who knows, you might get many of these predictions right!
This team can score I never thought I would see the day where Michigan would put up 82 in the Breslin Center, but it happened Saturday. Now part of that may be due to MSU switching their identity from a tough-nosed defending team to a team built on star rankings. But in Michigan?s most recent game, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said ?With Wagner, Michigan is impossible to stop.? That?s high praise.
This team can defend Traditionally, Michigan?s teams under Beilein have been known for shooting as many 3s as possible and trying to outscore the other team, without much focus on defense. Now that isn’t completely true, but there are reasons the stereotype exists. This year, out of 351 teams, they are 16th in KenPom?s adjusted defense ranking. It?s great to be able to score a lot of points, but winning in March means getting some key stops also.
They have a true go-to guy Moe Wagner was already stellar last year, he has improved this season. Part of the difference is that he has added some weight, making him a tougher matchup around the hoop. Though his numbers don?t jump off the charts (14.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG), he has shown that he is capable of stepping up when needed. In big games against UCLA and MSU, Wagner scored 23 and 27 points respectively. Having a guy who can put the team on his back is huge, come tournament time.
What?s hurting Michigan basketball’s chances?
Those free throws While MAAR showed he is capable of drilling 2 clutch free throws against Maryland, Michigan has plenty of other guys that teams could look to foul during close games. Those free throws can very easily mean the difference between a win and a loss. Charles Matthews is making 53.8% of his, Moe Wagner is making 69.6%. Zavier Simpson is only making 50% of his, and missed a few big ones against MSU and Maryland. It is tough to hide all of those guys down the stretch in close games.
Seeding could be an issue Due to Michigan?s many weak non-conference games against the bottom third of the RPI, the computers and selection committee may not like Michigan?s overall resume come tournament time. It would be devastating for this team to play so well and then get a #8 or #9 seed and have to face a team like Villanova in the 2nd round if they advance. To avoid facing this potential problem in the first weekend, Michigan needs to keep winning games and secure a #6 seed or better.
There is always the risk of a bad shooting night Though this team isn?t as dependent on 3 point shooting as previous Michigan teams, they still take quite a few 3s. And if those aren?t falling, Michigan could be prime for an upset. The Ohio game in 2012 comes to mind. (UGH!) Fortunately this Michigan team has guys in Wagner, Simpson, and Matthews who can create their own shot.
Point guard play is so important in the tournament Zavier Simpson has been a pleasant surprise this year, but the jury is out on whether he is a guy who can compete with the top-tier point guards that Michigan will match up with in the tournament. He is undersized and inexperienced. I?m not trying to be too tough on Simpson, it?s just that the offense has been led by Trey Burke or Derrick Walton the last 6 years, and Michigan no longer has that luxury.
Michigan is already playing much better than they were around Thanksgiving. The talented new additions are finding their role, and they are a very fun to watch team, just like they were in 2013 and 2014. With the NCAA Tournament being a single game elimination tourney, they could get knocked out in the first round, or they could be headed to the Final Four in San Antonio. Without knowing what the bracket looks like, it?s difficult to say what will happen. But I?ll go out on a limb and say that Michigan keeps playing well and locks up a seed between 4 and 6. From there, I will go ahead and predict another Sweet 16 appearance. From there, anything can happen.