Phil Callihan and Clint Derringer discuss the end of spring practice, roster churn, foreshadowing of the recruiting staff shake-up, and more.
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The season is over for the University of Michigan men’s basketball team, and it was a good one. Not quite as great as it could have been, but way beyond the preseason expectations. Michigan won the Big Ten regular season championship, and advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. They ended up with a record of 23-5. It was a good season.
Preseason expectations were mixed for Michigan. Most of the experts picked Michigan to finish 5th or 6th in the Big Ten, although a few picked Michigan as a “dark horse” contender for the title. Here are the results.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the season started about three weeks later than usual, and the schedule was smaller than usual. The last few years, teams were allowed to play 31 games, but this year most teams played 25-27 games. Michigan played five non-conference games, along with 20 Big Ten games. Michigan started the season ranked #25 in the polls, but quickly dropped out after a couple underwhelming victories over outmatched opponents, including an overtime win over Oakland. Still, they were victories, as Michigan tried to develop team chemistry on the fly. The only interesting non-conference game was going to be against North Carolina State, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but it was cancelled due to COVID-19 issues on the NC State team. Fortunately, Michigan managed to hustle up a last-minute replacement (Toledo), and they got in all five non-conference games, and won them all.
UM started the Big Ten schedule with six straight wins, including three 19+ point victories in a row over Top 25 teams: (#19) Northwestern, (#16) Minnesota, and (#9) Wisconsin. The Wisconsin game in particular was a good, old-fashioned butt-whipping, probably the best game of the season. By this time, Michigan had climbed to #7 in the polls, with an 11-0 (6-0 in Big Ten) record. Despite having crushed Minnesota in Ann Arbor (82-57), Michigan lost the rematch in Minneapolis badly, 75-57, for their first loss. This was easily the worst game and the low point of the season. They won their next two games, to raise their record to 13-1 (8-1 in Big Ten), and then … the whole UM athletic department shut down for two weeks, even the teams with no COVID-19 problems, like the basketball team. That forced them to postpone five games, including one that had already been postponed once before. They ended up rescheduling two of these five games, so they only played 17 of their 20 Big Ten games, which became an issue later. Read on.
When UM finally returned from their two-week shutdown, they won their next five games, which gave them a new seven-game winning streak, and pushed them up to #2 in the polls. At this point, the Big Ten realized that a few of the Big Ten teams, including Michigan, weren’t going to be able to play all 20 games, so they announced that the regular season champion would be decided by winning percentage. Based on the standings at that point, it meant that Michigan had to win just one of their three remaining games to win the regular season championship outright. The good news is that Michigan did win one of the games. The bad news is that they lost the other two games. One of the losses was a 23-point beatdown by the 2nd place team, (#4) Illinois. The other loss was a heartbreaker on Michigan State’s Senior Night. Sandwiched in between was a 19-point thrashing of MSU in Ann Arbor.
So, what was the issue mentioned above? The final Big Ten standings showed:
Michigan 14-3 (0.824)
Illinois 16-4 (0.800)
The Illinois team, fanbase, and even athletic director got it into their heads that they were the regular season champions, since they beat Michigan head-to-head and won more games. They didn’t seem to understand the concept of “winning percentage”. As it happened, Illinois won the Big Ten Tournament, so they got their championship, but not the regular season crown.
Karma is a b*tch. Illinois went into the NCAA Tournament convinced that they were going to beat up everyone, but they were upset in the 2nd round by Loyola-Chicago. Actually, other than Michigan, the Big Ten laid an egg in the Big Dance. All of the other Big Ten teams in the field were eliminated in the first week (first two rounds):
Of those eight losses by the Big Ten teams, one of them was a “toss up” (MSU), three of them were expected (Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Maryland), and four of them were upsets (OSU, Purdue, Illinois, and Iowa).
Even though they did the best of the Big Ten teams, Michigan still was eliminated earlier than their #1 seed suggested. They really should have beaten UCLA in the Elite Eight and gone on to the Final Four.
Here are the final grades, with the mid-term grades included for comparison:
Here comes the hard part: predicting who will even be on the team next season. In years past, this was a lot easier, with only the seniors leaving, and all the incoming freshmen lined up and ready to join the team. Now, it’s chaos. Here’s why:
With all these complications, it’s almost impossible to guess what Michigan’s roster will look like next season. So, here’s what we know or can assume at this point:
Leaving Early for the NBA
No one on the team has entered the Transfer Portal at this point. Coach Howard might try to pick up a seasoned point guard in the Transfer Portal to replace Smith, and maybe a backup center.
Michigan signed a fabulous class of incoming freshmen for next season, the #1 recruiting class in the nation. Whether they will all show up on campus in the fall remains to be seen. Several of them are good enough to skip college and go right to the G-League or play overseas, and some of them may look at Michigan’s crowded roster and decide to play elsewhere. As of right now, the incoming class looks like this:
My best guess at the roster is:
Barnes, Bufkin, Collins, Diabate, Houstan, Tschetter
Dickinson, Howard, Jackson, Williams
Faulds, Johns, Nuñez
Free Year Players
Brooks, Davis, Livers
Of the players listed, only Faulds and Wade are not on scholarship, which adds up to 12 out of 13 possible, so Coach Howard will have at least one scholarship to play with. His son, Jace Howard, could easily move to “preferred walk-on” status to free up another scholarship, if necessary.
Let’s look at positions:
Brooks, Bufkin, Collins, Jackson
Brooks, Bufkin, Jackson, Nuñez
Barnes, Howard, Johns, Livers, Williams
Diabate, Houstan, Johns, Livers, Tschetter
Davis, Diabate, Dickinson, Johns
The two forward positions seem well stocked, if Livers returns, but both guard positions are a little thin on experience, other than Brooks. The center position is in great shape, IF both Davis and Dickinson actually return to the team. Look for Coach Howard to try to find an experienced point guard or combo guard in the Transfer Portal, and maybe a backup center.
Very early (way-too-early) preseason predictions for 2021-2022 all have Michigan as a Top 5 team, based on their performance this season and the great incoming class. Those predictions could easily change, depending on who actually shows up in the fall. If the players mentioned above all show up, Michigan could have a special season.
Check back in October for another season of Nothing But ‘Net.
The (#4) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played one game this past week in the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis, IN, and they lost it. On Tuesday (03/30/2021), they lost to the #11 seed (UCLA) 51-49. The loss leaves Michigan with a record of 23-5. Michigan’s season is over.
UCLA is a good team, but Michigan is much better, and should have won this game handily. UM played one of their worst games of the season, and still had a chance to win the game in the final seconds. Unfortunately, they picked the absolute worst time to go completely cold, and it cost them the game and the chance to move on to the Final Four. It’s a real shame.
The game started out fairly well, but slowly, with Michigan getting a 7-point lead (11-4) with 10:47 to go in the 1st half. Michigan still led by 3 points (17-14) at the 6:12 mark, when the momentum shifted. UCLA went ahead by 3 points (20-17) with 3:01 left, and led by 4 points at halftime (27-23). They quickly pushed the lead up to 9 points (34-25) with 18:15 to go, then Michigan rattled off 8 points to pull within 1 (34-33). Michigan actually got the lead back a couple times (43-42 with 7:06 left, and 47-46 at the 4:30 mark), but they missed their last 8 shot attempts, with only a pair of free throws in the last minute. Several of those shots were wide open, and a couple were layups. If any one of them had gone in, Michigan could have won the game, or at least forced overtime, but no.
The game stats are horrible. Michigan shot terribly overall (20-for-51 = 39.2%), they shot 3-pointers terribly (3-for-11 = 27.3%), and they shot free throws terribly (6-for-11 = 54.5%). They won the rebounding battle (38-28), but lost the turnover battle (14-8). They lost this game with terrible shooting.
Who Looked Good?
Dickinson was the only Michigan player in double figures, with 11 points. He had more turnovers (4) than rebounds (2).
Brooks almost hit double figures, with 8 points. He out-rebounded Dickinson, with 5.
Johns also almost hit double figures, with 8 points. He was one of the few Michigan players to shoot a good percentage, 4-for-5.
Chaundee Brown, Jr. also scored 8 points, on decent shooting (3-for-5). He led the team in rebounds (9), and hit 2 of Michigan’s 3 made 3-pointers.
Smith had a miserable day shooting (3 points, on 1-for-7 shooting), but he did a fine job running the offense. His only basket was Michigan’s other made 3-pointer. He did miss 2 important free throws right before halftime.
Austin Davis did a good job spelling Dickinson, with 7 points.
Who Looked Not-So-Good?
Wagner had a terrible day shooting (1-for-10 overall, 0-for-4 from deep), but he did have 8 rebounds.
Who Else Played?
No one else played.
Who Didn’t Play?
What Does It Mean?
Michigan is done for the season. It was a sad end to a very good season. Michigan greatly exceeded pre-season expectations, they made it to the Elite Eight, but they lost a game they should have won.
On the other hand, if they had made it to the Final Four, they probably would have lost to (#1) Gonzaga in the semifinal game.
Pack up the lockers, the season is over.
Check back next week for the Season Wrap-Up, Final Grades, and A Look Ahead.
The (#4) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played two games this past week in the NCAA Tournament, and they won both of them. Both games were in Indianapolis, IN. On Monday (03/22/2021), they beat the #8 seed (LSU) 86-78, then on Sunday (03/28/2021), they beat the #4 seed ([#14] Florida State) 76-58. The two wins raise Michigan’s record to 23-4. Michigan is now in the Elite Eight.
These two wins are HUGE! The first (LSU) put Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen for the 4th tournament in a row, and the second (FSU) put Michigan in the Elite Eight for the 4th tournament in the last 8 years. Michigan played good, solid ball in both games, and didn’t let the pressure faze them.
The LSU game was close and tense for most of the game, with LSU leading most of the time, controlling the tempo, and having the momentum. UM actually led early, 2-0, but LSU quickly went ahead and stayed ahead by 5-7 points for most of the 1st half. Michigan tied the game (40-40) with 1:02 to go in the half, and led by 1 point (43-42) at halftime. The 2nd half was more of the same: Michigan led early (45-44 at the 18:17 mark), then LSU went ahead. The lead went back and forth, but the momentum was still lousy for Michigan. LSU went up by 5 points (63-58) with 10:48 to go, and things looked grim. Michigan called a timeout, regrouped, and started their final push. They pulled back ahead for good (64-63) with 9:13 left, pushed the lead up into the 6-8 point range, and kept it there the rest of the game. It was a big, important win.
The FSU game was not as close. Michigan led for most of the game, except for the first 5 minutes. The early going was close, with FSU leading 4-2 with 18:44 to go in the 1st half. Michigan tied it up (4-4), and went ahead for good (5-4) at the 15:13 mark. They pushed the lead as high as 13 points in the 1st half, keeping it in the 10-12 point range for most of the half. Michigan led by 11 (32-21) at halftime. Michigan kept the lead in the 9-11 point range in the early part of the 2nd half, until FSU finally starting hitting their 3-pointers. FSU missed their first 10 3-point attempts, then hit 3 in a row, to cut the Michigan lead to 5 points (41-36) with 14:51 to go. Michigan kept their composure, and pushed the lead back into the 9-11 point range, then up to the 16-18 point range for the rest of the game. With 1:35 left, both coaches emptied their benches and let the scrubs battle it out. It was a dominant victory.
The stats for the LSU game are pretty good. Michigan shot well overall (28-for-52 = 53.8%), they shot 3-pointers pretty well (10-for-25 = 40.0%), and they shot free throws well (20-for-25 = 80.0%). Michigan won the rebounding battle (37-30), but lost the turnover battle badly (12-3). Michigan won this game with overall shooting, rebounding, and defense.
The stats for the FSU game are not very good. Michigan shot pretty well overall (29-for-59 = 49.2%), they shot 3-pointers pretty poorly (3-for-11 = 27.3%), and they shot free throws pretty poorly (15-for-23 = 65.2%). They won the rebounding battle (37-31) and the turnover battle (9-14). They won this game with defense. If you had told me before the game that Michigan would only make three 3-pointers, I would have predicted a double-digit loss.
The starters for both games were Eli Brooks, Hunter Dickinson, Brandon Johns, Jr., Mike Smith, and Franz Wagner. Isaiah Livers is out “indefinitely” with a broken bone in his foot, so Johns started in his place.
Who Looked Good?
The hero for this week isn’t a starter, it’s Chaundee Brown, Jr. He tied for high scorer in the LSU game, with 21 points (his season high), and scored another very important 12 points in the FSU game, including 2 of Michigan’s 3 made 3-pointers. He really helped make up for the absence of Livers.
The other hero of the LSU game was Brooks, with 21 points, a career high. However, he had a sub-par game vs. FSU, with only 6 points, on 3-for-9 shooting.
Wagner had two solid games, with 15 points vs. LSU and 13 points vs. FSU. He also had 10 rebounds in the FSU game, for a double-double.
Dickinson also had two solid games, with 12 points vs LSU and a team-high (tied) 14 points vs. FSU. He had 11 rebounds in the LSU game, for a double-double.
Smith was a warrior out there, especially in the FSU game. FSU played an aggressive full-court press the whole game, and Smith was the guy who had to bring the ball up court, often against a double-team. He wasn’t perfect (2 turnovers), but he did a very good job. He also chipped in 5 points vs. LSU and 8 points vs. FSU.
Johns had a decent game vs. LSU (7 points), and a great game (tied for team-high 14 points) vs. FSU. He did a very good job filling in for Livers.
Austin Davis did a good job spelling Dickinson, with 1 point vs. LSU and 6 points vs. FSU.
Who Looked Not-So-Good?
Terrance Williams II played in both games, scoring 4 and 0 points. He still plays too fast, and makes too many unforced mistakes. Of course, he is still a freshman…
Who Else Played?
Jaron Faulds played in the closing minutes of the FSU game, and didn’t attempt a shot.
Jace Howard played in the closing minutes of the FSU game, and scored 3 points on an “and-1”.
Zeb Jackson played in the closing minutes of the FSU game, and missed his only shot attempt.
Adrien Nuñez played in the closing minutes of the FSU game, and missed his only shot attempt.
Who Didn’t Play?
What Does It Mean?
Michigan is still alive in the Big Dance, which is all you can ask. Survive and advance. All of the other Big Ten teams in the field were eliminated in the first two rounds:
Of those eight losses by the Big Ten teams, one of them was a “toss up” (MSU), three of them were expected (Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Maryland), and four of them were upsets (OSU, Purdue, Illinois, and Iowa). The Big Ten hasn’t looked very good in this year’s tournament.
This week, Michigan is scheduled to continue play in the NCAA Tournament, in Indianapolis. They play on Tuesday (03/30/2021, 10:00 p.m. EDT, TBS) vs. the #11 seed (UCLA). If they win that game, they’ll move on to the Final Four, and play the winner of the West Region, either the #1 seed (Gonzaga) or the #6 seed (USC), on Saturday (04/03/2021). The full bracket is here.
UCLA is currently 21-9. So far in the NCAA Tournament, they beat 11-seed Michigan State in a “First Four” play-in game, beat 6-seed BYU in the 1st round, beat 14-seed Abilene Christian in the 2nd round, and beat 2-seed Alabama in the Sweet Sixteen. During the regular season, they had impressive wins over Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon State, and less-than-impressive losses to San Diego State, Stanford, Washington State, and Oregon State. They don’t have any superstars on the roster, and they don’t have much height: one 6’10” guy. On paper, it looks like Michigan should be able to handle them, but they have played very well in the tournament so far. This could be a tough, challenging game.
Check back next week to see what happened, and why.