Wait, what?! There was a plane crash? They won the Big Ten Tournament? They upset Louisville in the tourney? And now they're in the Sweet 16?? Dang, that was a rough month to have that coma.
Well, if you’re like me, or if it’s that time of year when you start remembering that Michigan has a basketball team too, then I have some news for you. They’re pretty good. For many more Michigan fans, this went all the way from real to surreal on Sunday the 19th when they beat 2nd seeded Louisville in a 73-69 thriller - reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the third time under Beilein. So if any of this applies to you, it may help to get a refresher - and this article is here to help.
But, before you continue, there are a few things you need to know about the team as a whole. They lead the nation in fewest turnovers, can catch fire as a team from three point range at any moment, and have improved considerably on the defensive end. They can win in a 53-50 slug fest or a 92-91 tire fire.
Oh, and the Sweet 16 game against Oregon (3) is set to tip off on Thursday at 7:09 PM EST.
Moritz (Mo) Wagner (F): 6'11'' 240 lbs
Notable Season Stats: 11.8 PPG, 4 RPG, 55% FG, 40% 3FG
Strengths: He's not your traditional center, but nobody is in Beilein's offense. His nationality, shot and attacking instinct has earned a lot of comparisons with Dirk Nowitzki. His three point percentage is insane for a man his size.
However, don't let that fool you into thinking he shies away from the rim. He thrives on taking another Big on the perimeter, faking his shot, taking one dribble, and either laying it up or slamming it home with contact. He is probably the greatest single matchup problem of any team Michigan plays and is the most likely to succeed at the NBA level.
Weaknesses: Teams are starting to double or help on him and he has a hard time passing out of those situations. His greatest weakness is defense and rebounding. At 6'11'', he simply has to learn to be more productive on the defensive boards and he has been consistently poor at doing so all season. He is very thin for his size and gets taken advantage of inside by opposing centers, which almost always gets him into foul trouble and out of the game.
Best Game of the Year: THIS SUNDAY against #2 Seeded Louisville with a career high 26 points, three rebounds, and two steals. In a game Michigan trailed for most of the 1st half, Wagner put the team on his back and led them to their biggest tournament victory in years.
D.J. Wilson (F): 6'10'' 240 lbs
Notable Stats: 10.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 54.6% FG, 36.36% 3FG
Strengths: One of the finest athletic (and stylish) specimens to come out of the Michigan program, Wilson can defend any position. This is a key attribute of his since he can disappear on offense every now and then. Since the Big Ten Tournament started, he has averaged 16.1 points and two blocks.
His new scoring frenzy has come with an improving post move and confidence around the rim. Much like Wagner, he has a good 3 point shot for his size, but he is learning to diversify his game and really put his opponents in unguardable situations. Several of his blocks came at key points in games. He is the the best dunker and one of the best finishers on the team.
Weaknesses: He tends to disappear on offense and on the glass. A guy with his physique should get at least 8 rebounds a game and he just doesn't. He is often out of position and relies too much on his athleticism.
Best Game of the Year: March 10 vs Top Seeded Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament. Playing a team with arguably the best inside presence in the country, he posterized the Boilermakers outside and in with 26 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks. One of those blocks came against the potential game winning shot of Purdue in order to send the game into overtime.
Zak Irvin (G): 6'7'' 214 lbs
Notable Stats: 12.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, 44% FG, 34% 3FG
Strengths: One of the two starting seniors on the squad, his greatest asset is his experience and confidence under pressure. He was recruited for his quick release and three point shot, but his best shot is actually contested 15-20 footers coming off screens. The best addition to his game has been driving to the hoop to get layups under contact. In a tight game down 4 with less than a minute to go against the #1 Seeded Purdue in the Big Ten Tourney, he came up big with two back to back layups. That is a new aspect to his game he simply did not have the first two years of his college career.
Weaknesses: He tends to take bad shots. During the regular season, he often got his team in to trouble by settling for contested three point shots when he had a plethora of young talent on his team. That being said, he is one of the biggest reasons for Michigan's new resurgence. He is learning not to do too much and waiting to catch fire before he takes low-percentage shots.
Best Game of the Year: November 18, 2016 vs SMU: He really shown in this game against a very good team with 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Walton stole the show a little with 7 three pointers, but Irvine was the 2K Tournament MVP for a reason.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (G): 6'4'' 190 lbs
Notable Stats: 9.3 PPG, 47% FG, 39.6% 3FG
Strengths: One of the best names on the team, Abdur-Rahkman won't wow you with his numbers. He is not at the top of the stat sheet in any category, except one: turnovers. He is the best penetrating guard on the team and has only committed 36 turnovers in 37 games. That is phenomenal considering how often he has the ball in his hands.
He also has a good three point shot, finishes well around the rim, is a good ball handler, and can pass himself out of tight spaces. He is not going to take over a game, but he provides the consistent, no-mistakes play you need from a guy on this team.
Weaknesses: This is his greatest strength! He doesn't really do anything poorly.
Best Game of the Year: March 9, 2017 vs Illinois. For sports fans, the first game in the Big Ten Tournament was a coming out party for the Wolverines and Abdur-Rahkman was a key ingredient. He finished with 17 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 0 turnovers.
Derrick Walton, Jr. (G): 6'1'' 190 lbs
Notable Stats: 15.5 PPG, 4.7 APG, 5.4 RPG, 43.9% FG, 42.2% 3FG
Strengths: This senior has gone from a role player prone to injury to the most valuable player on the team. At the end of last year, if anyone would have said Derrick Walton would lead the team in scoring, assists, and rebounding, every Michigan fan would have said they were out of their mind. His assist total doesn't come as much of a surprise, but the scoring and rebounding is stunning.
Since the Big Ten Tourney, he's averaged 19.6 points and 7 assists. He makes excellent decisions and always seems to find a pass when no one else does. John Beilein cannot win without good to great point guard play and he is getting it from a guy a lot of people wrote off at the end of last year. This is Derrick Walton's year and it is clear he does not intend to go out with anything short of a bang.
Weaknesses: As good of a point guard as he is, his ability to force his way into the lane is limited by his size. He is blocked and pushed to the ground often. Fortunately, opponents haven't been able to guard him too close because of his passing ability.
Best Game of the Year: March 17, 2017 vs Ok St in NCAA Tournament. The guy had 26 points (6/9 from three point range), 11 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, a block, and only three turnovers. That is the level of Trey Burke and then some.
Mark Donnal (F): 6'9'' 240 lbs
Notable Statistics: 4 PPG, 2 RPG, 61% FG, 47% 3FG
Strengths: The former two-year starter saw his minutes greatly reduced this year in favor of rising talent from Wagner and Wilson. Coming in relief of these two has worked great for Michigan as he still has a great shot and knows system well. He has improved considerably at finishing at the rim. His three point percentage is a bit misleading, since he's only attempted 17. However, that really is probably the best offensive part of his game.
Weaknesses: As soon as he comes in the game, you can be certain he is going to be scored on right away and give up rebounds. He doesn't have a post move, plays smaller than he is, and just generally shies away from contact.
Best Game of the Year: November 17, 2016 vs SMU. He scored 15 points, including a 3, with three rebounds, an assist, and a block only playing half the game. In a game where Wagner got into early foul trouble, he came in and contributed to help Michigan throttle a good team in Marquette.
Duncan Robinson (G): 6'8'' 215 lbs
Notable Stats: 6.8 PPG, 43% FG, 48% 3FG
Strengths: Yet another former who has hit his stride coming off the bench. He is one of only two Division III players to ever transfer to a Division I school. He exploded onto the scene last year with his three point shooting ability, drawing comparisons to current 76er and former Wolverine Nik Stauskas.
As a starter, he was frequently taken advantage of on the defensive end and teams defenses adjusted to his offensive game. As a bench player, he is much harder to plan for and has often come on the floor to totally energize the offense. His ability to drive into the lane and create for other teammates has improved as well. He is the team's most important bench player and a primary reason the team has found success down the stretch.
Weaknesses: He doesn't have the attacking instincts of his doppelganger, Nik Stauskas. Also, he is a liability on defense at any position. He typically shies away from contact, so he does not rebound well either.
Best Game of the Year: February 25, 2017 vs Purdue. He only played 20 minutes, but was 3 for 4 from 3, including a beautiful fade away at the halftime buzzard to give us a commanding lead against the first place team in the Big Ten. He finished with 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 0 turnovers in a game that, at the time, was a must win to get into the Big Dance.
Xavier Simpson (G): 6'0'' 180 lbs
Notable Stats: None.
Strengths: He only plays a few minutes a game, but he spells the most important position on the team. We must know about him! A relative unknown Wolverine, this freshman is more than meets the eye.
His greatest asset as a bench player is that he is not a liability on defense. Beilein has consistently played him at the end of tight games when he has the lead. You don't do that with players you don't trust with something. He has held his own on defense and is an excellent ball handler. He doesn't contribute much on the offensive floor, but he gives Walton and Abdur-Rahkman the little breather they need.
Plus, it's March. You never know when a freshman is going to go off and explode onto the scene.
Weakness: He's still adjusting to the speed of the game as well as Beilein's system, but that will come with experience. He doesn't have a great shot or vision yet.
Best Game of the Year: February 7, 2017 vs Michigan St. Many argue this was a turning point in Michigan's season. Simpson only played 12 minutes, but hit his 4th 3 of his career and finished with 7 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, and one turnover. He played a good defensive game and, most importantly, seemed to have command of the offense. He made several excellent cuts to the basket and finished like an older, bigger man.
A lot of Michigan players played well in this blow out win, so he got buried a little bit. However, this the game Michigan fans should have noticed they had some talent to look forward to.
The 7-foot freshman Jon Teske does not usually play, but he could see some action if the starting bigs get into foul trouble, like they did against Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament. He's got good size and shot blocking ability, but he has not adjusted to the college game well and needs another year to actually contribute.
Well, there you have them! The Michigan Sweet 16 Team! The only thing not included was the free throw percentage, but that's because it's so good, it's boring! Zak Irvin is the only player below 70% with 66%. All 8 Wolverine players shoot and they all share the ball. Even before Sunday's game, Rick Pitino claimed it felt like preparing for the Golden State Warriors.
There is no doubt - no one knows exactly which Michigan player is going to shine in any given game. To the Michigan Basketball team - the eyes of the Wolverine Nation are upon you. We’re rooting for you.