Drew Montag, Basketball Editor
Drew Montag, Basketball Editor
It’s over, and it was better than just about anyone (including me) expected. The 2017-2018 University of Michigan men’s basketball team finished their season last week, and it was just 31 minutes from being fabulous. The team finished with a record of 33-8 (13-5 in the Big Ten), and made it to the Championship Game in the NCAA Tournament in San Antonio (TX) on Monday (04/02/2018). They were leading Villanova 21-14 with 10:59 to go in the 1st half, and if the game had just ended there, we’d be talking National Championship. However, there were still 31 minutes left to play, and Villanova caught fire, and crushed Michigan 79-62. Oh well, it was still a great season.
In my Season Preview, way back in late October 2017, I predicted that this season’s Michigan team would be “not quite as good as last season.” Wrong. This season’s team was quite a bit better than last season’s team, especially over the last 5 games of the regular season, the 4 games in the Big Ten Tournament, and first 5 games of the NCAA Tournament. They strung together a 14-game winning streak, including winning the Big Ten Tournament for the second year in a row, and getting to the championship game in the NCAA Tournament. That’s very good.
There were some bumps along the way. They opened the season with a few unimpressive wins in home “guarantee” games (Grand Valley State [exhibition], North Florida, Central Michigan, and Southern Mississippi), before going to Hawaii for the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. They lost their first game there, to LSU, which was a bad omen, but they did go on to win the loser’s bracket with wins over Chaminade and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU). They came home for another win in a home “guarantee” game against UC Riverside, then went on the road for their game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge: at (#13 and defending NCAA champs) North Carolina. It didn’t go well: UNC beat Michigan handily. At this point, things didn’t look too encouraging. Michigan had only played 3 games against decent competition (LSU, VCU, and UNC), and they had lost 2 of them.
Thanks to the “compressed” Big Ten schedule, which was necessary so the Big Ten could play their tournament in Madison Square Garden, each Big Ten team played 2 league games in early December. Michigan beat Indiana in Ann Arbor, then went to Columbus and lost a miserable game to Ohio State. The win over IU was encouraging, and UM got a big lead (20 points) in the 1st half of the OSU game, then collapsed in the 2nd half. At this point, all the “experts” were picking OSU to finish 13th or 14th in the league standings, so losing to them looked like a terrible omen. As it turned out, OSU was in 1st place for most of the season, before fading in the last few weeks, but in early December, it looked like Michigan was in really bad shape. At the time, the loss to OSU looked like the worst possible loss of the season.
After the brief 2-game Big Ten mini-season, Michigan finished up their non-conference schedule with 3 home games, 1 away game, and 1 neutral site game. The first home game was a good one, against (#23) UCLA, and Michigan won it in overtime. The next game was the away game, at Texas. It’s a tough place to play, and it was impressive that Michigan managed to win. The neutral site game was next, vs. Detroit-Mercy in Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Michigan looked great in that game, and won easily. Things were starting to look up. UM played 2 more home “guarantee” games (Alabama A&M and Jacksonville), and won both of them easily.
So, at the end of 2017, Michigan had a record of 12-3 (1-1 in the Big Ten), with a few impressive wins (VCU, Indiana, UCLA, and Texas), a few disappointing losses (LSU, UNC, and OSU), and a bunch of wins over lesser competition. The rest of the regular season games were all Big Ten games, and Michigan started 2018 with a pair of wins over lower-division teams (at Iowa, and home vs. Illinois). Then came Michigan’s biggest home game of the season: (#5) Purdue. Michigan should have won it, but the incompetent Big Ten refs stole the game for Purdue in the last 4 seconds. It was very frustrating.
Michigan didn’t have much time to feel bad for themselves, because they had to play at (#4) Michigan State just 4 days later. It looked like a sure loss, but Michigan played their best game of the season, and won convincingly. It was Michigan’s best win of the regular season.
No time to rest: just 2 days later, Michigan came home and beat a pretty good Maryland team in the final seconds. Just 3 days after that, UM went back on the road, and got pounded by Nebraska. This was certainly Michigan’s worst game of the regular season, and people were whispering “NIT”. At this point, Michigan’s record was 16-5 (5-3 in the Big Ten). Things were not going very well.
Michigan played their last game of the first half of the Big Ten schedule vs. Rutgers in Ann Arbor, and beat them handily, then they went on the road again for a rematch against (#3) Purdue. Purdue won again, this time without any help from the refs, in a close, high-scoring, exciting game. Michigan returned to Ann Arbor for 2 home wins (Northwestern and Minnesota), although the Minnesota game was closer than it should have been, and Michigan had to go to overtime to win it. Things were starting to look up, a little. Michigan’s record was now 19-6 (8-4), and they had mostly winnable games left on their schedule. They had a few too many league losses to have a reasonable chance of winning the Big Ten regular season title, but they stood a decent chance of finishing in the top 4, which would get then a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Then came the second Northwestern game, on the road. It was a disaster. However, it may have been just the thing to wake Michigan up, because it was their last loss until the National Championship game. As an interesting coincidence, the last two teams to beat Michigan were both nicknamed “Wildcats” (Northwestern and Villanova).
Michigan has always had a very hard time winning in Madison, and even though Wisconsin was having a pretty bad season, UM’s win in the Kohl Center was very impressive. Iowa came to Ann Arbor, and UM beat them handily. Even though it was only February 18th, the rematch vs. (#8) Ohio State was Senior Day, and Michigan won impressively. It was Michigan’s best home game of the season. The Wolverines went on the road for the last 2 games of the regular season (Penn State and Maryland), and ruined 2 Senior Nights to finish the regular season 24-7 (13-5).
Michigan ended up tied for 4th place in the Big Ten with Nebraska, but since Nebraska won the regular season head-to-head matchup, they got the #4 seed (and the double-bye) in the Big Ten Tournament. Bummer. It didn’t stop Michigan. They won 4 games in 4 days (#12 seed Iowa, #4 seed Nebraska, #1 seed Michigan State, and #3 seed Purdue) to win the Big Ten Tournament for the second year in a row. The win over Iowa was an ugly overtime affair, but the wins over Nebraska, MSU, and Purdue were all gorgeous. The 19-point win over Nebraska was fitting revenge for the worst loss in the regular season, the win over MSU gave UM a nice season sweep of the Spartans, and the win over Purdue was wonderful revenge for the 2 regular season losses. More importantly, the strong showing in the last 5 games of the regular season, along with the 4 games in the tournament, got Michigan a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, in the West Region (Wichita, Kansas and Los Angeles, California).
Thanks to the unusual timing of the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan had almost 2 weeks off before their 1st round game in the NCAA Tournament, vs. Montana. They were sluggish and rusty, but they still managed to win and advance. Their next game was against the #6 seed (#21) Houston. Most of the experts picked Houston to win, and it sure looked like they were going to, but Michigan hit a desperation 28-footer at the buzzer to win the game. It was very exciting.
On to the Sweet Sixteen, in LA. Michigan pounded the #7 seed, Texas A&M, in their only truly good game of the NCAA Tournament. They were raining 3-pointers, and if they could have done that against Villanova, they would have won easily. The Elite Eight game, also in LA, was against the #9 seed, Florida State. It was a tough, hard-fought game, but Michigan played well enough to win, and advance to the Final Four.
The Final Four this year was in San Antonio, Texas. My wife (Cindy) and I went to the games. It was a fun trip, despite the lopsided loss in the championship game. The semifinal game, vs. the Cinderella team (#11 seed from the South Region, Loyola-Chicago), was not very impressive, but it was a win. That brings us to the championship game vs. (#2) Villanova. It started out OK, but once Villanova got going, Michigan couldn’t keep up. Villanova was definitely the better team, and they deserved to win the game, but it didn’t help that Michigan played one of their worst games of the season. If they had been hot, like the Texas A&M game, they could have beaten Villanova. Oh well…
Some bests and worsts for this season:
Best game overall: Winning 82-72 at Michigan State on 01/13/2018
Best home game: Beating Ohio State on Senior Day (02/18/2018), 74-62
Best post-season game: Beating Michigan State (again) in the Big Ten Tournment
Best finish: Beating Houston 64-63 in the NCAA Tournament on a buzzer-beater
Worst game: Losing 72-52 at Nebraska on 01/18/2018
Here are the final grades, with the mid-term grades listed first.
C.J. Baird (Inc./Inc.) – C.J. is a practice squad player. He played in 5 games, and scored 5 points, including an impressive 3-pointer in the Texas A&M game in the NCAA Tournament.
Eli Brooks (C+/C-) – Eli played in 31 of the 41 games this season, and started 12 of them, mostly non-conference. He scored 56 points (1.8 pts/game), and had 30 assists. He scored 52 of his 56 points in 2017, scored 2 points in the entire Big Ten season, and scored 2 points vs. Montana in the NCAA Tournament. When he got into the game, he often didn’t do much. He really needs to have a good summer, and get his game going next season.
Austin Davis (C-/C-) – Austin played in 16 games, all off the bench, and scored 19 points (1.2 pts/game). He still looks slightly dazed when he’s out there, like the game is still going too fast for him. He has plenty of potential, and good tools, he just needs to put it all together.
Isaiah Livers (C+/C-) – Isaiah played in 40 of the 41 games this season, and started 22 of them, although he was a starter in name only. Once Coach Beilein figured out that Duncan Robinson played better coming off the bench, he started Livers in every game, but gave most of the minutes (and points) to Robinson. Isaiah scored 137 points (3.4 pts/game), but only hit double figures 3 times, in the first 3 games of 2018. He injured his ankle early in the away Northwestern game on 02/06/2018, and wasn’t really the same player for the rest of the season. He played hard when he was out there, and he showed flashes of why he was Mr. Basketball in Michigan last season, but he’s still learning the college game. He should get special mention for throwing the “baseball passes” on the out-of-bounds plays that won the Maryland and Houston games. They were perfect.
Naji Ozeir (Inc./Inc.) – Naji is a practice squad player. He played in 2 games, and scored 2 points.
Rico Ozuna-Harrison (Inc./Inc.) – Rico is a practice squad player. He played in 1 game, and didn’t score.
Jordan Poole (B-/B) – Jordan is easily the hardest player to grade. On the one hand, he can come into the game and give Michigan a big lift. He’s a gifted 3-point shooter, and he’s fearless. He plays good defense, and he can really give the team a “spark” of energy. On the other hand, he’s a streak shooter, and when he’s “off”, it can get ugly. He plays hard when he’s out there, but he still makes some dumb freshman mistakes. He played in 39 of the 41 games this season, all off the bench. He scored 233 points (6.0 pts/game), and shot a pretty good percentage from 3-point range (40-for-108 = 37.0%). He gets special mention for hitting the desperation 28-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer against Houston in the NCAA Tournament. It was one of the all-time greatest shots in Michigan basketball history.
Luke Wilson (Inc./Inc.) – Luke is a practice squad player. He played in 2 games, and didn’t score.
Brent Hibbitts (Inc./Inc.) – Brent is a practice squad player. He played in 5 games, and scored 9 points. He didn’t play at all in 2018. Brent was redshirted his freshman season, and is a redshirt sophomore.
Charles Matthews (A/A-) – Charles was very good this season, starting all 41 games. He was 2nd on the team in scoring (531 points, 13.0 pts/game), the 2nd leading rebounder (227), and 3rd on the team in assists (98) and is tied for 1st in blocked shots (26). He is very athletic and acrobatic, with excellent body control. It’s fun to watch him play when he decides to take over a game. Charles was redshirted last season, due to transfer rules, and is a redshirt sophomore.
Zavier Simpson (B-/B+) – Zavier was the starting point guard for the first 4 games, before Coach Beilein switched to Eli Brooks for 12 games, then back to Zavier for the rest of the season. He played in all 41 games, and scored 301 points (7.3 pts/game). He shot a decent percentage from 3-point range (24-for-84 = 28.6%), and he led the team in assists (150) and steals (53).
Jon Teske (B-/B+) – Jon played in all 41 games this season, and started 2 of them, when Wagner was injured. He scored 141 points (3.4 pts/game), and tied for 1st in blocked shots (26). He did fine in his role as the backup center, and he looked a lot more confident out there compared to last season.
Ibi Watson (C-/C-) – Ibi played in 26 of the 41 games this season, all off the bench, and scored 58 points (2.2 pts/game). When he was in the game, his role was to shoot 3-pointers, and he did that pretty well (10-for-31 = 32.3%). He only made one 3-pointer in 2018, vs. Texas A&M, shooting 1-for-9 after a 9-for-22 start.
Moritz Wagner (B/A) – This season started out slowly for Moe, especially compared to last season, but picked up at the end. He played in 39 of the 41 games, all as a starter, but he missed 2 games with a foot injury. He led the team in scoring (570 points, 14.6 pts/game) and rebounds (278), he was 3rd on the team in blocked shots (20), and 2nd on the team in steals (38). He really improved his rebounding and defense compared to last season. Several teams found him “unguardable” on offense.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (A-/A) – MAAR started all 41 games, and was the 3rd leading scorer (528 points, 12.9 pts/game), 2nd on the team in assists (132), 3rd on the team in rebounds (158), and 3rd on the team in steals (35). He contributed a little bit of everything, every game. He shot the ball well, and he played good defense. He was a quiet leader on the team. He will be missed.
Duncan Robinson (B/A-) – Duncan played in all 41 games, and started 19 of them. Even though he came off the bench in most of the last 22 games, he played more minutes and scored more points than the putative starter, Livers. He just played better coming off the bench. In fact, he was voted 6th Man of the Year in the Big Ten. He was 4th on the team in scoring (379 points, 9.2 pts/game), and led the team in 3-pointers attempted (203) and 3-pointers made (78), for a 38.4% shooting percentage. He was also the best free-throw shooter on a team without many good free-throw shooters (57-for-64 = 89.1%). His defense improved 100% from the beginning of the season to the end, and he even pulled down 100 rebounds. He will also be missed.
Jaaron Simmons (D/C) – As a grad transfer with all kinds of experience, Jaaron was supposed to be the starting point guard on this team early in the season, while Simpson and Brooks got up to speed. That never worked out. He ended up playing in 33 games, all off the bench. He scored 50 points (1.5 pts/game), and dished out 35 assists. All these numbers are way down from his previous 3 seasons at Ohio University. Still, the experiment wasn’t a complete failure. He did produce some key minutes and the occasional important basket, and he got to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, making it all the way to the championship game. With Simpson and Brooks coming back, and a hot new freshman point guard coming in (see below), his absence won’t hurt next season’s team.
Michigan is losing 3 seniors (MAAR, Robinson, and Simmons), and they will certainly be missed, but several key players are returning, and the incoming freshman class is loaded. The biggest question is: “What will Moe do?” At the end of last season, Wagner went through all the NBA evaluations, without hiring an agent, then decided to return for his junior season. Statistically, and using “the eye test”, Wagner didn’t play as well this season as he did last season, and his NBA stock has dropped a little. After last season, he was projected to be a borderline 1st round pick, but at this point, he’s considered a borderline 2nd round pick. For selfish reasons, I would love to see him return for his senior season. He seems to love playing college basketball, he seems to love the college experience, and he’s close to getting his degree. The Europeans take their education a little more seriously than many of the “student athletes” these days. We’ll have to wait until late May to find out, but my hunch is that he’ll be back for one more season, with a chance to improve his draft stock to become a solid 1st round pick.
Even if Moe decides to leave early for the NBA, Michigan will be fine at center. Teske will have to play more minutes, and Austin Davis will slide up to the backup center position. He’ll improve as he gets more real game experience. The incoming freshman class also has another center candidate, as we’ll see shortly.
Time to look at this exciting incoming freshman class. There are 5 scholarship freshman signed and ready to show up this summer:
This recruiting class has been ranked as high as #6 in the country, although now a few more schools have passed it, and it’s now in the teens. Still, it’s a complete class, with a good player at every position:
– Iggy (I’m going to cut-and-paste his last name for 4 years) Brazdeikis is the highest ranked player (47) in the class, and he’s a 3-point sniper in the mold of Nick Stauskas. In fact, they’re countrymen (Canadian) and friends. Don’t be surprised if he hits 3-pointers as well as or better than Stauskas or Duncan Robinson.
– Colin Castleton is the center of the future. Like Wagner, he can hit 3-pointers or drive to the basket. He might not have Wagner’s ball handling skills, and he’s much slighter than Wagner, but he can develop into a hard-to-guard center in Wagner’s image. He might redshirt his freshman year and hit the weight room hard.
– David DeJulius is a scoring-oriented point guard in the style of Derrick Walton, Jr. He can shoot 3-pointers very well, and he should be good at running the offense, once he has some time to learn it. He’ll start the season behind Simpson and Brooks, but don’t be surprised if he moves up during his freshman year.
– Brandon Johns played his high school ball in East Lansing, and took a lot of grief for choosing Michigan over Michigan State, but he’s going to fit in nicely in the Michigan system. He’s another good 3-point shooter, and he could easily be a starter by the time the Big Ten season rolls around his freshman year.
– Adrien Nunez is another pure shooter, and another big 3-point threat. That’s been Michigan’s not-so-secret weapon for the last 3-4 years: 5 guys out there who can all shoot 3-pointers, forcing the opposing defense to come out to the 3-point line, leaving the middle wide open for players slashing to the basket. Nunez will fit in nicely.
Check back in mid-October for next season’s preview. It should be a good one.
The (#7) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played in the National Championship game in the NCAA Tournament yesterday, and they lost it. On Monday (04/02/2018), they lost to Villanova, 79-62, in San Antonio, Texas. The loss leaves Michigan with a final record of 33-8 (13-5 in the Big Ten).
Just like the semifinal game vs. Loyola-Chicago, this game was 75% nightmare, 25% sweet dream. Unfortunately, the good part came at the beginning, and the bad part came at the end, when it counts. Michigan controlled the game early, and led 21-14 at the 10:59 mark in the 1st half. From that point on, it was all Villanova. Still, Michigan was within 2 points (30-28) with 3:34 left. Villanova went on a 7-0 run to end the half, and that was the game. Every time UM got close in the 2nd half, Villanova would pour in another long 3-pointer to pull away again. Once they got a double-digit lead, Michigan never got it back down to single digits.
Villanova was definitely the better team, but that doesn’t mean that Michigan couldn’t have beaten them, In order to win, they needed one of the following things to happen:
Once things got away, just before halftime, Michigan couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle.
The stats for the game are pretty sad. Michigan shot decently overall (24-for-55 = 43.6%), but they couldn’t hit a 3-pointer to save their lives (3-for-23 = 13.0%). They also were lousy from the free throw line (11-for-18 = 61.1%), and they got crushed on the boards (38-27). They did win the turnover battle (10-12), but that was the only stat they won. Villanova shot 37.0% (10-for-27) from 3-point range. There’s the game right there.
Who Looked Good
MAAR was Michigan’s leader in his final game as a Wolverine. He scored 23 points, but that’s all he did. He had 1 rebound, 0 assists, 0 blocked shots, 0 steals, and 0 turnovers.
Wagner also had a good game in what might be his final appearance for Michigan. He had 16 points and 7 rebounds. He also had 4 fouls and 4 turnovers.
Simpson had a decent game, with 10 points and 2 assists. He also had 3 turnovers.
Who Looked Not-So-Good
Livers played 20 minutes, but failed to score, on 2 shots.
Matthews had a rough game, with 6 points on 9 shots. He fouled out.
Duncan Robinson had a miserable game in his final appearance for Michigan. He missed all 3 of his shots (all 3-point attempts), and failed to score.
Jon Teske had another rough game. He did score 2 points, but he only played 7 minutes.
Who Else Played
Jordan Poole chipped in 3 points off the bench.
Jaaron Simmons only played 3 minutes in his final game for Michigan. He failed to score.
Ibi Watson played in the final minute, and scored 2 points.
Who Didn’t Play
The Big Picture
While Michigan came up short (again) in the National Championship game, the season was still a great success. The loss will sting for a while, but once it fades, we’ll remember this as a very good season.
The season is over.
Check back next week for a season wrap-up, final grades, and a look ahead to next season. Spoiler alert: Michigan is going to be VERY good next season, even better than this season.
The (#7) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played one game last week as the West Region team in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament, and they won it. On Saturday (03/31/2018), they beat the South Region team, Loyola-Chicago, 69-57, in San Antonio, Texas. The win raises Michigan’s record to 33-7 (13-5 in the Big Ten). More importantly, Michigan now advances to the Championship Game tonight!
This game was 75% nightmare, 25% sweet dream. Fortunately, the good part came at the end, when it counts. Michigan jumped out to an 8-point lead (12-4) at the 12:42 mark, including a couple 3-pointers, and it looked like they were going to run away with the game. The Michigan defense was baffling Loyola, but the Michigan offense wasn’t taking advantage of all the stops. After hitting two of their first three 3-point attempts, Michigan missed 12 in a row. Once Loyola started making some shots, they put together a 15-3 run, and led 19-15 with 5:29 to go in the half. They led the rest of the half, and pushed the lead up to 7 points (29-22) at halftime. It was one of the worst halves Michigan has played this season.
Things didn’t get much better in the first 10+ minutes of the 2nd half. Loyola pushed the lead up as high as 10 points (41-31) with 14:08 to go, and still led by 5 (47-42) at the 9:19 mark. That’s when the game turned around. Michigan went on a nice 12-0 run to take the lead back, 54-47, with 4:59 left. They pushed it up to 10 points (61-51) with 2:13 left, and kept it at least 8 points the rest of the way, including hitting 6 out of the last 8 free throws when Loyola was fouling to extend the game. It was an ugly win, but it was a win nonetheless.
The stats for the game are pretty unimpressive. Michigan shot decently overall (25-for-59 = 42.4%), they shot 3-pointers horribly (7-for-28 = 25.0%), and they shot free throws just well enough (12-for-18 = 66.7%). They won the rebounding battle (36-32), and they won the turnover battle (11-17). Even though they shot 3-pointers very poorly, they held Loyola to 10% 3-point shooting (1-for-10). That’s where they won the game.
Who Looked Good
Wagner was the star of the game, with a remarkable performance. He kept Michigan in the game when no one else could buy a basket. Without him, Michigan would have lost the game for sure. He had 24 points and 15 rebounds (6 offensive!). Only two other players in NCAA Final Four history have had 20+ points and 15+ rebounds: Hakeem Olajuwon and Larry Bird. That’s pretty exclusive company. He shot well (10-for-16 overall, 3-for-7 from 3-point range), he was a beast on the boards, and he played great defense.
Matthews also had a good game. He was the only other Michigan player in double figures, with 17 points. He also grabbed 5 rebounds, and played good defense.
MAAR was the only other starter to score, with 7 points. He had a miserable time shooting (2-for-11 overall, 0-for-5 from 3-point range), but he had 5 rebounds, and played good defense.
Duncan Robinson didn’t quite hit double figures (9 points), but he hit two of Michigan’s seven 3-pointers, along with three crucial free throws in the last minute.
Jordan Poole chipped in 7 points off the bench, along with 2 rebounds.
Jaaron Simmons played 11 important minutes, and hit a big 3-pointer.
Who Looked Not-So-Good
Livers played 12 minutes, but didn’t even attempt a shot. He is a starter in name only. He plays good defense, but he is so limited offensively, Robinson plays most of the minutes.
Simpson played 26 minutes, and failed to score. He was 0-for-6 overall, 0-for-3 from 3-point range. He did run the offense pretty well (3 assists), but he also had 4 bad turnovers. As usual, his defense was great.
Jon Teske had a rough game. He did score 2 points, but he was whistled for 3 fouls in 3 minutes, and sat for the rest of the game.
Who Else Played
Who Didn’t Play
The Big Picture
This is it: the National Championship game. There is no more “tomorrow”, there is only “today”. At the beginning of the season, very few people were thinking that this season’s Michigan team was a Final Four team. It looked like a rebuilding year. Things have gone much better than expected, especially in the last 14 games, all wins.
The other Final Four semifinal game was a blowout win for the East Region team (and #1 seed) Villanova over the Midwest Region team (and #1 seed) Kansas, 95-79. So, Michigan will play Villanova at 9:20 p.m. (EDT) tonight (04/02/2018) on TBS, for the National Championship.
Villanova is very good. Their record is 35-4. They have many impressive wins (Tennessee, Gonzaga, Xavier [twice], West Virginia, Texas Tech, and Kansas), but their 4 losses have all been to unimpressive teams (Butler, St. John’s, Providence, and Creighton), so they are beatable. They don’t have a lot of height, with four guys at 6′ 9″, but no one taller, so they might have trouble handling Wagner and Teske on defense. Other than that, they have no apparent weaknesses, and they can score inside and outside. They are an excellent 3-point shooting team. This will be Michigan’s toughest test of the year on both offense and defense. If Michigan plays the way they did in their games against Michigan State (twice), Purdue (all 3 times, including 2 losses), and Texas A&M, they’ll be able to keep the game close, and maybe steal the win in the closing moments. If they have a slow start, or a long scoring drought, it could prove fatal, since it’s very hard to come from behind against Villanova.
Normally, I publish these articles once a week, on Monday mornings, but I’ll have a special article tomorrow morning (Tuesday, 04/03/2018) describing the National Championship Game. Check back tomorrow to see what happened, and why.
The (#7) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played two games last week as the #3 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, and they won both of them. On Thursday (03/22/2018), they beat the #7 seed, Texas A&M, 99-72, then on Saturday (03/24/2018), they beat the #9 seed, Florida State, 58-54. Both games were in Los Angeles, California. The two wins raise Michigan’s record to 32-7 (13-5 in the Big Ten). More importantly, Michigan now advances to the Final Four!
What a contrast: the TAMU game was fun and easy. All the shots were dropping, and the game was never in doubt after halftime. Then came the FSU game: none of the shots were falling, and the game was in doubt until the last 10 seconds. Still, in a single-elimination tournament, all that matters is “survive and advance”, and that’s what Michigan has done. They’ve done it well enough that they’re going to the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas this week.
The TAMU game was gorgeous. Michigan came out hot, built an early lead, and just kept expanding it. As I’ve said many times, when the 3-pointers fall for Michigan, they look great. All the other aspects of the game seem to fall into place, and they can beat anyone in the country. When the 3-pointers won’t go in, it gets trickier. See the description of the FSU game, below, and the stats.
In the TAMU game, Michigan jumped out to a quick 7-point lead (9-2) at the 16:44 mark, and built it up to 13 points (19-6) at the 12:16 mark. They got it up to 21 points (33-12) with 8:29 left in the 1st half, and got it as high as 29 points (52-23) with 2:16 to go. TAMU went on a 5-0 run to end the half, but they were still down 24 points at halftime, 52-28. In the 2nd half, Michigan was just playing to run the clock out, and they kept the lead in the 23-25 point range for most of the half. TAMU did get as close as 18 points (79-61) with 6:01 left in the game, but Michigan quickly pushed the lead back up to 25 points, and never let it back under 21 points the rest of the way. It was a dominating performance.
The FSU game was the exact opposite of the TAMU game: the 3-pointers wouldn’t go in, and Michigan struggled the whole game. Michigan led for the first 10 minutes of the game, but never by very much, usually 3-4 points. At the 10:32 mark, FSU went ahead, 16-15, then the teams traded baskets and the lead for the rest of the half, with Michigan leading by 1 point (27-26) at halftime. Michigan opened the 2nd half strong, and quickly built up a 10-point lead (38-28) with 14:30 left in the game. They kept the lead in the 5-6 point range for most of the 2nd half, but they couldn’t pull away from FSU. They finally built the lead back up to 10 points again (54-44) with 2:25 to go, and it looked like they would be able to close out the game. That’s when FSU went into “desperation mode”, and got within 2 points (56-54) with 0:24 left. Michigan made 2 crucial free throws, FSU missed a wild 3-point attempt, Michigan got the rebound, and that was the game. Surprisingly, FSU didn’t foul in the last 11 seconds to extend the game, even though they were only down 4 points. They just let Michigan dribble it out. Fine by me.
The stats for the TAMU game are amazing, a thing of beauty. Michigan shot very well overall (39-for-63 = 61.9%), they shot 3-pointers very well (14-for-24 = 58.3%), and they shot free throws very well (7-for-8 = 87.5%). They did lose the rebounding battle (33-28), but they won the turnover battle (7-14). Those 14 3-pointers won the game easily. Michigan set an NCAA tournament record when 8 different players made 3-pointers.
The stats for the FSU game are ugly. Michigan shot very poorly overall (19-for-49 = 38.8%), they shot 3-pointers terribly (4-for-22 = 18.2%), and they shot free throws poorly (16-for-24 = 66.7%). They lost the rebounding battle (36-34), but they did win the turnover battle (11-15). They won the game with defense, holding FSU to 31.4% shooting (16-for-51).
Who Looked Good
Matthews and Wagner were the only two Michigan players to hit double figures in both games. Matthews was the undisputed star of the FSU game, with 17 points and 8 rebounds, and he scored 18 points vs. TAMU. Without Matthews, Michigan would have lost the FSU game. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Regional tournament.
Wagner had a great game vs. TAMU, with 21 points, including 3-for-3 shooting from 3-point range. He had 12 points vs. FSU, but on very inefficient shooting: 3-for-11 (0-for-7 from 3-point range).
MAAR was the star of the TAMU game, with a team-high 24 points and 7 assists. He almost hit double figures in the FSU game, with 9 points.
Simpson also had double figures in the TAMU game (11 points), and almost hit double figures in the FSU game (9 points). He did a great job of running the offense and played excellent defense.
The only other Michigan player to hit double figures in one game was Duncan Robinson, with 10 points off the bench vs. TAMU. He only had 7 points vs. FSU, but he hit a crucial 3-pointer late in the game, and sunk the 2 free throws that iced the win in the closing seconds.
Jon Teske also didn’t score many points (0 and 2), but he was instrumental in both wins. He came in for Wagner when he needed a rest or had foul trouble, and he played good defense, especially against the massive FSU front line.
Jordan Poole played in both games, scoring 5 and 0 points, including a 3-pointer vs. TAMU.
Ibi Watson hit a 3-pointer vs. TAMU. He didn’t play in the FSU game.
Austin Davis had a very nice dunk in the closing seconds of the TAMU game. He didn’t play in the FSU game.
C.J. Baird was the feel-good story of the TAMU game. He came in with 0:41 left in the game, and swished a long 3-pointer 10 seconds later. It was awesome. He was so happy! He didn’t play in the FSU game.
Who Looked Not-So-Good
Livers played in both games, and scored 2 points in each game. He is a starter in name only. He plays good defense, but he is so limited offensively, Robinson plays most of the minutes.
Who Else Played
Jaaron Simmons played in both games, but failed to score.
Eli Brooks played for 1 minute in the TAMU game, but failed to score.
Who Didn’t Play
Some of the practice squad players (Brent Hibbitts, Naji Ozeir, Rico Ozuna-Harrison, and Luke Wilson) didn’t get into either of the games. It’s too bad, since UM had an insurmountable lead over TAMU with 2-3 minutes to go.
The Big Picture
Making it to the Final Four is a Really Big Deal. Win or lose, they can be proud of being one of the top four teams in the country, and the last Big Ten team standing. If they play the way they did in the last 3 games of the Big Ten Tournament or the TAMU game, they’ll do fine. If they play the way they did in the other 3 NCAA Tournament games, it will be a grind.
This week, Michigan will play in the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas. In the semifinal game, they will play the #11 seed from the South Region, Loyola-Chicago, on Saturday (03/31/2018, 6:09 p.m. EDT, TBS) in the Alamodome. If they win that, they’ll face the winner of the other semifinal game between the #1 seed from the East Region, Villanova, and the #1 seed from the Midwest Region, Kansas, on Monday (04/02/2018).
I’ll confess: I had never even heard of Loyola-Chicago before they made the NCAA Tournament field this year, and I’ve only watched about 5 minutes of their games in the tournament. They must be good to have made it to the Final Four and beaten some good teams along the way: (#6 seed) Miami (FL), (#3 seed) Tennessee, (#7 seed) Nevada, and (#9 seed) Kansas State. They are currently 32-5, which is impressive, they didn’t really play anybody impressive in their regular season. They did beat Florida on the road, but they also lost to Boise State, Milwaukee, Missouri State, Indiana State, and Bradley, so they are beatable. They only have one truly big guy on their roster, and he’s 7′ 0″, but he’s only played 30 minutes and scored 10 points all season, so Michigan should have a distinct size advantage.
Let’s just say that the Championship Game will be challenging, if they get that far. Kansas and Villanova both look very tough.
Check back next week to see what happened, and why.
The (#7) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played two games last week as the #3 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, and they won both of them. On Thursday (03/15/2018), they beat the #14 seed, Montana, 61-47, then on Saturday (03/17/2018), they beat the #6 seed, Houston, 64-63. Both games were in Wichita, Kansas. The two wins raise Michigan’s record to 30-7 (13-5 in the Big Ten). More importantly, Michigan now advances to the Sweet 16!
Let’s get one thing straight: in the Big Dance, there are no “style points”. It doesn’t matter if you win by one point on a buzzer-beater (more on that to come) or cruise to a 30-point blowout victory, the only thing that matters is “survive and advance”. That said, Michigan played two of their least impressive games of the season last week, but still managed to win them both. They played good defense in both games, but the offense was “out of sync” most of the time. They bricked (and airballed) way too many open 3-point attempts, and they missed difficult-but-makeable layups that they have made all season. If they had played just average games on offense, they would have cruised to a 30-point win over Montana, and not had to rely on a 28-foot buzzer-beater to beat Houston.
By now, I’m sure that everyone reading this has already seen the replay of Jordan Poole‘s incredible 3-pointer to snatch victory from the very jaws of defeat a dozen times, but it’s still almost too amazing to believe. That’s the sort of thing that seems to happen TO Michigan, not FOR Michigan. We have been on the losing end of this script way too many times, it had to be our turn eventually. Was Poole’s shot better than Trey Burke’s buzzer-beater against Kansas in the 2013 NCAA Tournament? I think so. It was certainly more surprising. Burke was the National Player of the Year, and Poole is a lightly-used true freshman. In any case, we’ll never forget Poole or his big shot.
We’d like to forget the Montana game. As the announcers said at the end of it, “burn the tape”. It was a graceless, ugly game. As they have done many times this season, Michigan started out very slowly. With 15:43 left in the 1st half, Montana was up 10-0. Once UM finally got on the board, they played pretty well, and managed to tie the game up 17-17 with 6:40 to go in the half. They tied it again (19-19) at the 5:30 mark, then went ahead for the first time, 22-19 at the 3:59 mark. They got the lead up to 6 points (31-25) with 0:42 left in the half, and led by 3 points (31-28) at halftime. Michigan came out of the locker room with a burst of energy, and pushed the lead up to 14 points (44-30) with 9:53 to go in the game. They kept the lead in the 10-12 point range for the rest of the game, and made their free throws in the closing minutes to win the game. It was an ugly win, but it was a win, and that’s what counts.
The Houston game was almost as ugly as the Montana game. Houston led for most of the game (20:48), while Michigan led for 10:54, and the score was tied for 8:18. There were 17 lead changes, and 12 ties. Neither team ever led by more than 6 points. It was close, and it was a defensive struggle. Once again, it took Michigan a while to get going. Houston led 6-1 with 14:53 to go in the 1st half. Once they got going, Michigan opened up a 6-point lead (17-11) with 10:07 to go, but they couldn’t hold it. Houston tied it up (22-22) with 5:38 to go, then the teams traded baskets, and went to halftime tied 28-28. Houston led for much of the 2nd half, and got their biggest lead (49-43) with 10:52 to go. Michigan tied it up (51-51) at the 5:41 mark with a very rare 5-point play. The teams traded baskets and the lead, and it was still tied up (61-61) with 0:44 left. Houston hit a couple free throws to go up by 2 (63-61) with 0:24 left, but they missed a crucial front-end of a one-and-one with 3.9 seconds left. Michigan got the rebound, called timeout, and set up a desperate last-gasp play with 3.6 seconds left. Isaiah Livers threw a perfect pass to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman at mid-court. MAAR dribbled a couple times, then found Poole for his now-famous 28-footer for the win as time expired. It was unbelievable. As my friend Tom M. said, and I quote: “Whooooooooooooo-ooooooh !!!!”
The win over Houston was particularly gratifying because of all the pre-game hype about Houston and their point guard, Rob Gray. Now, don’t get me wrong, Gray is a very good player, and he seems like a nice enough guy, but the CBS/TBS pre-game “Tournament Central” and game announcing crew could not stop talking about him. If you listened to the pre-game “analysis”, you would have to wonder why Michigan even bothered showing up. They hardly even mentioned Michigan. It was “Gray this” and “Gray that”. They loved his “man bun”. To listen to them, he was the greatest player ever in college basketball, another Steph Curry and Michael Jordan combined. He played a pretty good game against Michigan (23 points on 22 shots), but every time he touched the ball, the announcers were just giddy speculating about what incredible thing he was going to do next. Every time he made a 3-pointer (he was 4-for-8 from 3-point range), they went wild. What a story! Look at his man bun! Go Houston! Sweet Sixteen! Final Four! National Championship! What a story! It was ridiculous. I’m just glad Michigan won to shut them up.
The stats for the Montana game are pretty weak. Michigan shot decently overall (21-for-47 = 44.7%), they shot 3-pointers pretty poorly (5-for-16 = 31.3%), and they shot free throws pretty poorly (14-for-22 = 63.6%). They won the rebounding battle (36-33), but they lost the turnover battle (14-12). They won this game with defense, holding Montana to 32.1% shooting, including a 10-minute scoreless stretch in the 2nd half.
The stats for the Houston game are even worse than the Montana stats. Michigan shot very poorly overall (21-for-59 = 35.6%), they shot 3-pointers very poorly (8-for-30 = 26.7%), but they shot free throws reasonably well (14-for-20 = 70.0%). They lost the rebounding battle (41-38), but they won the turnover battle (7-10). Looking at the stats, I don’t know how UM won this game, they just did.
Who Looked Good
Matthews and MAAR were the only two Michigan players to hit double figures in both games. Matthews was the undisputed star of the Montana game, with 20 points and 11 rebounds (for a double-double), and he scored 11 points vs. Houston. Without Matthews, Michigan would have lost the Montana game.
MAAR had 11 and 12 points this week, but he was “off” offensively. He kept jacking up 3-pointers, but he only hit one; he was 1-for-6 vs. Montana, and 0-for-6 vs. Houston.
Wagner was the only other starter to hit double figures in one game, with 12 points vs. Houston. He had a miserable game (5 points in 32 minutes) vs. Montana.
The only other Michigan player to hit double figures in one game was Duncan Robinson, with 11 points off the bench vs. Houston. He also had 7 points vs. Montana, and he played good defense in both games.
Even though he didn’t score many points (3 and 8), Poole was the star of the Houston game, based solely on his amazing final 3-pointer. It was a shot for the ages.
Simpson did a great job on defense, especially against Man Bun (Rob Gray) for Houston. He didn’t score many points (5 and 4), but he did a nice job running the offense.
Jon Teske also didn’t score many points (2 and 6), but he was instrumental in both wins. He came in for Wagner when he needed a rest or had foul trouble, and he hit 6-for-8 free throws in the Houston game.
Jaaron Simmons played in both games, and scored 6 and 0 points. He hit 3 key baskets in the Montana game, and he was calm and steady out there when he came in for Simpson.
Who Looked Not-So-Good
Livers played in both games, and missed all 3 of his shots. He did have the crucial pin-point pass to MAAR to win the Houston game, but that was his only significant contribution.
Who Else Played
Eli Brooks played for 5 minutes in the Montana game, and made a basket!
Ibi Watson played for 3 minutes in the Houston game, but failed to score.
Who Didn’t Play
The Big Picture
Making it to the Sweet Sixteen is a Big Deal. Making it two years in a row is a bigger deal. Ask our Little Brothers in East Lansing: they’ve missed the Sweet Sixteen for 3 years in a row now, and they’ve gone 1-1 in their last 4 tournaments (2017 Big Ten Tournament, 2017 NCAA Tournament, 2018 Big Ten Tournament, and 2018 NCAA Tournament). Now who’s the better team? Michigan has now won 11 games in a row. State? They’re 2-2 in their last 4 games, including a loss in their virtual home game vs. Syracuse on Sunday. I’m sure glad Miles Bridges came back to win a National Championship! That Tom Izzo is indeed the best coach in college basketball!
Ahem. Back to the Big Picture. Even though Michigan is in the Sweet Sixteen, they’re kind of lucky to be there. They didn’t play particularly well in either game last week, and if they play like that in any of the remaining games, they’ll be done for the season. They need to get back to the level of play that won them the Big Ten Tournament. They’re running the offense correctly, and getting the open 3-pointers and difficult-but-makeable layups that have gotten them this far, they just missed the shots that they made regularly during the previous games.
This week, Michigan will play in the Sweet Sixteen in Los Angeles, California, in the West Regional. They will play the #7 seed, Texas A&M, on Thursday (03/22/2018, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TBS) in the Staples Center. If they win that one, they’ll move on to the Elite Eight, and face the winner of the game between the #4 seed (Gonzaga) and the #9 seed (Florida State) on Saturday (03/24/2018).
Texas A&M is currently 22-12, with some pretty impressive wins (West Virginia, USC, Buffalo, Missouri, Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Alabama, and North Carolina), and some surprising losses (Texas [exhibition], LSU [twice], and Mississippi State). They crushed (#2 seed) North Carolina (86-65) to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, so they’re for real. They don’t have any players taller than 6′ 10″, but they’ve got 4 of them, and 3 more at 6′ 9″. Michigan can certainly beat them, but they’ll have to get back to the high level of play they showed in the last 3 games of the Big Ten Tournament. The way they played against Montana and Houston won’t cut it.
Check back next week to see what happened, and why.