College basketball is all about momentum, especially around this time of year.
We’ve seen it time and time again: teams play so-so basketball all season before getting a few big wins in late February/early March and riding that momentum into the postseason.
Enter the 2021-22 Michigan Wolverines basketball team.
To say this season has been a bit of a disappointment for the Wolverines is an understatement. With a preseason ranking of No. 6 and a recruiting class full of big names, many college basketball pundits expected Michigan to be in the national title conversation.
After blowout losses at Arizona and North Carolina, Michigan fell out of the top-25. It got even worse after an ugly home loss to Minnesota; after that one it looked like the Wolverines would have to scratch and claw their way to even making it into the NCAA Tournament.
The losses kept piling up around the new year, with Michigan losing back-to-back games against UCF and Rutgers before a COVID outbreak rocked the program and made them postpone two matchups against Purdue and Michigan State.
Just when things started to look up for the Wolverines, their inconsistencies crept up again. After amassing their first three-game win streak since mid-November, Michigan State blew them out in East Lansing and fans began to question if this team even deserved to make the NCAA Tournament.
From there, it became a joke on Twitter that the Wolverines couldn’t win two games in a row, with the proof of that unfolding in front of our eyes. They barely lost to a Purdue team that was one of the hottest in the country at the time, sandwiched between two ugly wins over Big Ten cellar dwellers in Nebraska and Penn State.
After All-Big Ten freshman Moussa Diabate put on a show in Iowa and helped the Wolverines to another big win, Michigan got blown out in Madison and lost head coach Juwan Howard for the remainder of the regular season.
When Michigan needed him most, associate head coach Phil Martelli helped guide the Wolverines to three wins in their last five games, including wins where they got their revenge against Rutgers, Michigan State and Ohio State. Most bracketologists project those three wins will secure Michigan a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
So what exactly was the point of that long-winded recap, Kellen? We get it, this team has sucked for a good portion of the year, why should we expect them to do anything in the postseason?
Well, the point is to say this team has been through hell and back, and through all of it they have never given up. They had plenty opportunities to wave the white flag and have guys start hunting shots for their draft stock, but they stayed persistent and have played great team basketball as of late.
“They’re resilient,” Martelli said recently. “There was an easy excuse to not play well against Rutgers. And then to come back after Illinois, and that was a physical challenge, and yet we came back and had this energy.”
That Ohio State victory was Michigan’s most important win of the season. In a hostile environment, without their best player and their head coach, the Wolverines proved they can play against good competition. They spaced the floor, made the extra pass, hit threes that have clanged off the rim all season and hit the big shots when they needed to most.
Hopefully they can build off their excellent performance and win a few games in the Big Ten Tournament to stay out of the play-in games in Dayton.
After a roller coaster ride of a regular season, the Wolverines have played their best brand of basketball over the last few weeks. They may just be that so-so team that’s getting hot at the right time.
We haven’t been able to say this much all season, but they finally have some momentum. Now let’s see what they can do with it.