The Michigan Wolverines basketball season ended when they were knocked out of the tournament by the Texas Tech Red Raiders in blowout fashion. Like most of the season, Michigan struggled to put an offense together, and ran into the No. 1 defense in the country according to KenPom.
With the season now officially over, it’s time to grade each significant player on Michigan’s roster.
Zavier Simpson: A+
Simpson put together a fantastic season for Michigan in 2018-19. The junior point guard developed into one of the most well-rounded point guards in the country with impressive play on both sides of the ball.
As a second-year starter, Simpson became a great leader for this team. Offensively he crafted a beautiful hook shot that he hit with consistency. He also became formidable from behind the arc and was a complete commander of the court.
Show me another player in college basketball with this kind of finesse. #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/3AOObwHEDf— Daniel Plocher (@DanPlocher) March 16, 2019
On the defensive side of the ball, Simpson was just as instrumental. He finished the season first in the Big Ten in defensive win shares at 3.2. Simpson also had the fifth most steals per game in the Big Ten and was in the top five in defensive rating in the conference (90.0).
His overall play earned him a consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection and the All-Big Ten Defensive Team.
Ignas Brazdeikis: A+
Coming into the season there was a lot of hype surrounding Brazdeikis and he lived up to every aspect of it. Iggy led the team in point per game scoring with 14.8 points per contest.
The freshman was easily the most dynamic player on this roster. He brought an energy to this team that perfectly filled in the shoes that the Wolverines would have missed from Moe Wagner this season. Whether it be flexing on opponents, sticking his tongue out, or flashing the cash sign after drilling a three, Iggy knew how to get the team and the Michigan crowd fired up.
Brazdeikis was also a defensive force as he defended nearly all five positions throughout the season. He was the sixth best defensive player in the Big Ten according to his defensive rating (91) and his defensive win shares (2.7).
The freshman was one of the most important pieces to the Wolverines’ Sweet Sixteen run this season. In fact, he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and was a member of the All-Big Ten second-team.
Jon Teske: B+
The one player who made arguably the biggest jump from last season to this one was junior center Jon Teske. Teske perfected the pick n’ roll and pick n’ pop with the help of Simpson this season.
Teske has become a force off the pick n’ roll/pop. Leave him open and this is what happens... #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/M5nAhJ53B3— Daniel Plocher (@DanPlocher) January 26, 2019
His footwork and positioning in the middle of the paint earned the Wolverines countless easy buckets on the inside. Teske also found a knack of popping off a pick and hitting shots consistently from the elbow. Although he was inconsistent, there were portions of this season where Teske drilled three’s with confidence and fluidity.
But the 7-foot-1 center was best known for his defense this season. He led the Big Ten with 75 blocks this season, the 19th most in the country. Teske also had the best defensive rating in the Big Ten at 85.4. Because of his stellar play on both ends, Teske had the second most win shares in the conference at 5.7.
Isaiah Livers: B
Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers may have been the most underrated player on the roster this season.
A lot went wrong for Livers this season. Coach Beilein asked him to come off the bench in favor of the freshman Ignas Brazdeikis. He also injured his back, forcing him to miss two games in the middle of the year. But he remained largely unfazed by all of this change.
When Livers made his way into the game, he made his presence felt. He averaged 7.9 points and 3.9 rebounds in just 22.6 minutes per game this season.
Livers led the team in three-point percentage at a staggering 42.6 percent, and also threw down some massive dunks like this one:
Livers has been a spark plug off the bench all season. He drains 3’s, rebounds well, and throws down dunks like this. Would be a starter for lots of teams in America. #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/CIvCsp1tmT— Daniel Plocher (@DanPlocher) December 30, 2018
The Wolverines were lucky to have a guy like this coming off their bench. He will fill into the starting lineup next season perfectly assuming Charles Matthews and/or Brazdeikis will head to the NBA this summer.
Jordan Poole: B-
Poole was one of the biggest names coming into the season. In the 2017 NCAA Tournament, he drilled the near half court three-pointer to propel Michigan on to a National Championship run.
The sophomore two-guard was really, really good at certain points of the year. He had four 20+ point performances and shot 50 percent from deep in the teams first 13 games. And of course, Michigan won their first 17 games of the season largely in part to his impressive shooting.
But the tides turned after those first few games. Michigan went 13-7 in their last 20 games. In that time period, the sophomore shot only 31.1 percent from behind the arc. Of course, this isn’t a direct correlation, but the Wolverines were just simply a better team when Poole was on.
There were too many moments where Poole tried to play hero ball and chucked up a ton of inadvertent shots. When the offense stalled (which happened often) Poole would take it upon himself to shoot contested three-point shots off the dribble, causing a lot of head scratches from John Beilein.
Defensively, Poole was a liability. He was constantly late on switches and close-outs and teams took advantage of that late in the year. Look back to the Big Ten Championship against the Michigan State Spartans. Poole was late on every screen and close out against Matt McQuaid and he made him pay for it. Not to mention, Poole was also 3 of 11 from the floor and 2 of 9 from deep in that game...
While there is a lot of good things to say about Jordan Poole, there were too many boneheaded three’s that Poole would put up and he isn’t quite ready to make the step to the NBA. He has the tools to be a really good basketball player but he didn’t make the strides he could have this year.
Charles Matthews: C+
Another disappointment this season was the play from senior Charles Matthews. Matthews showed flashes of excellence last season, especially during the NCAA Tournament run. He even considered heading to the NBA after his great college postseason. But he decided to return for at least one more year in Ann Arbor.
But the season didn’t necessarily go as planned. In fact, Matthews had a down year in every major statistical category. He averaged just 12.2 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game in the 2018-19 season. Matthews also shot under 30 percent from behind the arc and suffered another ankle injury which contributed to his down numbers.
At this point, Matthews will be lucky to be drafted this summer. He is projected by many to be a late second-round pick to an undrafted free agent. Matthews does have one year of eligibility left, but he will likely attempt to go pro.
Matthews biggest play of the year was hitting the buzzer-beater to defeat the Minnesota Golden Gophers in late January:
The buzzer beater! #Michigan escapes! #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/eOKlnMq4V9— Daniel Plocher (@DanPlocher) January 23, 2019
Overall, the team had a good season. They were one game away from both a Big Ten regular and tournament championship. On top of that, the team went to a record 17-0 start and made their third straight Sweet Sixteen performance. But they were embarrassed in their final game and lost three times to Michigan State and unfortunately that is how this season will be remembered.