Monday means a new AP Top 25 poll. Michigan took care of business over the past week, surviving Northwestern 62-60 on the road and defeating South Carolina 89-78 at home. Thanks to Tennessee’s upset over previous No. 1 Gonzaga on Sunday, there was a shakeup at the top of the poll but Michigan remained steadfast at No. 5 but received one first-place vote. The Top 5 included new No. 1 Kansas, followed by Duke, Tennessee, Gonzaga, and the Wolverines. After Saturday’s win over the Gamecocks improved the Wolverines to 10-0, much chatter after the game was about the target on Michigan’s back, something the players got used to during last season’s run to the national championship game.
“I feel like that is something that comes with being part of Michigan Basketball,” said Jordan Poole after scoring a career-high 26 points on Saturday. “We knew coming into the year we would have a target on our back based on what we did last year, but we are just taking every day by day, being able to lock in in practice. Coaches do a good job being able to keep us in the moment.”
Michigan did take first in a different metric: The NCAA’s NET ranking. After placing second last week, Michigan moved up to number one on Monday. Following the Wolverines are Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga, and Texas Tech. Michigan State is the next highest ranked Big Ten team at No. 9. The NET rankings replaced the RPI this season as one of the NCAA’s evaluation metrics for a team’s tournament resume. Criteria include game results, game location, scoring margin, net offensive, and defensive efficiency, strength of schedule, and quality wins/losses.
One-third of the way through the regular season, and with a strong chance to get to 13-0 before Big Ten play resumes (97.2% per KenPom after the South Carolina win.) Michigan has the look and feel of a team that very well could return to the Final Four. Gamecocks coach Frank Martin was very praiseful of John Beilein and the Wolverines after Saturday’s game, citing the Wolverines have a “Championship DNA.”
“Two years ago when they came to us, we kinda had that element. That means that we came up with every loose ball, we came up with hard rebounds,” said Martin, who guided his South Carolina team to the Final Four in 2017 as a 7-seed. “We came up with when we screened; we set screens with a purpose. Everyone is worried about the ball going into the basket, that’s a result of everything else being done the right way. They’ve got that DNA right now.”
Martin explained his reasoning further before ending his press conference:
“It’s never a wasted cut, a wasted pass or a wasted dribble when they play on offense. Their players are always in the right place, there’s never two guys within five feet of each other. The spacing is always phenomenal. Then defensively, again, going back to John, everyone always speaks about his offense, so no one has ever really given his teams credit for how good they are defensively. They are long, they are all 6’6, so passing the ball gets really hard, they guard you. I was watching the Villanova tape and Villanova was trying to drive them, and it was hard to finish, they just don’t get out of the way and that’s what championship teams do. I don’t know how I can phrase it any better than they don’t get out of the way. You never get an easy basket against them. Every basket, you have to be on your p’s and q’s, if not, it’s hard to get a good shot against them.” – Frank Martin
Based on the schedule at the outset of the season, it was hard to project a young Michigan team with the departures it had getting off to this kind of start, but to John Beilein, who has seen a little bit of everything in his forty plus years on the sidelines, it’s no surprise. “I’m never surprised because I don’t expect anything. I just live day-to-day,” stated Beilein when asked about opening the season on a ten game winning streak. “I am really happy to be 10-0, and I mean that sincerely, I’m used to expecting the opposite in that I am looking at things like ‘what could go wrong’ instead of ‘hey, we got it rolling’ that is my mindset. At the same time, I am happy we’re 10-0, we’d like to go one game at a time, finish the non-conference and go into the conference with a similar record if we can.”
With one game per week until 2019, Michigan will take advantage of the schedule slowing down to try and improve on the things it needs to improve on. The Wolverines take on Western Michigan Saturday afternoon at home as the players finish classes and begin preparing for final exams in the next week and a half. Facing the likes of Western Michigan, Air Force and Binghamton, the chance at 13-0 is likely,