Nothing But ‘Net – Week #03 – 11/12/2018 – Ugly Wins Are Still Wins

The (#19) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played their first two regular season games last week, and they won both of them. On Tuesday (11/06/2018), they beat Norfolk State 63-44, then on Saturday (11/10/2018), they beat Holy Cross 56-37. Both games were in Crisler Arena. Michigan’s record is now 2-0.

Time for more Questions & Answers:

Q: Why were these “ugly wins”?

A: These were both opponents that Michigan should beat easily, and look good doing it. While they won both games by comfortable margins, they certainly didn’t look good doing it. The biggest problem is outside shooting, specifically, 3-point shooting. When the 3-pointers are falling, Michigan looks good. Everything else seems to fall into place: the inside game, rebounding, defense, everything. When the 3-pointers won’t go in, everything else seems to go wrong. So far, in an open practice, exhibition game, and two regular season games, no one on Michigan’s roster seems to be able to hit 3-pointers consistently.

Q: Wait. If everything else went wrong, how did Michigan hold Norfolk State to 44 points and Holy Cross to 37 points?

A: OK, you got me. In both games, the defense was fine. In fact, the defense was what kept Michigan in both of these games when the offense was flailing around. The 2nd half of the Holy Cross game was one of the better defensive efforts we’ve seen in a while. Michigan held Holy Cross to 13 points in the last 20 minutes, including a 7-minute stretch where Michigan held Holy Cross scoreless. It’s a good thing they did, since Holy Cross actually led the game (24-18) at halftime. Yes, you read that right: Michigan only scored 18 points in 20 minutes of basketball against Holy Cross. Ugh.

Q: How bad was the 3-point shooting?

A: Very bad. Michigan was 6-for-26 (23.1%) vs. Norfolk State, and 3-for-19 (15.8%) vs. Holy Cross. Most of these shots were good shots, wide open, out of the set offense. That’s the really frustrating part: Michigan is running their offense pretty well, moving the ball around, getting good open 3-pointers, and clanking them.

Q: What else went wrong?

A: Overall shooting was also pretty bad, pulled down by the really bad 3-point shooting. Michigan shot 36.7% (22-for-60) vs. Norfolk State, and 36.0% (18-for-50) vs. Holy Cross. Also, turnovers were a little high: 12 in the Norfolk State game, 9 in the Holy Cross game.

Q: Did Michigan do anything right?

A: Well, the defense was good, as mentioned above, and they did rebound fairly well. They out-rebounded Norfolk State 52-40 and Holy Cross 39-31. They also had 8 blocked shots vs. Norfolk State and 9 blocked shots vs. Holy Cross. Jon Teske had 4 and 5 for the week. Finally, they shot free throws well in the Holy Cross game (17-for-21 = 81.0%), although they were terrible shooting free throws in the Norfolk State game (13-for-29 = 44.8%).

Q: Who looked good?

A: Ignas Brazdeikis (12 and 19 points) and Charles Matthews (10 and 20 points) both hit double figures in both games. Teske (13 and 5 points) hit double figures in one game. Isaiah Livers had 10 rebounds in the Holy Cross game. Zavier Simpson ran the offense well, keeping the ball moving. He got the ball to the right players, they just bricked the shots. Eli Brooks is definitely the most improved player compared to last year.

Q: Who didn’t look very good?

A: I’m still waiting for Jordan Poole to wake up. He had 3 points in each game last week. I was counting on him to be one of the leading scorers in every game, on high volume shooting. So far, he’s 1-for-10 shooting, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range. Simpson also didn’t shoot well this week (1-for-4 and 0-for-3).

Q: What about the rest of the team?

A: Lots of players got in for a few minutes at the end of both games, but no one did anything noteworthy.

Q: What did we learn?

A: We learned that this is a young team, with lots of talent, but still (very) rough around the edges. We learned that Matthews and Iggy are the two “to-go” guys on the team offensively. We learned that this is not a very good shooting team, at least right now. We learned that the defense is way ahead of the offense at this point.

Q: What’s next?

A: Michigan has three games next week, all on the road. On Wednesday (11/14/2018, 6:30 p.m., FS1), they play at (#9) Villanova, as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games (Big East/Big Ten Challenge). On Saturday (11/17/2018, 12:00 noon, ESPN3), they play against George Washington in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut. On Sunday (11/18/2018, TBA, ESPN/ESPN2), they play either Providence or South Carolina in the championship or consolation game of the tournament.

So, Villanova, again. The last time Michigan played Villanova was in San Antonio in April for the National Championship. Michigan led early, hung around for a while, then got buried under a pile of 3-pointers. Both teams are very different this season, with major departures from both rosters. This will be Michigan’s first big test, and the way they’ve played so far, I expect Villanova to beat them to a pulp.

George Washington is coming off a 15-18 season, with only 2 returning starters, and not much height. This is a game that Michigan should win, but they’ll need to play better than they have so far.

I’m not going to worry about Providence or South Carolina too much, since there’s no way to tell which one Michigan is going to play. Of the two, Providence is probably the better team.

That’s it for this week.

Go Blue!

Nothing But ‘Net – Week #02 – 11/05/2018 – The (Yawn) Exhibition Game

The (#19) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played their first and only exhibition game on Friday (11/02/2018) in Crisler Arena, and they pounded poor Northwood University 90-58. Since it was only an exhibition game, Michigan’s record is still 0-0.

I enjoyed Question & Answer Time so much last week, I’m going to do it again. If you have any questions you’d like me to answer, send them to dmontag@umgoblue.com.

Q: So, what happened?

A: Michigan trounced an overmatched opponent in what was realistically a controlled scrimmage/dunk practice. I get it: an exhibition game is a good way to work out some of the kinks, give the new guys a chance to get rid of the “first game jitters”, and for Coach Beilein to try some different lineup combinations in a “can’t lose” situation, but it’s hard to get excited about an exhibition game, and it’s hard to learn anything about the team from it.

Q: How did the game go?

A: About what you’d expect from a game against a 6th place GLIAC team: Michigan overpowered them and won on sheer athletic ability, not with any finesse or style. UM raced out to a 19-10 lead at the 12:14 mark in the 1st half, and kept the lead in the 10-15 point range for the rest of the half. It was 41-26 at halftime. Early in the 2nd half, Michigan pushed the lead up over 20 points, and that was the game. The lead got as high as 35 points (86-51) before the final 32-point margin.

Q: Who were the starters?

A: The starters were: Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Zavier Simpson, and Jon Teske. The only surprise here was Iggy starting instead of Isaiah Livers, who started most of the games last season. Livers was the first player off the bench. We’ll see if this is the starting lineup for the real games.

Q: Who were the “mainstream” subs?

A: The subs who played in the “real” part of the game (not “garbage time”) were: Eli Brooks, Austin Davis, David DeJulius, Brandon Johns, Jr., and Livers.

Q: Who played in “garbage time”?

A: With the game a runaway/blowout, Coach Beilein emptied his bench in the last 4 minutes, so everyone played: C.J. Baird, Colin Castleton, Adrien Nuñez, and Luke Wilson.

Q: Who looked good?

A: That’s a tough one. Six players scored in double figures, with Matthews as the leading scorer with 15 points, but nobody really looked “good”. Among the starters, Simpson (5-for-5), Teske (4-for-5), and Iggy (6-for-9) were the most efficient, but their made baskets were mostly dunks and layups. The other 2 starters (Matthews and Poole) didn’t shoot very well (5-for-12 each), and scored most of their points at the rim. No one made more than one 3-pointer, even though Poole hoisted up 4 of them. Teske did try, and make, a 3-pointer!

For the mainstream subs, Brooks (2-for-2), Davis (1-for-1), and Johns (1-for-1) were certainly efficient, but didn’t shoot much. Livers shot a lot, but not very efficiently (5-for-9) for 10 points. Brooks was definitely the most improved player from last season.

For the scrubs, Baird (1-for-1) hit a 3-pointer, and Castleton (1-for-2) had a nice putback offensive rebound.

Q: Who looked not-so-good?

A: That’s also a tough one. No one looked bad, but a couple players never got a chance to do anything interesting: Nuñez and Wilson.

Q: How were the team stats?

A: Deceptive. Overall, UM shot a good percentage (37-for-62 = 59.7%), but most of the made baskets were dunks or layups. The 3-point shooting (5-for-14 = 35.7%) was shaky, and the mid-range shooting was just as bad. One of the biggest weaknesses last season, free throw shooting, was a minor problem in this game: 11-for-16 = 68.8%. That’s not bad, but it’s not very good either. As expected, Michigan won the rebounding battle easily (41-28), but it was surprising that they barely won the turnover battle (15-19). 15 turnovers is not very good, but it’s understandable in a sloppy exhibition game.

Q: What are the areas of concern?

A: Outside shooting, turnovers, and defensive rebounding. Michigan missed their first nine 3-point attempts, and just about every shot from more than 5 feet out, and they allowed a much smaller Northwood team to get 12 offensive rebounds, leading to 12 second-chance points. I’m assuming that the coaches will get this cleaned up.

Q: What did we learn?

A: We learned that exhibition games can be boring, and that they don’t tell us much. We did get a rough idea of which of the freshmen are college-ready (Iggy and Johns) and which ones need more work (the other three).

Q: What’s next?

A: Michigan plays two games this week: the first regular season game is this Tuesday (11/06/2018, 8:30 p.m., BTN) vs. Norfolk State in Crisler Arena, and they play again on Saturday (11/10/2018, 7:30 p.m., BTN+) vs. Holy Cross, also in Crisler. These are games that Michigan should win easily.

Both of these games are the “Campus Round” of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. The four main teams in the “Naismith Bracket” (Michigan, George Washington, Providence, and South Carolina) all play 2 “Campus Round” games against teams in the “Springfield Bracket” on their home courts, but they all advance to the “Naismith Bracket” in Uncasville, Connecticut (where?) on 11/17 and 11/18. The four smaller teams (Norfolk State, Holy Cross, Stony Brook, and Siena) also play in Uncasville in their own bracket on 11/16 – 11/18.

That’s it for this week. Come on down to Crisler on Tuesday and Saturday for the games, and drop by Sections 209/210 to say hi.

Go Blue!

Nothing But ‘Net – Week #01 – 10/29/2018 – Season Preview Q&A’s

Yes, it’s that time already: college basketball season. The University of Michigan men’s basketball team’s first game is this Friday (11/02/2018) in Crisler Arena at 7:00 p.m. It’s an exhibition vs. Northwood. Also, the team has an open practice tonight (Monday, 10/29/2018, 6:00 p.m.) in Crisler.

Here’s my standard description of this weekly column:

Yeah, it’s time for University of Michigan men’s basketball, and this is the place to read all about it: “Nothing But ‘Net” on UMGoBlue.com. Check back every Monday morning between now and the end of the season for a quick, concise wrap-up of the previous week, and a look ahead at the upcoming week, all in one easy-to-read article.

As always here at UMGoBlue.com, the perspective is “by fans, for fans”. I’m a fan (since 1974), and I go to all the home games, and watch/listen to all the away games. I don’t have any special access (other than being an usher in Sections 209-210), I don’t go to the press conferences, and I don’t interview high school recruits. I see the same things you do, and write about them as a fan.

This season, instead of my normal season preview, it’s Question & Answer Time!

Q: How good is the 2018-2019 team going to be?

A: Not quite as good as last season’s team, but close. Sure, they lost a lot of talent (see below), but they also brought in a lot of talent (see further below).

Q: I thought they lost a lot of talent; how can they be good?

A: Yeah, they lost a lot of talent (Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman [MAAR], Duncan Robinson, and Jaaron Simmons all graduated, and Moe Wagner left early for the NBA), but they were all backed up by very capable players last season, and all those guys are back, a year older and better. More about them below.

Q: Who else left the team from last season?

A: Besides MAAR, Duncan Robinson, Jaaron Simmons, and Moe Wagner, a few other players left the team in the off-season: Brent Hibbitts (grad transfer to Grand Canyon University), Naji Ozier (left the team, still in school), Rico Ozuna-Harrison (switched to being a manager), and Ibi Watson (transferred to Dayton). Watson was the only scholarship player among that bunch, and he just never worked out at Michigan. The rest of them were all scout team players.

Q: OK, who is returning this season?

A: Michigan has a great core of returning players this season:

Sophomore Eligibility

C.J. Baird #24 (6’5″, 220 pounds, F) – He’s a scout team player who played in 5 games last season, including both Final Four games. He scored 5 points in those 5 games, including a 3-pointer.

Eli Brooks #55 (6’1″, 185 pounds, G) – He played sparingly, and not very well, last season as the backup point guard. He needs to show that he can be a solid option at point guard.

Austin Davis #51 (6’10”, 245 pounds, F/C) – He’s definitely the backup center. He needs to refine his game a little, and stay away from silly fouls. He showed flashes of brilliance last season, but didn’t play very much. He’ll be counted on for a lot more minutes and points this season.

Isaiah Livers #4 (6’7″, 235 pounds, F) – He was nominally a starter for most of last season, but he often played about 10 minutes in favor of Duncan Robinson, who played better coming off the bench. Livers needs to step up this season and play like a starter.

Jordan Poole #2 (6’5″, 195 pounds, G) – If Matthews (see below) is the star of this team, Poole is almost tied with him in star power. No one will ever forget his amazing shot to win the Houston game in the NCAA Tournament last season, but he contributed a lot more than that. He also had some very forgettable games, which he needs to work on. Big things are expected of him.

Luke Wilson #32 (6’0″, 170 pounds, G) – He’s another scout team player. He only played in 2 games last season, and missed the only shot he took.

Junior Eligibility

Charles Matthews #1 (6’6″, 205 pounds, G) – As mentioned above, Charles is the star of this team. He had a very good season last season, and he needs to have an even better one this season. He has all the tools, he just needs to focus better.

Zavier Simpson #3 (6’0″, 190 pounds, G) – He’s definitely the starting point guard, and the leader of this team. He has a reputation as a “bulldog”, and he deserves it. He’s very quick and very talented. He finally unleashed his outside shot in the 2nd half of last season, and he needs to continue to fire away.

Jon Teske #15 (7’1″, 260 pounds, C) – He’s the most important player on this team. Everyone else is a good 3-point shooter, and that was Michigan’s not-so-secret weapon last season: all 5 players could shoot 3-pointers, which opened up the lane for drives to the hoop. Moe Wagner is gone, and if opposing centers can leave Jon alone out top and clog the middle, that’ll be a problem. He needs to develop at least a moderate threat to shoot from outside, to keep the lane open.

Senior Eligibility

There are no seniors on the team this season. This is a young team.

Q: Isn’t this a highly-regarded incoming freshman class?

A: You bet! There are 5 incoming freshman, and they are all very talented, but don’t start dreaming of another Fab Five. Instead, think of great replacements for the guys who left. Here they are:

Ignas Brazdeikis #13 (6’7″, 215 pounds, F) – Call him “Iggy”. I’m not looking forward to typing his last name for the next 3-4 years. He will remind you of Nik Stauskas, in a good way, but with more defense. He’s a 3-point gunner, and he can drive to the rim. I expect him to be a crowd favorite.

Colin Castleton #11 (6’11”, 210 pounds, F/C) – He’ll remind you of a slender Moe Wagner. He can shoot from 3-point range, but maybe not as well as Moe did, and he can handle the ball, but maybe not quite as well as Moe did, but give him time. He could be just as good as Moe, some day.

David DeJulius #0 (6’0″, 190 pounds, G) – The point guard of the future. He’ll remind you of Derrick Walton, Jr. It takes a full season for a point guard to learn the Beilein System, but once he does, watch out.

Brandon Johns, Jr. #23 (6’8″, 225 pounds, F) – He played his high school ball in East Lansing, and if you don’t think Tom Izzo wanted him, you haven’t been paying attention. He’s got a college basketball body, he just needs to learn the system.

Adrien Nuñez #5 (6’6″, 205 pounds, G) – I had to learn how to type an “ñ” in Microsoft Word for him. He’s probably the best 3-point shooter in the freshman class, and maybe the best on the whole team. We’ll have to wait and see.

Q: Who else is new on the team this season?

A: Besides the 5 scholarship freshmen, there is one more newcomer: Jaron Faulds (#44), a 6’10”, 225 pound forward/center. He’s a sophomore transfer from Columbia, and he’ll have to sit out this season as a transfer. In the meantime, he’ll be quite an asset on the scout team.

Q: Who will probably be the starters on this season’s team?

A: With all the talent returning this season, the starting lineup is looking pretty solid:

Point guard: Simpson (backups: Brooks and DeJulius)

Shooting guard: Poole (backups: Matthews and Nuñez)

Small forward: Matthews (backups: Poole, Iggy, and Johns)

Power forward: Livers (backups: Iggy and Johns)

Center: Teske (backups: Davis and Castleton)

Q: Wait a minute: I thought Poole and Matthews were guards; what’s up with “small forward”?

A: They are both very versatile and the right size to play either shooting guard or small forward. Think of them as “wings”, along with Iggy and Johns.

Q: What is Michigan going to do with 3 point guards?

A: I have no idea. Simpson is definitely the starting point guard, but who’s the backup? The more experienced, but slightly disappointing Brooks, or the rookie, DeJulius? It would make sense to give most of the backup minutes to DeJulius, but I guess it depends on how things go in practice and the early games.

Q: What is Michigan going to do with 3 centers?

A: This one is a little easier: it would make good sense to voluntarily redshirt Castleton, to get him a year’s worth of experience and bulking up in the weight room.

Q: Who else might redshirt?

A: Maybe Nuñez, depending on how quickly he picks up the Beilein System, and how well he plays defense.

Q: What happened last season?

A: Great question, and a fun answer: Michigan made it to the National Championship game in San Antonio, and actually led 21-14 with 10:59 to go in the 1st half, before Villanova woke up and crushed them. Michigan’s last lead was 21-20 at the 7:32 mark, before Villanova pulled away for good. But, despite the lopsided loss (79-62) in the championship game, it was a magical season for Michigan, including a 2nd consecutive Big Ten Tournament championship and a 14-game winning streak to take them to the final game. There were a few disheartening losses early in the season, but Michigan played very well down the stretch, and was definitely the 2nd best team in the nation last season.

Q: What does the schedule look like this season?

A: After the exhibition game (Northwood [Fri 11/02/2018]) and a couple easy “warm up” games (Norfolk State [Tue 11/06/2018] and Holy Cross [Sat 11/10/2018]), Michigan gets a rematch against (gulp) Villanova on their home court (Wed 11/14/2018). This is a “Gavitt Game” (the Big East/Big Ten Challenge).

As usual, Michigan is playing in a Thanksgiving tournament, this time the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, in Uncasville, Connecticut. The other 3 teams don’t look very scary: George Washington (Sat 11/17/2018), and either Providence or South Carolina (Sun 11/18/2018).

Michigan returns home to play an easy game (Chattanooga [Fri 11/23/2018]) and a very hard game (North Carolina [Wed 11/28/2018]). The UNC game is part of the “ACC/Big Ten Challenge”.

The Big Ten schedule has been expanded from 18 games last season to 20 games this season, so every Big Ten team has to play 2 conference games in early December. For Michigan, this means a home game vs. Purdue (Sat 12/01/2018) and a game at Northwestern (Tue 12/04/2018). This is Week #01 of the Big Ten schedule.

The rest of December is made up of 4 non-conference games, all at home, and all on weekends: South Carolina (Sat 12/08/2018), Western Michigan (Sat 12/15/2018), Air Force (Sat 12/22/2018), and Binghamton (Sun 12/30/2018).

Once 2019 starts, the next 18 games are all conference games, generally 2 per week (one weekday and one weekend-ish), and generally alternating between home and away:

Week #02: Penn State (home, Thu 01/03/2019) and Indiana (home, Sun 01/06/2019)

Week #03: Illinois (away, Thu 01/10/2019) and Northwestern (home, Sun 01/13/2019)

Week #04: Wisconsin (away, Sat 01/19/2019) [Bye week #1]

Week #05: Minnesota (home, Tue 01/22/2019) and Indiana (away, Fri 01/25/2019)

Week #06: Ohio State (home, Tue 01/29/2019) and Iowa (away, Fri 02/01/2019)

Week #07: Rutgers (away, Tue 02/05/2019) and Wisconsin (home, Sat 02/09/2019)

Week #08: Penn State (away, Tue 02/12/2019) and Maryland (home, Sat 02/16/2019)

Week #09: Minnesota (away, Thu 02/21/2019) and Michigan State (home, Sun 02/24/2019)

Week #10: Nebraska (home, Thu 02/28/2019) and Maryland (away, Sun 03/03/2019)

Week #11: Michigan State (away, Sat 03/09/2019) [Bye week #2]

The Big Ten Tournament this year is in Chicago from Wednesday 03/13/2019 until Sunday 03/17/2019.

The NCAA Tournament this year starts on Tuesday 03/19/2019 (First Four) and ends on Monday 04/08/2019 in Minneapolis.

Q: Whew, that was a long one. Which games look the toughest?

A: Obviously, at Villanova and home vs. North Carolina in the non-conference, and both games against MSU. Purdue and Nebraska (?) are also supposed to be good this season, and Michigan is fortunate to only play them each once, both in Ann Arbor. The other games are the obvious easy home “guarantee” games or “toss-up” games.

Incidentally, Michigan’s other “single plays” are Ohio State at home, and Illinois, Iowa, and Rutgers on the road.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: After their amazing finish last season, it’s important to be patient with this young team this season. They may not look very polished early in the year, but once they’ve got some games under their belt, and Coach Beilein has had some time to work with them, watch out. I expect them to be much better in March than they are in November.

Go Blue!

2018 University of Michigan Football Season Predictions

Yeah, it’s me, the “basketball guy”, back for more. It’s time for my annual attempt to predict how the University of Michigan’s football season is going to go.

Last Season (2017)

My Prediction: 10-2 (8-1 in Big Ten)

Actual Results: 8-4 (5-4)

Comments: After doing a great job predicting the 2016 season, I was terrible last season. I thought we’d beat Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State, and I thought we’d lose to Florida. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong.

This Season (2018)

My Prediction: 8-4 (6-3 in Big Ten)

Comments: As usual, I worry about “first game jitters” in the opener against Notre Dame, and I think Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State are all too strong for us. I’m picking a win in the big Michigan State game because we’ve been robbed too many times in the last 4-5 years, and we’re due.

Go Blue!

Nothing But ‘Net – Week #24 – 04/09/2018 – Season Wrap-up, Final Grades, and Looking Ahead

Season Wrap-up

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

Final Grades

Here are the final grades, with the mid-term grades listed first.

Freshman Eligibility

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.

Sophomore Eligibility

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.

Junior Eligibility

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.

Senior Eligibility

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.

Looking Ahead

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:

  • Ignas (“Iggy”) Brazdeikis – 6′ 8″, 220 pounds, Forward
  • Colin Castleton – 6′ 11″, 215 pounds, Center
  • David DeJulius – 6′ 1″, 188 pounds, Point Guard
  • Brandon Johns – 6′ 8″, 206 pounds, Forward
  • Adrien Nunez – 6′ 5″, 175 pounds, Shooting Guard

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.

Go Blue!