Well folks, believe it or not but March and the pure madness that ensues is just around the corner. Teams each week have struggled to stay ranked and in the top-10. The blue bloods like Kentucky and Kansas are not at the top; it’s the Big East and Virginia fighting for the top seeds, with Michigan State and Duke and others also in the mix.
The No. 17 ranked Wolverines (23-7) went to Happy Valley last night and got the job done after an emotional final home game victory last Sunday against Ohio State. They have one regular season game left on Saturday at Maryland before heading to New York to defend their Big Ten Tournament Championship.
If you’ve been a supporter of John Beilein — I’m sure many reading this have been — he’s proven each year he can develop players to peak when needed, and in a clean way unlike some programs. Wolverine fans shouldn’t be worried about their program being among the laundry list of programs involved in the current investigation that’s about to implode. We will just have to sit back with our popcorn and see how it all unfolds.
But that’s a different discussion for a different day. What I want to talk about today is what I’ve really liked about this team this year. Watching this team since the fall, I’ve been impressed with a few things:
- Moe Wagner and Duncan Robinson can get the job down down low and outside the arc, while being able to throw Jon Teske in the mix for some minutes to relieve Wagner.
2. Zavier Simpson is maturing right in front of our eyes. In 15 games over the months of November and December combined, he scored more than 10 points in only four games. He’s had seven games of more than 10 points in January and February with a season average of 6.7 points per game. He’s improved as the year went on, and he was the one to step up at the position when somebody needed to.
3. Senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is becoming the most consistent player on the team. He’s now averaging 11.8 points per game, just behind the team leader Moe Wagner at 14.5 points.
4. Freshmen Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole can flat out ball as an impressive duo. These two are going to be very special players for Michigan and could very easily become Beilein’s next players to leave early for the NBA.
5. Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews is averaging 13.5 points per game, but has been nonexistent as of late. He didn’t score a single point against Penn State and only had six points against Ohio State. Sure, he had 10 points against Iowa last week, but it took a 4-for-16 shooting night for that to happen. He needs to find his groove quickly before the tournament begins.
The most recent surprise is how many points off the bench this team is able to put up. In the three biggest wins so far, they’ve added more points in each game off the bench:
- Nine points and 10 rebounds at Michigan State. (Jan. 13)
- 26 points and seven rebounds at home against Ohio State. (Feb. 18)
- 32 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks at Penn State. (Feb. 21)
This team has some play-makers, and it’s not all the upperclassmen as we have seen with Poole, but especially against Penn State with the monster dunk heard ‘round the college basketball world.
Nobody knows what this team will do come tournament time. We may see a No. 5 seed team come in after winning the Big Ten Championship for the second straight year and make a possible run to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. On the other hand, we could see a struggling team lose in the first round after being knocked off in the conference tournament and go home early.
They’ve struggled against teams like Northwestern and Nebraska, but have also proven they can compete against the best in the Big Ten. They’ve had marquee wins against top-10 ranked Michigan State and Ohio State squads, so they’ve had their moments.
It’s wide open in the conference and the big dance, but you’ve got to be excited as a fan of the Wolverines to see how this team performs when it matters most. Being coached by a top-tier coach like John Beilein, you would imagine they’d be ready.
What do you see this team doing from here? Let’s hear your hot take and/or tournament predictions in the comments!