College basketball fans and experts have reveled in the various ways the Michigan Wolverines have been able to win games in 2020-21. Analysts have praised their defensive abilities, the domination Michigan has shown on the interior and the lights-out shooting they have displayed from behind the arc. It is not just one guy that is the superstar of the team that has to play well to win.
That train has slowed down a bit with the injury situation with Isaiah Livers. Livers is certainly one of the best players on the team and has been the guy you can count on to get a bucket, but he is not the end-all-be-all for Michigan’s success. Yet, 33 of 34 ESPN college basketball experts do not have the Wolverines in their Final Four.
If you need some convincing — or maybe just some reassurance — that Michigan still can make a deep run in the tournament, I have got you covered. Here are three reasons why Michigan has as good of a shot as anybody over the next few weeks.
Hunter Dickinson and interior offense will be priority
This one is pretty simple. Hunter Dickinson has been one of the most dominant players in the country this season as a true freshman. He has shown the capability to take over games with five double-doubles on the year. When opposing teams don’t scheme properly for him, he has been known to wreak havoc in the middle.
Evidence of that was in the closing minutes of the one-point loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament. Everyone will remember the dazzling steal and layup in the full-court press with little time remaining. What people forget is that he scored nine of his 22 points in the Wolverines’ 12-3 run in the final minutes of the game. The game can be swung in Michigan’s direction when Dickinson is on.
Dickinson’s size is going to be a mismatch early in the tournament. Texas Southern and LSU’s tallest rotation players are 6-foot-9 or shorter. Osun Osunniyi from St. Bonnaventure, who stands at 6-foot-10, would be the tallest player Dickinson could face within the first two rounds of the tournament. Anybody who plays Michigan is going to struggle with the 7-foot-1 phenom as they attempt a Final Four run.
Michigan will play more of a low-post game with Brandon Johns Jr.’s expanded role. The Wolverines were at their best against Ohio State when they fed them both inside. The offense was much more stagnant and things started to slip when they went away from that.
There must be a balance of inside and outside play for Michigan to make a run, but leaning on their big men when shots are not falling from deep will be extremely important while Livers is not on the court.
Michigan has shot very poorly in games they have lost
Sometimes the game of basketball is rudimentary and it comes down to who is shooting the ball better. In the Wolverines’ losses to Ohio State, Illinois, and Minnesota, they shot 36.4 percent from the field and 29.1 percent from deep. That is far from their averages of 48.3 percent and 38.7 percent on the year, respectively.
Their opponents hit 45.3 percent of their attempts and 41.5 percent of their threes. Some of that was definitely forced by good defense and poor play from Michigan. As simple as it may sound, Michigan has struggled most when the shots do not fall. Stunning!
There is also a tie-in with Livers’ shooting in these losses. He only hit about a third of his attempts in games that Michigan lost this season. One of them he was not on the floor for, obviously.
The area for concern here is that Livers can be the guy counted on to hit a shot and get the team out of a slump. That was severely missed in the run that Duane Washington and Ohio State went on in the Big Ten Tournament. Someone will need to step up and be that guy for Michigan to keep them in tight contests.
The Wolverines will play with a chip on their shoulder
Michigan has been widely considered one of the best teams in the country all year. They enter the NCAA Tournament on a bit of a skid having lost three of their last five games. Throw in the Livers injury and you have a team that is the No. 1 seed experts have the least amount of confidence in.
Then, a team like Illinois goes and wins the Big Ten Tournament after claiming themselves as the Big Ten Regular Season champions, citing their blowout win in Ann Arbor without star Ayo Dosunmu.
This team was picked to finish 9th in the Big Ten before the season by some outlets. No one believed in them before the season and their current outlook sort of echoes that. Phil Martelli said earlier this week that, “All of the sudden we’ve become the first No. 1 that will go down.”
That does not change the mindset in the locker room. After the loss to Ohio State, Dickinson told the media, “Every single player in that locker room fully believes that we are the best team in the country and that we will win the national championship.” That’s not just going to change because of what the outside world is saying about them.
Losing Livers is certainly a blow for the Wolverines, but the pieces are still there to make a run through this tournament. Who says they can’t defy expectations again this March.
Let’s play basketball.