If you have stepped on a golf course before, you know what a mulligan is.
A mulligan is an extra stroke that is allowed after a golfer hits a poor shot. The poor shot doesn't count against the golfer's score, and he is able to re-hit from the same spot where he just struck his poor shot. You'll never see this on the PGA Tour or if Jordan Spieth misses a Masters-clinching putt on the 18th green at Augusta, but you might when your buddy shanks his second shot with his five iron from the fairway into the woods at the fourth hole of your local links. And only after he's begged you to permit him to have one.
There's no such thing as a mulligan in basketball, but, if there was, Michigan would have begged to use one last season. The Wolverines were a preseason top-25 team -- not expected to rise as high as the Elite Eight as they had the previous two years but talented enough to make its mark on the Big Ten and reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament -- and they opened as if they had hit a nice drive off the tee box. They were 6-1 with their only loss being a close defeat to what would be a top-five Villanova team.
But, just like your buddy's second shot from the fairway, Michigan shanked theirs. Back-to-back stunning upsets at the hands of NJIT and Eastern Michigan. A blowout loss in Tucson. A late-game implosion at home against SMU. In just two weeks, Michigan went from sitting pretty on the fairway to being buried in the deep rough off in the wilderness. It was going to take a drastic turnaround for Michigan to work its way back onto the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble and save par. But, as Michigan hacked at the ball, its right arm fell off when two of its best three players, Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr., suffered season-ending injuries in the early portion of the Big Ten season.
And, for most people, it's pretty difficult to golf when you have only one arm.
With LeVert and Walton out, John Beilein was forced to give unheralded true freshmen Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman (MAAR), players who were redshirt candidates at the beginning of the season, extended minutes. The results were as you would expect. The Wolverines had an eight-game stretch during which it lost seven times. It was the equivalent to hitting seven rollers to reach that flat, beautiful green.
But something strange happened in the final week of the season. Michigan began to perform like an upper-tier Big Ten team as Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht played some of the best basketball of their careers and Dawkins blossomed from unheralded freshman into Beilein's next potential Big Ten gem. The Wolverines closed the season by blowing the doors off of Rutgers and Illinois before taking national runner-up Wisconsin down to the wire in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. It was like Michigan sinking a 17-foot putt with a steep left-to-right break, except U-M was shooting for a quintuple bogey, not netting par. Michigan finished with a 16-16 mark and didn't participate in the postseason.
It was a lost season for Michigan -- one that will count in the record books but not one that will count in the hearts of Michigan fans. And it's one that they'd like to do over.
Well, Michigan will get as good of a chance as any to do just that in 2015-16.
Again, Michigan is a preseason top-25 team -- or one that is just two votes away from being one -- and expected to make its mark on the Big Ten before making a run for the Sweet 16. The entire core of the team returns. LeVert and Walton are healthy. Irvin and Albrecht hope to continue their elevated play on the hardwood from the end of last season as soon as they recover from their offseason surgeries. Dawkins looks to make the leap. MAAR, Kam Chatman, Ricky Doyle, and Mark Donnal are back as contributors. Plus, Michigan adds three new clubs to its golf bag in stretch big men D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner and sharpshooter Duncan Robinson. The only departure is Max Bielfeldt.
They're a bit older, a bit more experienced, and a bit deeper, but the Wolverines essentially are the same team with the same expectations as last season. And they won't get another opportunity like this as LeVert and Albrecht are seniors. So this is Michgan's second chance to prove last year's team was derailed by injuries and is capable of success.
Sounds kind of like the basketball equivalent of a mulligan to me.
Let's hope the Wolverines don't shank it this time.
Maize n Brew's 2015-16 Michigan basketball preview will continue with Michigan position previews for the rest of this week before diving into the rest of the Big Ten next week.