In what was likely one of the more unique seasons for Michigan men’s basketball in recent past, the Wolverines still found a way to make it to the second weekend of March Madness despite entering the 68 team field with a 17-14 record. There were multiple times during the season where we could have easily written them off or dubbed them in a rebuild to cope with the rollercoaster ride that was this year. It’s hard to forget that Michigan couldn’t string together two wins in a row in its final month of the regular season. While it was the case that we saw some growing pains and some frustrating losses, there were a lot of instances this season where we got to see some truly amazing things.
The first that comes to mind was back in December. Michigan was on the road against Nebraska to kick off the first couple games in Big Ten play. Not only did the Wolverines drop 100 on the Cornhuskers (plus two), but they made 15 total threes over the course of the night. Senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. got the team rolling early from beyond the arc, scoring within seconds of the game’s start. He went for 20 points on the night, just behind sophomore forward Terrance Williams II who scored 22 points off the bench. It was looking like a turnaround after a blowout loss to North Carolina two games prior and the Wolverines put together two wins for the first time since the start of the season in November.
Next, even in a down year in comparison to seasons past, Michigan split win-losses with rivals Michigan State and Ohio State this year. After having to reschedule their home game with the Spartans and losing to MSU on the road a few weeks earlier, coming away with a double-digit win at home was all the more comforting for fans. Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson unleashed his “villain” era on the Spartans in what reminded many of standout forward for the Maize and Blue Moritz Wagner. Dickinson had a career-high 33 points against in-state rival MSU and nothing beats sending your rival packing, a whopping hour drive that is.
This game was also fun. Not only did Michigan beat the Spartans by 17, but the bench mob was adding more fuel to the fire. Led by Will Tschetter and co., there were reps with water bottles and all around tomfoolery to help electrify Crisler to take down a familiar foe. This enthusiastic effort from the bench showed the heart and unity that this team had. MSU was the third-to-last game of the regular season and Phil Martelli’s third game as acting head coach. The Wolverines were coming off another blowout loss, this time to Illinois, so the bench pumping some life into Crisler and into their team was all the more necessary to get Michigan a win.
The regular season finale against Ohio State had everything on the line. Michigan was alternating win-losses like it was pattern day in math class. To make matters worse, Michigan woke up to their star center down for the count. If the Wolverines wanted to keep their tournament hopes in sight, they had to come up with this crucial win. No Dickinson? No problem. Grad transfer DeVante’ Jones was instrumental in elevating Michigan to a win on the road against a ranked rival, putting up 21 points in the effort. He wasn’t alone as sophomore Williams II came off the bench scoring 17 points for the Wolverines. After Ohio State tried charging back in the second half, coming within four points, the Wolverines didn’t waiver and iced the Buckeyes at the free throw line, thanks to Williams II.
There is nothing more fun than sticking it to the top teams of the Big Ten. Michigan had some great games on the road this year and Iowa was no exception. Again we got to see what freshman forward Moussa Diabate was capable of and even freshman Kobe Bufkin was in on the action. Bufkin and Diabate combined for 38 points, with a career high 28 points for Diabate. Watching the younger guys flourish against one of the Big Ten strongholds on the road is reassuring for the future of the program. After the way the season was going, it was nice to see the success that we knew this team was capable of.
Along the same vein was the absolute stomping of Purdue at home. This of course introduced the ever so “controversial” court storming, but Michigan and their fans were just having a good time. Taking down the No. 3 team in the country by walloping them by 24 points is fun and deserves a celebration. Sure, we expected Michigan to be in the top five at the beginning of the season, but we were given a different hand than we thought. We made do with it and fans got to revel in being back to cheer on their team in person. Dickinson led the team once more, scoring 22 points. Not far behind was senior guard Eli Brooks, who was perfect from three on his four attempts. He finished with 18 points for the Wolverines. Michigan was shooting lights out, shooting 51.6% from the floor (32-62) and 57.1 percent from three (12-21).
What was by far one of the best moments of the season was watching what the nay-sayers had to say about Michigan earning an outright 11 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament. We knew there were cases where the Wolverines weren’t pretty this season, but they were definitely a tournament-caliber team. The Wolverines returned to Indianapolis to take on Colorado State in the first round. It was announced earlier that weekend that starting point guard Jones didn’t make the trip. Freshman guard Frankie Collins was to make his starting debut on college basketball’s biggest stage. It was Collins that pushed Michigan to the finish line with a 12 point win over the South Region’s 6 seed. While Dickinson led the team with 21, Collins put up 14 of his own. The Wolverines were able to bounce back from a 15-point deficit to come away with a win to get them to the Round of 32.
The Wolverines were set to face Tennessee, the 3 seed in the Second Round. With a lot of doubt from outsiders of Michigan’s ability to win, Michigan marched its way to the Sweet Sixteen for the fifth time in six years after beating the Vols 76-68. Dickinson led the team with 27 points, but this win was made possible by senior guard Brooks. Brooks returned for one last ride with the hopes of returning Michigan to the Final Four. He was a part of the Maize and Blue’s run in 2018 and his 23 points and stellar hook shot late in the second half sent him back to the Sweet Sixteen fourth time in his career at Michigan. In his parting gift to Michigan, he made the Wolverines sweet once more. Michigan couldn’t ask for a better moment this season if it tried.