Yesterday a few of us here at Maize n Brew discussed how Michigan has been playing on an individual level, and what we have learned up to this point in the season. Today it is time to talk about the future. How will the regular season finish? Who will win the Big Ten tournament? How does this team fare in March?
Below are a few questions I sent out to The White Tiger, Holdin' the Rope, and Dave Ryan last week. These are their answers.
(Keep in mind that these questions went out before the Ohio State game and that the questions were answered before the Northwestern game. Technology is fast, but it isn't that fast.)
What do you think Michigan's chances are in the Big Ten tournament? Of the odds-on favorites as of now both Ohio State and Michigan State have given the Wolverines fits with stellar offensive rebounding and points in the paint while Wisconsin looks to be playing much better than when Michigan beat them. It looks more and more like Michigan might not be able to play consistently enough over the course of a weekend to pull wins over one or most likely two of these teams. Convince me I am wrong and Michigan can win the Big Ten tournament (you know, with something other than "they already beat all three teams once, dummy").
The White Tiger: It's going to be extremely tough for Michigan to win the Big Ten Tournament. As of right now, it's looking exceedingly likely that Michigan will be a 2 or 3 seed in the BTT, with Ohio State looming as a potential semi-final matchup and Michigan State waiting on Sunday in the finals. Michigan's beaten everyone in the Big Ten at least once this season (except for Iowa, strangely), so it's not impossible, but beating OSU and MSU on a neutral court will be a tall task. Michigan will need to play very well to beat Ohio State again: Buford needs to be taken out of the game by Douglass, Morgan will have to show up the way he did a few days ago, and Burke will need to continue to shine. Michigan State doesn't seem to do well in the BTT for some reason, but if Izzo's squad is playing for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, they'll be firing on all cylinders all week. Michigan won't get run out of the gym like they did in Lansing, but Hardaway needs to play better and Morgan needs to stay on the floor for Michigan to beat the Spartans and bring home the Championship.
Holdin' the Rope: Wisconsin has certainly been better, but I think a rematch would see it played to the same result. My confidence in that respect is primarily derived from the fact that I think Trey would dominate Jordan Taylor again, and the rest of that team doesn't scare me away from the confines of Kohl, where time moves so slowly that entire civilizations have risen and fell throughout the span of a single Wisconsin offensive possession. Beating the Buckeyes and Spartans is a much taller order. You can only do so much to mitigate a lack of size and an inability to rebound on either end. With that said, I think it could easily happen (Michigan winning the whole thing, that is), but I just can't imagine Buford shooting so poorly again or MSU not destroying us on the boards once again.
Dave Ryan: Michigan has an outstanding chance to run the table in the conference tournament in my mind, and it's because of the high level of defense we saw for 40 minutes against Ohio State. Any time you can keep a good offensive team stifled like that for a full game, and do it because of execution, and not necessarily size and athleticism, I think it bodes well for a multi-day postseason format. I also like UM's chances when the time comes for Trey Burke to put the team on his back, and aside from Draymond Green, I'm not sure there's a more clutch player in the conference right now.
Zach Travis: If the games were played in Crisler I would be on the phone with my bookie right now. Since the games are neutral site games I am a little more leery. I think Michigan has very good odds against everyone outside the top two teams. With the way things are looking Michigan will end up with a two or three seed which means Michigan would most likely need to beat both Michigan State and Ohio State in the semi-finals then the finals. That seems like too much to ask of a this team in the course of one weekend. However, if OSU or MSU gets upset I think that bodes very well for Michigan's chances. Needless to say I'm not holding my breath.
Will this team be able to cobble together enough interior defense with double teams, McLimans and Smotrycz off the bench, and Novak doing the yeoman's work out of position at power forward to make a serious NCAA tournament run or does this team have a ceiling until it gets an infusion of size next year?
TWT: It really depends. If Michigan runs into a team like North Carolina, Kentucky, or Syracuse, there's probably no chance that Michigan's interior defense can hold up (but that can be said of a lot of teams). I wouldn't say that there's a limit on how Michigan can do, it all depends on the draw. I could see Michigan making it to the Final Four if they see teams that they can hang with down low, and I could see Michigan failing to make it out of the first weekend if they see a uniquely awful matchup. I'm not as pessimistic about Michigan's interior defense than others are, but Morgan especially will be the key to Michigan's potential. If he plays as well as he's able to play, the Wolverines are an infinitely dangerous team and could take out pretty much anyone on a given night.
HTR: Well, Michigan held the Buckeyes to 51, basically shut down Meyers Leonard, held Zeller to a modest 11 points. "Cobble" is a good way to put it, but, in short, yes, Michigan can do enough to make a serious run despite the lack of size. Morgan is a type that plays much bigger than he truly is, and Michigan has done a good job of mixing up how it brings the double effectively, as if Greg Mattison is out there calling disguised blitzes. I honestly don't have much of a use for words like "ceiling," especially after a team like Butler advanced to the finals two years in a row. Michigan will go as far as Trey Burke takes them, and, to a lesser extent, how THJ and Smotrycz respond down the stretch.
DR: I think we will see a variety of defensive styles from Beilein in the NCAA Tournament to make up for the lack of size. The 1-3-1 zone will work against some teams for extended stretches, while others will shred it instantaneously and force Michigan back to the drawing board. It all depends on the matchups that the committee puts forth. Morgan still needs to stay out of foul trouble, sure, but the only ceiling I'd put on this team is that I'm not convinced they can beat elite, NBA-ready lineups like Kentucky, Syracuse, and North Carolina.
ZT: I like Michigan's chances in the NCAA tournament despite the lack of size. Jordan Morgan just keeps improving as an interior defender and Beilein is creative enough that he can stymie opposing team with double teams and defensive adjustments on short notice. I know there is a certain segment of opposing fans out there that bristle when someone brings up Beilein's name while talking about the best coaches in the conference, but on a game to game level I have a hard time believeing there is anyone better most days. The gameplans he devises and the subtle in-game adjustments really give Michigan a leg up even when the talent disparity is large. I have confidence in his ability to outscheme most opposing coaches given short notice and when playing two games in a weekend there isnt.
How do you think the rest of Michigan's regular season goes? How do you predict the Wolverines do in the Big Ten tournament, then the NCAA tournament?
TWT: I'm guessing that there's about a 50/50 chance between Michigan finishing these last four games 4-0 or 3-1, with the most likely loss coming to Northwestern. Since that's kind of a cop out, I'll say that Michigan runs the table to finish 24-7 (14-4) and finishes tied for the Big Ten Title. I'm expecting a loss in the Big Ten Tournament to someone -- probably Ohio State or Michigan State. Michigan's resume, if that all plays out, puts them squarely in line for a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If that happens and if I had to guess, I'd say that Michigan wins its first two games with relative ease and doesn't make it out of the region and into the Final Four.
HTR: The visit to Welsh-Ryan is the quintessential trap game. If we win that one, we will finish 4-0. However, we have not done well at Northwestern of late, and our home win earlier this season was of course an exciting but too-close-for-comfort OT victory. Shurna and Crawford will both bring their best--both players that have given us fits in the past--given that a loss here would ostensibly eliminate any small chance they may have of getting Northwestern its first ever NCAA tourney berth. But, if I have to prognosticate, I think Michigan drops the Northwestern game then proceeds to win out.
DR: I say 4-0 to close out the year. and a heart-breaking loss in the Big Ten Tournament to Michigan State. As far as the Big Dance goes, I'm thinking an Elite Eight loss to Kentucky, a Calipari-led unit that should go on to win the whole thing. Anything past the Sweet 16 would be successful in my book, mainly because it's clear that interior depth is a glaring weakness that won't be addressed until Mitch McGary arrives on campus. I'd love to see Michigan end up in New Orleans, but I'm not sure this team has the personnel to pull it off.
ZT: I think Michigan loses a game down the stretch. The Wolverines haven't played very well on the road so far this year and even though the three road games are relatively easy I can see Michigan tripping up once. The order in which I am worried is also the order in which the games are played. Northwestern is a team Michigan should beat, but the Wildcats are playing for a place in the tournament and are too capable of going HAM. Purdue and Illinois are both underachieving (Illinois moreso than Purdue) but on any given night who knows. Penn State should be an easy win. I think Michigan wins one game in the Big Ten tournament but ultiamtely can't make it to the weekend. The NCAA tournament should hold more success. I think Michigan wins three games --- four depending on a favorable matchup --- but I think once the Elite 8 comes Michigan's lack of size will finally start to show.
What team do you think wins the Big Ten tournament and why? What Big Ten team does the best in the NCAA tournament?
TWT: I have been extremely impressed by the Michigan State Spartans over the last few weeks, and even though Tom Izzo's teams have traditionally fared rather poorly in the Big Ten Tournament, I'd have to say that they're the favorites based on the way that they're playing right now. I was in the building when Michigan State dominated Michigan a few weeks ago in East Lansing, and I couldn't believe how well Michigan State did on defense and on the boards. Draymond Green is obviously a fantastic player and leader too, so they've got that going for them as well. For those reasons, I'd say that they're probably the most likely to make a deep run the tournament, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Michigan State or Ohio State in New Orleans for the Final Four.
HTR: As far as the Big Ten tournament goes, anything can happen. Right now, I think the Spartans have the strongest team in the conference. A combination of stingy defense, rebounding, and clutch play from Draymond should be enough to win the Big Ten tourney. The thing about the Spartans is that they can shoot poorly and still have a chance to win with the way that they attack the boards. It's a time-tested formula, really. This Spartan team is no longer a team that turned out to be much better than expected...they're just really good, period.
As much as everybody has talked up the Big Ten this season, I'm not feeling too confident about the prospects of a lot of teams come time for the Big Dance. I have a feeling that the two Michigan teams will best represent the Big Ten. Unless William Buford decides to pick it up, I'm not sure the Buckeyes go farther than the Sweet 16, like last year. Teams like Indiana and Wisconsin have probably one win each in them. After that, well...I'm not sure that there will even be any more teams in the tourney. Either way, Illinois, Purdue, and Northwestern (if we're being generous) are all likely first-round exits if they make it in, although you never know if the right matchup falls down from the bracketologist ether.
DR: Michigan State in both. I know Izzo's teams have really struggled in conference tournaments, but this year's MSU squad has a different edge to it than in past seasons. I'm not sure there's another guy in the country I'd want barking instructions to teammates over Draymond Green, and I get feeling that he's simply not going to let them lose when the time comes, and there aren't enough of those types of players in the nation right now. Branden Dawson also has star written all over him, and the undervalued combination of Payne and Nix will likely surprise everyone when MSU's season is on the line and Izzo has time to gameplan.
ZT: Michigan State. It pains me to say it somewhat because I wasn't sold on this Spartan team early in the season, but after an off year last year Tom Izzo once again has a hardworking squad that is active on the boards and tenacious on defense. Michigan State is playing the best basketball of anyone in the conference and I think the Spartans are odds on favorites to win both the regular season and tournament title. I'm not sure if Michigan State will have what it takes to get to the Final Four. The grind it out style might not work against some of the country's most athletic teams. Overall I agree that the Big Ten will fare poorly compared to expectations, and while I could see four teams making it to the second weekend, I don't think any Big Ten team makes the Final Four.