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Roundtable: Michigan Basketball Goes To The Big Dance

Our football roundtable has been taken over by shootyhoops. Madness, I tell you. Madness.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Michigan vs Minnesota Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Nick: Hey, guys. Obviously, this turnaround by John Beilein’s team has been extraordinary to watch. What’s been your favorite part of this amazing run?

Will: These guys are playing like a team with nothing to lose and an apathy for the opinion of others. Plenty of teeth and work ethic and getting each others’ backs. In short, they are playing like a team, not a program. There were points in the season that even Beilein seemed at a loss, enough to publicly voice his frustration. So it’s been cool to see them come together and realize their potential.

One thing I’m not looking forward to if they continue to pull down wins: the constant references to the plane accident as some sort of existential turning point in the season. Enough, already. The plane incident was a rallying point, but Michigan was playing strong leading into the conference tourney. Just ask Purdue.

Von: Will hit on a lot of points and thoughts that I had. The Michigan basketball squad is playing amazing team ball, one of the reasons they won the Big 10 Tournament last Sunday against Wisconsin. After the plane incident, they could have given up, not traveled to D.C. to play in the tournament and just rest and prepare for the NCAA Tournament. But they didn’t do that. They banded together, rose to the occasion and took down the top two seeds in the conference tournament and won that tournament for the first time this millennium.

From the tough losses (OT in Minnesota, Hail Mary at NW) to runs like this in the Big 10 Tournament and everything in between, this team is just plain fun to watch right now and it’s been a sensational story. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing this team mature and play team ball while going through everything they’ve went through this season. Can’t wait to see how they fare in the NCAA Tourney.

Jared: It would be so easy to say “the response to the plane crash” and leave it at that, but this team was on the rise before that little (throat clear) mishap occurred. Will and Von collectively hit it on the head here in saying that this group morphed from a group of individual players into a real team as the season progressed. They look like they are playing loose and enjoying the ride at this point. For those of us that have been watching from the first game of the season, the progress has been incredible.

Nick: We all know Derrick Walton has been the superstar, but there are so many aspects that make this team as good as it is. What’s something, or someone, you really enjoy watching the most?

Will: I’ll go with a popular choice and vote for D.J. Wilson as the best storyline this season. I’ve been paying closer attention to Wilson than most because he came out of a small private school just down the road from me in Sacramento. Capital Christian has about a 100 students in a graduating class, so I was surprised to hear he’d snagged a Michigan offer. Hats off to Coach Beilein and his staff for sizing up the kid’s “lanky smooth” athleticism and giving him a couple years to adjust to a bigger stage. While Walton has certainly been the team’s bedrock, Wilson has given them an unexpected push to keep them competitive, even during the season’s low points.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Final-Michigan vs Wisconsin
Wilson’s impact goes far beyond the box score, but those 15.3 points, 5.5 boards and 1.3 blocks during the Big Ten Tourney run were hugely felt.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

David: Everything, it's truly amazing how they've come together the last week. If I have to pick something, it's the aggressive play and focus by this team. Wilson has stepped up on defense, guys off the bench can prove their impressive shooting ability, Walton is doing his thing, and their confidence has peaked at the right time when it counts the most. The fact that this team was 14-9 earlier in the year looking more like an NIT team, has a plane crash and arrives to D.C. Thursday morning, then becomes the first 8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament to win it all, it was a span of five days this team will never forget.

Von: I’m with David. The focus the team has kept while going through everything they have is pretty incredible. But the defense has been a real key reason this team has been able to continue to win game after game.

The Wolverines had their issues with Ethan Happ last Sunday afternoon, but they limited Wisconsin’s star Bronson Koenig. He went 5-of-14 from the field for 15 points. He struggled mightily in the second half, which was based on a great halftime adjustment by the Wolverines. They left Koenig wide open for several 3-pointers in the first half, but you didn’t hear much of him in the second half.

Having a solid defense is something John Beilein has always strived for during his tenure at Michigan. It took most of the season, but it’s all starting to click for him and the team. And it couldn’t come at a better time.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Michigan vs Minnesota Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Jared: I will give a little love to that other senior, Zak Irvin. There were times early in the season where I had some serious doubts about whether or not he should even be a starter on this team. In the Big Ten Tournament, he started slashing to the basket and being much more aggressive, which more often than not led to good things. The defense seemed to get better week in and week out and D.J Wilson looks like a future NBA contributor. I hate the term ‘swag’, but these guys seemed to play with more of it each week. And would somebody please just erect a statue of John Beilein somewhere in Ann Arbor already? The dude is one of the best to ever do it.

Nick: Speaking of John Beilein, what has this past month meant for him and the program? Right when everybody’s eyes were on them, it seemed like, they started playing lights out.

Will: If nothing else, I hope this puts to rest any rumblings about Beilein’s job security. Sure, there’s been a measure of inconsistency during his tenure, but Coach Beilein has taken some good teams to some great heights, and he did so without casting aside his ethics. Look for this run, especially if it goes deep into the NCAA tourney, to provide a push to recruiting. Even if it doesn’t lock down a five-star recruit (prove me wrong, Bamba!), Michigan’s success might place them on the radar of future classes.

Eric: What a fun run in DC! Not only the title, but just a tremendous character check. What most excited me (other than Watson making the leap this last month) was Irvin: making some clutch plays and showing some confidence off the dribble. They also seem to be switching off screens much better than earlier in the season and really communicating on D.

They got a pretty tough bracket placement though (how is Minnesota 2 seeds higher????). Louisville has a lot of talent and depth, so I would be surprised it they got past the weekend (and don’t overlook OK St.). Even if they don’t make the Sweet 16, the team can really be proud of this Big Ten title.

David: John Beilein has silenced the doubters and also became the winningest coach in program history. His team next year will be young, but with a mediocre Big Ten, they will be competitive and fight to win another conference championship.

Von: This has meant everything for Beilein and the squad. It has been an incredible run so far, and I am SO excited for this tournament to start to see how these hot teams like Michigan fare against the rest of the competition.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Final-Michigan vs Wisconsin Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

But there have been so many doubters this season that this run they’ve went on has been big for the program. Whether it was from the #FireBeilein crowd or the #IrvinSucks crowd (I think I just made up the hashtag, but I think you get what I mean), the haters were all over the Wolverines this year. No matter how far they end up going in the tournament, you cannot deny the dedication Beilein has to the program, and the heart that the players have while playing for the team and being a part of a team like this one.

Maybe, just maybe, those haters will disappear heading into next season...probably not.

Jared: I have to admit I had my doubts in the talent level of this team at the beginning of the season, but never in Beilein. Coaches like him do not grow on trees and he has been the steady hand that guides this program. He knows and believes in his system, and goes and gets guys that can grow into productive roles within it. It would be great to see a deep tournament run lead to a few upsets on the recruiting trail, but we will probably always be more likely to grab high 4 star guys than to take 5 star, NBA types from the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, etc.

Nick: And the big question now - how far can they go in the tournament?

Will: Michigan has the most critical factor on their side: they are hot heading into the tourney. I like them to surprise the not-nearly-as-hot Louisville (they’ve lost their last 3 of 5) on their way to a Sweet Sixteen showdown with Oregon. The Ducks lost their best defender in the paint, Chris Bouchard, to an ACL tear, but I still think they top Michigan. That’s assuming the madness that is March doesn’t get to Louisville or Oregon, first. One can hope.

David: The scene with Wolverine nation in Indianapolis will be exciting. They have firepower on offense and a defense coming together to compete with anyone in the tournament. Oklahoma State is a solid team with a win over West Virginia in early February. They have close games against Kansas and Baylor, so their insane uptempo style of offense will test the Wolverines averaging 85.5 points compared to Michigan's 74.8. They have lost three straight and Michigan makes it a fourth to end their season. They move on to get revenge against Louisville in a close game to play Oregon in the sweet sixteen. This games goes to overtime and Michigan defeats the Ducks to play Kansas for a rematch from the 2013 matchup, but the run ends against the Jayhawks.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Final-Michigan vs Wisconsin Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Von: How far can they go — all the way to the championship. How far will they go — I’d say the Sweet 16 at the farthest.

Michigan has a very tough side of the bracket to deal with. They have to begin with an offensively powered Oklahoma State team. If they beat them, they’d more than likely play Louisville. If they beat Louisville, they’d probably draw Oregon. That’s a difficult road to the championship. I don’t see the Wolverines making it that far, unfortunately. If they ended up making a deep run, however, I wouldn’t be that shocked.

I have Michigan beating Oklahoma State AND Louisville, but losing to Oregon in the Sweet 16. Michigan is among the hottest teams in the country at the moment, so because of that I think they will take down basketball powerhouse Louisville. But that steam will run out in the next weekend of the tournament. I don’t know what the rest of you guys have, but fire away in the comments and let me know how far you have Michigan going.

Jared: These esteemed gentlemen hit the nail on the head. Michigan is hot, and that counts for something. But they have a tough, tough road ahead of them. Not quite sure why we drew a 7 and not a 6 or even a 5, but that ship has sailed. I am a believer that strong guard play can take you a long way in the tournament, and we certainly have that. In my bracket I have them going to the Elite 8 (because why not?), but my head tells me a Sweet 16 loss to Oregon is more likely.

Thanks to everybody here for participating in this week’s roundtable. What are your thoughts? Sound off below.