It’s been a roller-coaster ride of a season for the Michigan men’s basketball team, as they are 9-7 on the year with 6 single-digit losses after losing in overtime in Iowa City Thursday night.
We’re at about the halfway point of the 2022-23 season, and with 7 losses and no statement wins to their name, the Michigan Wolverines are on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA tournament.
As part of Joe Lunardi’s bracketology, Michigan wasn’t in the first four out, or the next four out.
In NET rankings, an algorithm that rewards teams who beat other good teams, Michigan is ranked 77th as of January 13th, firmly out of the 68-team NCAA tournament picture. That low ranking is largely due to the fact that Michigan is 0-5 in games against Quad 1 teams and has a loss against a Quad 4 team (Central Michigan)
It may feel like the sky is falling to a certain extent, but the regular season is about halfway over and Michigan still has a bit of time to improve the tournament resume. The problem is, these losses can’t continue to pile up. Right when they gain a little bit of momentum, Michigan has a bad habit of losing back-to-back games.
Here are 5 reasons why Michigan can turn their season around and make the NCAA tournament.
Michigan has plenty of chances to pick up Quad 1 wins
The conference is objectively worse than it was last year, but the double-edged sword of playing in the Big Ten is that you play quality competition almost every night
Just as a reminder, 3 things qualify as a Quad 1 win in NET Rankings: home games against teams in the top 30 in NET (NCAA Evaluation tool) , neutral games against top 50 teams, and away games against top 75 teams. Basically, if you can beat good teams, especially on the road, you improve your tournament resume drastically.
As of Jan. 13, here are the opportunities Michigan has to pick up Quad 1 wins, in chronological order:
-at Maryland (38th in NET rankings)
-home vs Purdue (3rd)
-at Penn State (53rd)
-at Northwestern (51st)
-home vs Ohio State (21st)
-at Wisconsin (58th)
-at Rutgers (17th)
-at Illinois (24th)
-at Indiana (37th)
-neutral games in the Big Ten tourney (opponents TBA)
Now, those are 9 tough games (not counting the conference tourney), and you can’t expect Michigan to win all of them. But if Michigan can win 5-7 of them, all of a sudden their tournament resume looks a whole lot better.
They don’t turn the ball over
Michigan only turns the ball over 9.4 times per game, a mark that’s 3rd in the country and in the Big Ten, behind Penn State and Wisconsin.
One thing that has to be noted is that defensively, Michigan doesn’t force a ton of turnovers. They only force 11.44 turnovers per game, a mark that’s tied with Vermont for 304th in the country. This is why their turnover margin (2.0, 81st in the country) is lower than the turnover-per-game number would imply.
Nonetheless, Michigan will keep a lot of games close if they continue to not turn the ball over.
They have one of the best centers in the country, who needs to be more consistent
Teams with dominant players always have a chance to win games and improve their tournament resume, and Hunter Dickinson is about as dominant as they come.
Dickinson is still putting up great numbers as Michigan’s leading scorer and rebounder (18.3 points, 8.5 rebounds per game, 59.3 FG%, 38.9% 3pt%, 70.5% FT%), but all of his counting stats—aside from blocks and three-point percentage—are down since last season.
The eye test backs up those numbers; Dickinson is still objectively Michigan’s best player, but hasn’t been as consistent around the basket and forces a few shots in the post.
Michigan has played through Dickinson, but he has to be a little more consistent to help them earn a few more high-quality wins.
Kobe Bufkin has improved drastically
Last season, one of the biggest reasons why Michigan was able to make a late-season surge was Eli Brooks, a steady presence who could always be counted on to score 10-15 points and defend well.
Jett Howard (15.5 ppg, 38.7% 3pt%) is Michigan’s second-leading scorer and is coming off a 34-point performance, but he hasn’t been great late in games and has struggled defensively.
Kobe Bufkin (12.2 ppg, 1.4 steals per game) has been Michigan’s most improved player on both ends, and has been reliable late in games. Having him score late in games and shut down the other team’s best guard is crucial for Michigan in conference play.
This is a young team, but they’ve gotten a lot of experience closing out games
In the loss to Iowa, we saw a sequence late in the game that was made possible by two freshmen who have gotten more playing time as the year has gone along.
With three minutes left, Dug McDaniel made a clutch three to extend the Michigan lead to 5. A few seconds later, Tarris Reed Jr. corralled a steal from Kris Murray before Murray fouled him.
Dug hitting when guards go under— ᗩᑎT ᗯᖇIGᕼT (@itsAntWright) January 13, 2023
Tarris learning on the fly, offensive rebound, big steal and turnover on Kris Murray
Neither have played perfect, but these moments are big for them
Obviously, Michigan lost the game, but the more close games Michigan plays in, the more confidence-building possessions like that will happen for this young squad. Hopefully, as this season goes along, they’ll get better in crunch time and learn how to close out games.