The regular season has wrapped for the 2021-22 Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team, and to say it’s been an up-and-down season is an understatement.
Despite a lack of consistency, a rough stretch in January and a suspension to head coach Juwan Howard, Michigan is 17-13 overall with enough big wins to make a solid NCAA Tournament case.
While the win at Ohio State may have secured their spot in the tournament, winning a few games in the Big Ten Tournament would help the Wolverines get a few more wins and gain momentum heading into March Madness.
In order for themto win a few games in the conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament, they need their senior guards to keep playing well to provide them with a steady presence in intense moments.
Look no further than the Ohio State game to see the importance of senior guards. With Hunter Dickinson out with a stomach bug, DeVante’ Jones was the go-to bucket getter. He led all scorers with 21 points and had a few clutch threes and crafty finishes at the rim.
With 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists and three steals, Eli Brooks was also a key piece in the win. He played great defense and was the glue guy on offense. He made clutch free throws to secure the win.
The play of Brooks has been one of the few consistencies of Michigan’s season so far, as he has been able to consistently make shots from midrange and from three while also leading by example all year long.
Jones’ play has ebbed and flowed this season, but he’s been especially good as of late, stepping up as a scorer with 79 points in the last five games.
We can look at past postseasons to see the importance of having upperclassmen leading your backcourt. As Andy Wittry broke down for NCAA.com in Feb. 2020, 60% of the teams that made the Elite Eight last decade (2010-19) had a junior/senior lead ball-handler.
Looking at recent championship teams, almost all of them have at least one upperclassmen guard who could either get a bucket when called upon, making life hell on defense or both.
Last year’s Baylor team had juniors Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler. Virginia had juniors Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. Villanova had junior Jalen Brunson in 2017-18 and senior Ryan Arcidiacono in 2015-16. UNC had juniors Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, an underrated duo among championship teams. The list goes on and on.
Brooks and Jones are not as talented as some of the guards on this list, as the group above racked up All-American and All-conference honors that likely won’t be coming to the Michigan duo. But we’ve seen it time and time again in recent years that teams that make NCAA Tournament runs tend to have upperclassmen guards who can right the ship when things are going poorly and make or create shots in key moments.
I’m not saying the Wolverines are a national title team; they’ll be lucky to make it out of the first weekend if they make the NCAA Tournament, which is still not a total guarantee.
But if Michigan is going to make any sort of run this postseason, it will be on the backs of Brooks and Jones, whose play the last few weeks has been a big reason why Michigan has been able to stay on the right side of the bubble.