Does Michigan Have What it Takes to Win It All?

By Joe Beale on March 19, 2014 at 1:30p

It was all set up for them. It was right there for the taking. A definitive claim to being champions of the Big Ten and a possible #1 seed in the NCAA tournament was available for the Michigan basketball team if they could have beaten Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament final.

So much for that. The Spartans crushed UM's dreams along with their hopes for the coveted top seed as they routed the Wolverines 69-55. Michigan had to settle for a #2 seed in the Midwest region, where they will have a chance to get back to Indianapolis.

Since the loss, pundits have seemed to sour on the Wolverines. At CBS, only two of the eleven "experts" picked UM to advance to the Final Four, and they both have them losing to Arizona there. Nate Silver gives UM only a 3% chance of winning it all, while he gives Midwest #4 seed and defending champ Louisville a 15% chance. 

What are the chances that Michigan will be able to make it back to the title game, and perhaps win it this time? Much of our coverage this week will focus on Ohio State's chances in the tournament, but just for a moment let's take a look at our arch-rivals and their potential path to the championship.


Shooting: Michigan shot over 48% on the season, which is impressive in itself but becomes even more impressive when you consider that almost 40% of their shots come from beyond the arc. Indeed, UM shot close to 40% from distance, finishing in the top twenty in the country in that category. They are also excellent from the free throw line, shooting over 75% there.

Versatility: Big Ten MVP Nik Stauskas is not only a big-time threat from beyond the arc (44%) but can put the ball on the floor and take it to the hoop (ask Aaron Craft). If this was not enough, fellow wings Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson have almost identical skills. Coping with three 6-foot-6 wings who can shoot from distance and handle the ball will be a difficult challenge for most teams. 

Experience: There is no substitute for experience, and when it comes to the tournament there is no substitute for the experience of getting to the Final Four. Michigan was there only last season, and most of its current starters were key players on that team. John Beilein is a veteran coach and his experience navigating the difficult Big Ten schedule the past few years has led to the success of the UM program the past two.


Size: Losing Mitch McGary to a season-ending injury meant that there were only two "big men" that John Beilein trusted to get any playing time: Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. While Morgan and Horford are experienced and dependable players, they are not especially intimidating on defense and have only a marginal offensive presence. Collectively they average over 32 minutes per game but they almost never get to the line, averaging less than three attempts per game.

Rebounding and physical play: Michigan has a reputation for playing "soft"; i.e. launching threes on offense most of the time and not going inside much. They rank an abysmal 303rd in the nation in rebounds per game and they were out-rebounded by both Ohio State (31-26) and Michigan State (38-28) in their last two games. If they get matched up against a physical team like the Spartans in the tournament, it could be a problem for them.

Clutch play: The biggest clutch players in last year's tournament run were McGary and Trey Burke, but Burke is now plying his trade in the NBA and of course McGary is out for the season. Nik Stauskas is a great scorer but he hasn't consistently shown the ability to be the go-to guy in clutch situations. Spike Albrecht made some big shots in last year's run, but he plays only 15 minutes per game on average as Beilein prefers to start freshman Derrick Walton. 

the bracket

Many observers feel that the Midwest region is the toughest region in the tournament this year, and I would be inclined to agree. Talk about experienced coaches: Michigan's bracket also contains teams coached by the likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino (Sr.), and John Calipari. Less-accomplished coaches Bruce Weber of Kansas State and Rick Barnes of Texas also have loads of NCAA tournament experience.

The buzz right now is that Louisville is the hottest team in the country, but for my money that title should go to Midwest #1 seed Wichita State. After making a surprising run to the Final Four last season, the Shockers proceeded to go 34-0 this season. How can any team be hotter than that?

Besides Louisville and Wichita State, #8 seed Kentucky might be the most talented team in the tournament and one notable writer has even picked them to go to the Final Four after they took #1 ranked Florida to the limit in the SEC championship game. Another pundit urges us to not sleep on Kansas State (Midwest #9). And I haven't even talked about ACC runner-up Duke (Midwest #3), a team that beat Michigan 79-69 back in December.

Let's face it, this bracket is an uphill climb for almost any team. There are so many different types of challenges there it's hard to catalog them all. Can a Michigan team that is not at full strength and that has such obvious weaknesses survive these challenges? Time will tell, but I am guessing the answer is "no".

While I have enormous respect for the job that John Beilein has done this season, I can't see the Wolverines making it back to the title game. Still, I think most of the pundits are probably selling them short. They will obviously take care of #15 seed Wofford and probably have little trouble with the winner of Texas vs. Arizona State. I also think they are playing better basketball than Duke is right now.

My prediction: A close win over Duke lands them in the Elite Eight, but they fall to whoever survives the top half of the bracket.

So what do you think? Am I selling them short or giving them too much credit?


Comments Show All Comments

Hello_Heisman's picture

I agree that Michigan won't make it back to the title game as this region is loaded.  My prediction is either Sweet 16 or Elite 8 and I'll be happy with either outcome.  Michigan outperformed how I thought they'd do this year after McGary went down.  Remember that at one point in December they were 6-4 and simply making the NCAA tournament as any seed was very much in question.  One thing I do believe is that Beilein's style works better in the NCAA tournament format than in the Big 10 season.  The NCAA tournament refs don't favor the physical teams as much as the Big 10 refs, Beilein's offensive sets are difficult to defend against if you don't regularly face Michigan and have to scout them on short notice (see Florida in last year's Elite 8 round) and while the 1-3-1 zone they sometimes use is a crutch to help mask their significant defensive liabilities, it's another thing teams have to prepare for in an already compressed schedule.

Of course, now that I've said all this Michigan will make me look like an idiot by losing in the first round.



60% of the time it works.....every time

+2 HS
Oyster's picture

And we all want you to look like an idiot ; )

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

+2 HS
Hello_Heisman's picture

You should swing by my office where you can see me do so on a daily basis.

60% of the time it works.....every time

RBuck's picture

It's Michigan, Joe...too much credit.

Long live the southend.

+5 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

Well said brother - I'd like to see them go out this weekend 


+2 HS
Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I just threw up a little in my mouth

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

+1 HS
Go1Bucks's picture

How does _yshitcan taste on the way back? LMAO.

Go Bucks!

Ashtabula's picture

I have them exiting the tourney at the same time as you, but teams that have multiple shooters are always going to be tough outs. 

Chief B1G Dump's picture

TTUN definitely drew one of the all time worst brackets of death...and I'm glad they did.  I will gladly take the bracket hit for Wofford to pull the stunner.  I do not like Dook much either but I am hoping Dook takes scUM to pound town in a skin boat.  

Also, I would prefer not to see posts dedicated to those turds up there.  I wish our fan base didn't even give them the time of day, unless it was TTUN week.

+3 HS
bukyze's picture

Agree.  Why in the world is there an article about them on 11W?  Noone cares about them, and we only hope they get beat as soon as possible.

+2 HS
RoyWalley's picture

That's exactly what i was thinking.  Who cares about them. 


schneidzzz's picture

I would go as far to say that I hope their bus crashes on the way to the arena, but that would be inappropriate and going too far.  Instead I will just say that I want scUM to lose every game in every sport.  I don't care if it's basketball, football or field hockey.  Sucks to TTUN. 

sivaDavis's picture

I hate TTUN as much as the next guy, but even thinking of posting wishing harm to the players is defintely a no-no.

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

schneidzzz's picture

Read the post. That was a joke.  Who in their right mind would actually wish harm on a college athlete because of  different color jersey they're wearing?  Lighten up, dude. 

sb97's picture

Their performance in the BTT should have *ichigan fans concerned.  They nearly lost to a bad Illinois team, nearly choked away a big lead to a flawed Ohio State team, and then were beaten by a battered MSU team.  I was surprised with how good *ichigan turned out to be once McGary went down.  Unfortunately for their fans, this tournament is likely to be remembered as a what might have been if they had McGary.  By that, I mean they will likely have a run but I don't think they will get to the final four.

+2 HS
sb97's picture

This year is a bit easier on me than last year.  I really liked watching Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. play.  Now that they are gone it is much easier to cheer against them.

+2 HS
hetuck's picture

Playing in a dome will affect their 3 pt. shooting. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

+1 HS
RedsBuckeyeBoy's picture

I clicked on this link hoping that the entire body of the article would be:

"No they don't. Michigan sucks."

Imagine my surprise to see a complete and unmocking write-up about scUM's basketball team on 11W.

+2 HS
Jack Fu's picture

The thing is, they've got an absolute free pass into the sweet sixteen. For some reason this year, it seems like the teams in the 8/9 games are way better than the teams in the 7/10 games, and their region is no different. And once you're in the sweet sixteen, damn near anything is possible, especially when you have the potential to shoot the lights out like they do. Things do get tough after that: a possible S16/E8 back-to-back of Duke/Louisville is brutal. Kenpom has them with about a 12% chance of getting to the Final Four; I think it's actually a little bit higher than that. I would agree with Joe and guess that their most likely scenario is a breeze through the first two games, a close win over Duke, and a relatively close loss in the Elite Eight.

thePhilipJFry's picture

I see your point about 8/9 seeds (in particular Oklahoma State, Kentucky and Pittsburgh), but New Mexico and Connecticut are interesting 7's, especially New Mexico with Kansas missing Embiid, possible sweet 16 run for them.

I can't get that early Duke/Michigan game out of my head though, Duke had no trouble with Stauskas and I think Parker could score every possession against the inside of that Michigan defense.

Jack Fu's picture

RE: New Mexico - Mountain West teams are perpetually overrated and overseeded because they figured out how to game the RPI years ago. That's how they were the #1 conference last year according to the RPI, but ended up putting exactly two teams in the round of 32 and zero in the sweet sixteen. I'll believe the Lobos are that formidable when I actually see it.

RE: Michigan/Duke - that game happened when Michigan was mired in the doldrums of an 8-game stretch in which they went 4-4, including a loss to Charlotte about a week earlier. They're a much better team than they were in early December. They've seen a bunch of Big Ten teams try a bunch of different things to neutralize Stauskas; I'm pretty sure Beilein will be prepared for whatever Duke decides to throw at them.

ETA: I was wrong; while perpetually overrated, MW teams are rarely overseeded. The committee has largely seen through what MGoBlog once described as their "conference-wide Game of RPIs," and given them appropriate seeds.

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

HAHA, no.

I was going to bet my TTUN fan friend that OSU would go deeper in the tourney than TTUN would.  But looking at how the brackets are laid out, I have reconsidered that.  TTUN being overseeded at 2 gives them a near-gimme in the round of 64, then a couple of crappy teams in the round of 32 that even TTUN should beat.  No way they beat Duke, though.  Ultimately, though, none of the three most key players from their run last year (Burke, Hardaway, McGary) will be out there this time around.  The guys that are in those roles now are good, but not good enough.

Meanwhile, OSU gets Dayton, who OSU should beat (unless they shit the bed), and then Syracuse in the Round of 32 (assuming they don't shit the bed as well).  Yes, they beat Syracuse two years ago in the Elite 8, but this time around, there's no Sully to concern Syracuse with on the inside and no Tank to score from pretty much anywhere.  It would be nice to see Lenzelle step up like he did two years ago in that game, but ultimately, this is not a good shooting team, which worries me mightily going up against that Syracuse zone.  Then again, if that's the game OSU picks to actually shoot well from outside, or WMU actually pulls off the upset that at least a few people think could happen, then who knows what the Sweet 16 will bring.  I haven't even thought about it, yet.

Class of 2010.

Go1Bucks's picture

No.  Well, let me put this in other words... hmmm, have to think this through to get the words just right - I want no miscommunication just in case there is confusion regarding this statement...hmmm, ok, got it:

NO Fucking WAY.




Go Bucks!



Go Bucks!

skid21's picture

Fuck Michigan!

nburns18's picture

theyll lose to duke. 

"You win with people." -Woody Hayes

Ultrabuckeyehomer's picture

It's a good team that will likely lose to Duke. If they get past Duke, they definitely fall in my mind. A good year considering the best pro prospect is out and they started slow. Line most, I'm obviously more concerned with my bucks, but those complaining about an article re: Michigan must have become bucks fans relatively recently.  Most of us are usually interested in what's happening up north. It's the nature of the rivalry. If you don't care about what's happening at/with Michigan, you must be john cooper 's kids. He didn't care much either. 

+2 HS
Brashbuck's picture

Aside from last year's miracle run (the Burke shot against Kansas, etc.), what in Beilein's record makes anyone think he is a championship coach?

Seattle Linga's picture

It's Wednesday March 19th and...................

+1 HS
buckeyestu's picture

Hope to see an all big10 final four, as long as scum is not one of the four teams. Screw scum. Am so hoping Wofford takes them down.

johnblairgobucks's picture

I would root for Michigan in a game against Duke, but that is as far as my rooting for them would ever go, in basketball...... Go Wofford!

pamemake's picture

If Michigan lost to Wofford, would it be worse than losing to Dayton? Oh wait.........

-6 HS
pamemake's picture

There are 8 legit teams that could win this all. Both teams from Michigan can win this thing. MSU however, is playing like MSU now. They are my pick to run the bracket. I think the writer here is right on the money. I'm taking Michigan over Duke in a "pick-em" game but losing to Louisville and then Louisville losing to Michigan State. It's good to be a college sports fan in Michigan.

-6 HS
Johnny-Shane_Utah-Falco's picture

Go to the scUM boards, troll.

Is it really "good" to be a Michigan fan?

See you on the football field in November, when Fred Fatass Flintstone and his underachievers get beat yet again.

Tressel owned scUM. Now it's Urban's turn to own scUM.

-1 HS