How Michigan’s points and bigs performed relative to expectations

April 23rd, 2014 by Justin Potts


J-MO

On Monday, we took a look at how Michigan’s wings performed relative to the expectations that Sam set in his season preview series back in November. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert outperformed in most statistical categories (Stauskas for the second straight season), while Glenn Robinson III and Zak Irvin under performed. The latter, however, was tough to forecast as a true freshman and had some of his potential production eaten up by the emergence of LeVert.

Today, we take a look at the point guards and big men to see how Derick Walton Jr., Spike Albrecht, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Mitch McGary performed.

For a look back at Sam’s preseason team preview and player previews, here they are: the wings, the big men, the point guards. He made his predictions for each player’s points, rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, and minutes. Later this week, Sam will take a very early look ahead at what the 2014-15 season could bring.

Derrick Walton Jr.
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 6.0 2.5 4.0 1.5 2.0 25.0
Actual 7.9 3.0 2.9 0.6 1.5 26.7
Difference +1.9 +0.5 -1.1 -0.9 -0.5 +1.7

Derrick Walton Jr.Recap: While Nik Stauskas had the challenge of replacing Trey Burke’s production, it was Walton that was tasked with replacing his command of the offense. The freshman from Detroit wasn’t expected to score at Burke’s rate, but needed to run the offense effectively, finding the open man and taking care of the ball.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “Walton is a very quick player with the ball in his hands who will be looking to create for others before looking to shoot himself. He will never be the same player that Trey Burke was in Ann Arbor, but Walton clearly has the potential to make a similar impact, and with the talent of this Michigan team, it should be felt instantly.”

And it was, as he finished with a 2:1 assists-to-turnover ratio while contributing just under eight points a game. He had a season-best 19 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists in Michigan’s win at Michigan State on Jan. 25. He also recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, in addition to six assists, in the win at Ohio State.

Future: Walton finished third on the team in assists behind Stauskas and Caris LeVert. With Stauskas gone, and LeVert stepping into his role of go-to guy, it will be up to Walton to make a big sophomore leap. He will still likely share time with Spike Albrecht, but will need to keep his assists-to-turnover ratio roughly the same and increase his scoring production by a few points. He proved  to be a capable three-point shooter this season. Now he needs to show he can create off the dribble like Burke did.

Spike Albrecht
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 3.5 1.2 1.5 0.5 0.8 10.0
Actual 3.3 1.1 2.0 0.5 0.4 14.7
Difference -0.2 -0.1 +0.5 0.0 -0.4 +4.7

SpikeRecap: Albrecht burst onto the scene in last year’s national championship game with 17 points, his first and only double-digit performance of the season. While no one is confusing him with Trey Burke, the performance eased at least some concern following Burke’s departure.

Sam wrote, “This year, expect a year of practice against Burke to pay dividends for Albrecht and a few more girls to flutter their eyebrows while walking by the boyish-faced Spike on the Diag. But most of all, expect to be happy with Albrecht’s contributions. Those contributions won’t be great, and oftentimes they will go unnoticed, but a back-up point guard who flies under the radar is usually a back-up point guard who is doing his job.”

Albrecht did just that, providing a steady hand in 15 minutes a game while splitting time with Walton. He turned the ball over just 16 times in 545 minutes — an average of once every 34 minutes of action — with a 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He contributed 3.3 points per game and was usually good for one big three-pointer per night.

Future: Albrecht will continue to play an important role for John Beilein as a four-year guy who provides consistency while others leave early for the NBA. His role next season will be about the same as this season, sharing time with Walton, taking care of the ball late in games, and knocking down the occasional open three. He’s the perfect point guard option off the bench and will remain so.

Jordan Morgan
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 3.5 3.0 0.2 0.5 0.8 10.0
Actual 6.4 5.0 0.4 0.4 0.9 20.1
Difference +2.9 +2.0 +0.2 -0.1 +0.1 +10.1
2012-13 Difference -3.9 -1.5   -0.5   -6.1

Jordan Morgan cutting net 3-8-14Recap: Perhaps the feel-good story of the season was the senior-year emergence of Jordan Morgan. He committed to Michigan in 2010 when the program was very different than it is now, stuck with the program despite losing his playing time to Mitch McGary last season, and became one of the most beloved players on the team by season’s end. A year ago, Sam held fairly high expectations for Morgan, but he performed below every one. This year, he over-performed.

In his preview, Sam wrote, “A couple seasons ago, Morgan’s own dad admitted that he was very surprised when Beilein called Morgan in the first place to express interest and ultimately offer him a scholarship. After all, Morgan’s future would be as an engineer. But Beilein did give him that chance, and Morgan has embraced his role in playing basketball for Michigan, no matter what it might be.

“This season, his last, might be Morgan’s most unspectacular in the scoring column, but his leadership and experience will undoubtedly be needed if Michigan is to make another run. Many fans will end up forgetting Morgan’s seemingly insignificant contributions, but Morgan himself will never forget his own journey.”

He was never a star, but Michigan fans most certainly won’t be forgetting his contributions any time soon. Just like the charge he drew late in last year’s Final Four win over Syracuse, Morgan saved Michigan’s season with a drawn charge in this year’s Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee. Those are the kind of plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet, but are just as important.

Future: Morgan was the lone senior on this year’s team and got a fitting sendoff on Senior Night. He leaves Ann Arbor with an engineering degree, two Big Ten titles, and the program’s career and single-season field goal percentage records. Those are some great accomplishments for a big man out of Detroit that wasn’t highly recruited.

His departure leaves a gap both inside and in terms of leadership. If McGary opts to return next season Michigan will still be in good shape, but if he follows Stauskas and Robinson to the next level, Beilein will need some young guys to step up.

Jon Horford
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 4.5 3.0 0.8 0.5 0.8 12.0
Actual 3.8 4.2 0.7 0.3 0.5 13.8
Difference -0.7 +1.2 -0.1 -0.2 -0.3 +1.8
2012-13 Difference -3.8 -2.3 -1.4 -0.3   -6.2

Jon HorfordRecap: Horford has battled the injury bug throughout his career at Michigan, but entered the 2013-14 season as healthy as could be. He was still battling Morgan and McGary for playing time, but as the season went on it became apparent that even with McGary sidelined with a back injury, it was Morgan who had earned the coaches’ trust and Horford was left coming off the bench. He proved a capable rebounder, averaging over four per game in less than 14 minutes, but struggled on the offensive end of the court.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “Over the course of two preseason games, Horford recorded four blocks and 21 rebounds, 17 of which came on defense. If he can continue to provide that kind of production while finishing wide open looks in the paint, Horford will see a nice uptick in minutes and could occasionally see the floor next to McGary – a potentially devastating look for opponents.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way as Horford scored in double figures just three times all season — all in a five game stretch at the start of Big Ten play — and had just one more double digit rebounding performance the rest of the way.

Future: Horford could have returned to provide leadership as a fifth-year senior next season and likely see more playing time as a result of Morgan’s graduation, but he announced his decision to transfer elsewhere for his final year of eligibility. This leaves a hole in the front court, depending on what McGary decides to do and means redshirt freshman-to-be Mark Donnal is in line for a big role next season.

Mitch McGary
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 12.0 9.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 28.0
Actual 9.5 8.3 0.8 1.9 1.6 24.6
Difference -2.5 -1.2 -0.2 +0.4 -0.4 -3.4

McGaryRecap: Sam’s predictions for McGary were made with an asterisk because his status was unknown at the time, so any under- or over-performance should also be noted with an asterisk.

In his preview, Sam wrote, “Already this season, McGary has been deemed a preseason AP All-American, but he has one more physical hurdle to climb before fulfilling his vast potential – a lower back “condition” that has severely limited McGary’s practice time this fall and has many wondering when he’ll be back to full strength. Beilein maintains that Michigan is just being extremely cautious with McGary right now, and McGary himself is constantly wearing a smile as he says he feels “fine”, but any back injury for a guy of McGary’s size is worrisome.

“If the super sophomore is completely healthy by Michigan’s first big game, though, the Wolverines should be one of the most talented teams in the country and one of the few with exceptional players at every position. And of course, if McGary picks up where he left off, this condition will just be the latest bump on the rise to stardom.”

Ultimately, McGary played in just eight games, starting four, before he had back surgery and was shut down for the season. It’s impossible to tell how healthy he actually was in the games he played, but he certainly wasn’t 100 percent. Still, he averaged 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and two steals per game.

Future: McGary is the one remaining piece of the puzzle that needs to be placed for next season. He hasn’t yet announced his decision of whether to return or to enter the NBA Draft. In one sense, it seems like an easy decision — will an NBA team want a player coming off back surgery who has really only had a dominant NCAA Tournament run that shows his potential? On the other hand, he’s old for his class and his NBA future is getting shorter the longer he waits. If his back is healthy enough for pre-draft workouts, he could work his way solidly into the first round.

A return to Michigan would immediately solidify Michigan’s front court, allowing McGary to play the five and Donnal the four with Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert as the wings and Derrick Walton Jr. handling the ball. That would be a lineup worthy of Big Ten title consideration. If he doesn’t return, however, there will be plenty of questions to be answered inside.
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Check back at the end of the week for Sam’s look ahead to the 2014-15 season with some very early team and player predictions.

Drew’s Mailbag: McGary’s decision, 2014-15 preseason rankings

April 22nd, 2014 by Drew Hallett


Today is the first installment of Drew’s Mailbag, which will run every two weeks throughout the offseason, answering any questions you may have regarding Michigan athletics. You can submit your questions to Drew on Twitter (@DrewCHallett) or via email (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com). 

What is your gut feeling about [Nik] Stauskas, [Glenn Robinson III], and [Mitch] McGary’s NBA decisions? – NMT21 (@NMT21)

Let’s start with the obvious: this question is dated. It was sent to me on April 9, 2014, one day before any reports had surfaced about whether any of Michigan’s players would declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. At the time, I discarded this as a question for my inaugural mailbag because I assumed all three of Stauskas, Robinson III, and McGary would have decided by now. However, although Stauskas and Robinson III have announced officially that they will enter the NBA Draft, McGary has yet to make his final decision. The deadline to declare is only five days away, so I think this is the perfect space to provide my thoughts on McGary’s decision.

First and foremost, this is McGary’s decision. He knows where his interests lie and has gathered all of the information he can from NBA executives and scouts. No one is more informed to make this decision than McGary. He certainly is more informed than me. With that said, I am going to address what I think are the pros and cons of McGary’s options and what I think he will decided by week’s end. What I will not do is tell McGary what he should decide. This is his decision. Not mine. I am in no place to criticize what McGary thinks is best for himself, his family, and his career.

If McGary chooses to follow Stauskas and Robinson III to the NBA, he has been projected as a late first-round or second-round pick. SI’s Chris Mannix is the most optimistic, projecting McGary to be selected with the 26th pick by the Miami Heat. Draft Express currently has McGary going with the last pick in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs. ESPN’s Chad Ford projects McGary as a late first-round pick, but does not include him in his latest top-30 Big Board or the next five in ($). And CBS Sports’ Matt Moore is the most pessimistic, penciling McGary to be selected with the eighth pick in the second round by the Detroit Pistons.

McGary is projected at the end of the first round by most experts (MGoBlue.com)

McGary is projected to be drafted at the end of the first round by most experts (MGoBlue.com)

The range of these projections is a concern for McGary. Whether a player is a first- or second-round pick has significant ramifications. First-round selections are guaranteed a contract. Second-round selections are not and can have their rights waived before ever signing a contract with the team that drafted them. There have been many second-round picks that did not make an NBA roster the season they were drafted. This is why many generally feel that players should return to school unless they are projected to be a solid first-round pick. Generally.

McGary is in a unique situation, though. After an incredible 2013 NCAA Tournament as a freshman, he was projected as a late lottery pick in last year’s draft. Nonetheless, he decided to return to Michigan. McGary then saw his draft stock drop his sophomore season not because of a decline in performance, but because of a lower-back injury that forced him to miss most of the year. There have been recent reports that McGary “is well on his way to being healthy.” If he can show NBA executives in workouts that he has returned to 2013 NCAA Tournament form, his stock would soar back into the first round. But, if not, red flags may be raised that cause McGary to fall into the dreaded second round.

Conversely, if McGary decides to return to Michigan for his junior season, he likely would be one of the best players in the Big Ten, if not the nation. It would provide McGary more time to show NBA executives and scouts that he once again can play at the level he did at the end of his freshman season than draft workouts would. McGary also would have the opportunity to prove to NBA management that he no longer has lower-back issues and can be a full-time starter for a college season. Plus, with the 2015 draft class expected to be weaker than this year’s stacked class, a strong junior season from McGary realistically could see him back in the lottery for the 2015 NBA Draft.

However, there certainly are risks to staying in school. The first is McGary reinjuring himself. The NBA is has become extremely wary of big men that are injury-prone. Another serious injury may indicate to the NBA that McGary is not a player that can endure a full 82-game season or a long NBA career. Another injury would cause McGary’s stock to plummet. The second risk is age. If McGary returns, he would be 23 years old before the 2015 NBA Draft. The NBA loves to draft potential. Unfortunately, NBA executives likely will think that a 23-year-old McGary has little of it left. This could hinder a rise in McGary’s draft stock even with a strong junior season.

And, of course, another season at Michigan is another season during which he does not earn an income for his talent on the hardwood. With how short professional basketball careers are relative to other occupations, McGary may not want to lose one of few valuable years to earn a seven-digit salary to play a sport he loves.

My gut feeling tells me that McGary will declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. Some may feel the opposite because McGary has delayed his decision this long and well after Stauskas and Robinson III made their decisions official. But John Beilein, Caris LeVert, and Spike Albrecht each recently made comments about next year’s team and forgot to include McGary. Plus, there are other things I have heard – nothing concrete – that indicate McGary might be leaving. Either way, as I said earlier, this is McGary’s decision. Michigan fans should respect his decision and support McGary whether he plays at Michigan or in the NBA next season.

Have both the [Michigan] football and basketball teams started the season unranked in the same year? – Will (@Goblue_1211)

Yes, there have been times when both Michigan football and basketball were unranked in the preseason during the same athletic year. It has happened 16 times since the Associated Press (AP) first released a preseason poll for both football and basketball in 1948-49. Fourteen of those times occurred from 1948-49 to 1969-1970 when the AP poll listed only 20 schools. But it has been a rare occurrence since Bo Schembechler made his mark on the Michigan football program.

From 1970-71 to 2007-08, it never happened. Only once during that span was Michigan football not ranked in the preseason AP poll (1985-86), but Michigan basketball was preseason No. 3 that year. Since Lloyd Carr’s retirement, it has happened twice: 2008-09 and 2010-11. However, Michigan basketball found its mojo in the second half of the 2010-11 season and has been listed in the preseason AP poll each year since then.

But let’s get to why this question was sent to me. Will sent this question when it became known that both Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III would declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. At the time, there was – and still is – uncertainty if Mitch McGary also would leave Michigan for the NBA. Will seems to be concerned – and if not concerned, then at least curious – that neither Michigan football nor basketball will be ranked in next season’s preseason AP polls. Will’s concern is not unfounded.

With Irvin and LeVert back, it is unlikely that Michigan won't begin the 2014-15 season unranked (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

With Irvin and LeVert back, it is unlikely that Michigan will begin the 2014-15 season unranked even if McGary goes pro (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

It is very unlikely that Michigan football will be ranked in the preseason AP poll this upcoming season. The Wolverines finished the previous season with a 7-6 record and lost five of their final six games. Yes, there are some circumstances where the AP will rank a team in the preseason following such a year. But those circumstances do not apply to Michigan. The Wolverines have more questions than answers right now. How quickly will Michigan learn and execute new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s new schemes? Will Michigan’s young offensive line, which allowed the most tackles-for-loss in the nation in 2013, improve despite losing two NFL-caliber offensive tackles? Will Michigan finally have an effective running game? How will Michigan’s defense adapt to the transition from the 4-3 under to the 4-3 over? Can Michigan beat its first ranked opponent on the road under Brady Hoke? I could go on and on.

This is not to say that Michigan football is doomed for the 2014 season. Michigan certainly has the talent and pieces to put together a successful campaign. But Michigan needs to answer these questions on the gridiron first before the media begins to respect the Wolverines. Don’t believe me? None of CBS Sports’ Jerry Hinnen, Bleacher Report’s Brian Pedersen, USA Today’s Paul Myerberg, or SI’s Martin Rickman place Michigan in their Way-Too-Early Top-25 rankings for 2014. The only such list that does is ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, who ranks Michigan at No. 21. The most likely scenario is that Michigan will be sitting outside the top 25 in the preseason AP poll, likely between No. 30 and No. 35.

Nonetheless, I do not believe that the 2014-15 season will be the 17th time that both Michigan football and basketball begin their respective seasons unranked. I expect Michigan basketball to be listed in the preseason AP poll for the fourth consecutive year this upcoming season. I also expect this to happen even if McGary follows Stauskas and Robinson III to the NBA. Michigan has been one of the best programs in the nation the past three seasons, winning two Big Ten titles and appearing in two Elite Eights. It is rare for a program with these accomplishments to be unranked the following season, even if most of the core players have departed for the NBA.

Michigan returns plenty of talent, too. Caris LeVert was one of the most improved players in the Big Ten, if not the nation, last season and was named to the All-Big Ten second team. Although LeVert cannot be expected to make a similar leap next year like he did this past year, look for him to contend for the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player honor. There is also Derrick Walton, Jr. and Zak Irvin – talented players who executed their roles perfectly as freshmen. Both will receive additional touches as sophomores with more of the offensive burden falling on them.

Given John Beilein’s track record for developing freshmen, both Walton, Jr. and Irvin have been listed by media outlets as players who will break out next season. Plus, there have been rave reviews about big man Mark Donnal in practice, and Michigan adds top-30 recruit in Kameron Chatman. There will be no deficiency of talent in Ann Arbor next season.

The media agrees, too. All of NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan, Bleacher Report’s C.J. Moore, USA Today’s Scott Gleeson, and SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford list Michigan in their Way-Too-Early Top-25 rankings for 2014-15. The range of where Michigan lands on these lists is wide. Some have Michigan in the top 10. Most have Michigan around No. 20. Where U-M is ranked on each depends on how many Wolverines the writer assumed were declaring for the NBA Draft. The only media outlet that did not place Michigan on such a list is CBS Sports. But this likely is just an outlier. If McGary declares for the NBA Draft, I would expect Michigan to be ranked between No. 20 and No. 25 in the preseason AP poll. If McGary returns, there is little doubt that the Wolverines would find themselves in the top 20 in the preseason.

If you have any questions related to Michigan athletics that you want answered in the next mailbag, please tweet them to @DrewCHallett on Twitter or email them to drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com. 

How Michigan’s wings performed relative to expectations

April 21st, 2014 by Justin Potts


Stauskas dunk vs MSU 2-23-14

Back in November, as the Michigan football team was limping through the conference schedule and many of the maize and blue faithful started to turn their hopes to the hardwood, Sam penned a preview of the basketball season, complete with team and player predictions. It was no easy task as the Wolverines were replacing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Most anticipated a solid sophomore leap from Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, but Caris LeVert’s improvement turned out to be a pleasant surprise that no one saw coming.

Sam pegged Michigan to finish 30-7 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten, tying for the conference title and advancing to the Elite Eight. When the Wolverines started the season 6-4, it looked as if his predictions were way too optimistic. However, the young squad clicked and ran its way through the Big Ten, finishing 28-9 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten. Instead of sharing the conference title, Michigan won it outright for the first time since 1986 and then advanced to the Elite Eight, falling just short of a return trip to the Final Four.

In addition to the team preview, Sam wrote a series of player previews: the wings, the big men, the point guards. He made his predictions for each player’s points, rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, and minutes. Let’s take a look at how each player performed relative to Sam’s expectations. Today, we’re reflecting on the wings.

Nik Stauskas
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 13.5 3.5 1.0 0.5 1.0 33.0
Actual 17.5 2.9 3.3 0.6 1.9 35.6
Difference +4.0 -0.6 +2.3 +0.1 +0.9 +2.6
2012-13 Difference +5.8 +0.7 +0.1     +18.5

Stauskas blowing kissesRecap: Michigan’s second consecutive Big  Ten Player of the Year, Stauskas exceeded nearly every expectation. As a freshman, he proved he could snipe from three-point range, but because of Burke and Hardaway, he wasn’t asked to do much more. With those two gone, however, he took over.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “The sophomore claims to have increased his vertical leap by some six inches while putting on 16 pounds of muscle without losing his surprising first-step burst and shooting stroke. If true, Stauskas will easily contend for scoring leader on the team and will again be a nightmare for opposing coaches.” Stauskas certainly looked and played the part.

Future: Stauskas declared his intentions to enter the NBA Draft last week, and while Michigan fans hate to see him go, virtually no one can blame him. His draft stock soared to a potential lottery pick, so there’s no use risking injury by spending another year in college at this point. His production will be tough to replace, but as Beilein proved this year replacing Burke and Hardaway, it’s not impossible.

Glenn Robinson III
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 14.0 6.0 1.5 1.3 1.3 35.0
Actual 13.1 4.4 1.2 1.0 1.2 32.3
Difference -0.9 -1.6 -0.3 -0.3 -0.1 -2.7
2012-13 Difference 0.0 +0.9 -1.2 -0.2 +5.6

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at IllinoisRecap: Robinson was expected to be the team leader in the absence of Burke and Hardaway, but it was Stauskas that took on that role. Robinson was frustrating at times, but picked up his play over the last third of the season, playing his best ball down the stretch, scoring nearly a point more than his season-long average in the NCAA Tournament.

In his preview, Sam wrote, “The knock on Robinson all of last year was his lack of aggression and his inability to create for himself. And despite tying Stauskas as the third-leading scorer, Robinson always seemed to quietly go about his business throwing down alley oops and cleaning up a couple misses down low.

“This year, look for Robinson to make a little more noise, even if he isn’t scoring 20 points every night. As long as he can make defenses respect his shot and his slashing ability, he should highlight a team chock full of talented wings.”

For the most part, Robinson was still the player that quietly went about his business. He just did it a little bit better than last year.

Future: Like Stauskas, Robinson already announced his decision to enter the NBA Draft. Unlike Stauskas, this came as a surprise to many who thought he could use another year in college to prove he can be a go-to guy. His draft stock has hovered around the end of the first round based on his perceived potential. But that potential could also allow him to work his way up to a higher pick during pre-draft workouts.

Caris LeVert
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 8.0 3.0 0.5 3.0 1.2 25.0
Actual 12.9 4.3 2.9 1.2 1.7 34.0
Difference +4.9 +1.3 +2.4 -1.8 +0.5 +9.0

LeVert vs OSU 3-15-14Recap: In his freshman campaign, LeVert was a string bean that came off the bench to provide solid defense for less than 11 minutes a game. He showed potential, but nobody saw the leap he made during his sophomore season coming. He was easily the most improved player on the team, raising his scoring average from 2.3 to 12.9, rebound average from 0.8 to 4.3, and assist average from 0.2 to 2.9.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “Last year was Caris’s opportunity to learn the game and Michigan’s style in spurts. This year, Beilein seems to think he’ll be playing so much that the bigger concern is going to be finding time to rest him.

“Most people would have been skeptical of that quote just before the summer, but after seeing LeVert dish out 10 assists in the first exhibition game and record 16 points in 28 minutes two nights ago, it’s clear that the Pickerington Central product is ready to shine.”

Shine he did, especially in games in which Stauskas was shut down. LeVert scored 24 against Duke, almost single-handedly keeping Michigan in the game, and had a four game stretch late in the conference schedule in which he scored 22, nine, 25, and 23.

Future: With Stauskas and Robinson gone and Mitch McGary still undecided, it’s now LeVert’s team. The lightly recruited, baby-faced kid from Columbus weighed making the jump to the next level as well, but elected to return. As the leading returning scorer, he’ll be tasked with the role of go-to man and try to become Michigan’s third straight Big Ten Player of the Year. If he shows even the slightest improvement throughout the offseason, that’s certainly a realistic possibility.

Zak Irvin
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 9.5 3.0 1.5 1.0 1.5 21.0
Actual 6.7 1.3 0.3 0.2 0.4 15.4
Difference -2.8 -1.7 -1.2 -0.8 -1.1 -5.6

Zak Irvin vs NebraskaRecap: Irvin came in with a lot of potential, but it’s never easy to forecast the production of a freshman.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “For the freshman, it will be all about consistency this year. Irvin has all the tools to be a very good defender and a diverse scorer, but he needs to realize that Michigan has a bevy of riches on the offensive end and pick his spots wisely.”

In reality, LeVert’s progression from gangly defensive sub to a very good offensive threat probably limited Irvin’s production a bit, but that’s okay. Irvin was called upon to play a similar role to Stauskas last season: three-point sniper. The Fishers, Ind. native is capable of much more than that, and will be able to prove it next season, but was simply needed to knock down threes in 15 minutes a game. And he did just that, making 62, second only to Stauskas.

Future: Irvin will be tasked with making the sophomore leap next season. He’s in line for a starting role and will need to be much more than simply a three-point sniper. He has the game to do much more, but come November it will be time to prove it. He’ll need to raise his scoring average at least into double digits to make up for the production lost by the departures of Stauskas and Robinson.
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Come back later this week for a look back at how the big men and the point guards performed relative to expectations.

New in Blue: Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman

April 19th, 2014 by Justin Potts


Muhammed Ali Abdur-Rahkman(Kevin Mingora, Morning Call)

Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman – SG | 6-4, 180 | Allentown, Pa. | Central Catholic HS
ESPN: 2-star, #101 SG Rivals: 3-star 247: 3-star, #381 nationally Scout: NR
Other top offers: Bucknell, Drexel, George Mason, Harvard, Lehigh, Robert Morris, VCU

Just a few days removed from the departure announcements of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, John Beilein picked up a commitment from shooting guard Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman. The 6’4″, 180-pounder out of Allentown, Pa. doesn’t hold a great offer list, but as Beilein has proven time and again that’s nothing to worry about. He obviously saw enough from Abdur-Rahkman to warrant an offer when the guard visited Ann Arbor this weekend and it was accepted. He announced his commitment on Twitter.

Abdur-Rahkman averaged 23.6 points, 4.1 assists, and 6.2 rebounds per game for Catholic Central High School and set the school’s career scoring record. He became the first four-time Pennsylvania Lehigh Valley all-state selection when was named to the PIAA Class AAA first-team following his senior season.

“He’s a complete player,” said Catholic Central head coach Dennis Csencsits. “Not only does he lead us in scoring but he leads us in assists, he is a very good rebounder, so he is a really well-rounded player. Very smart, very savvy basketball player.”

Caris LeVert hosted Abdur-Rahkman on his visit and the latter will hope to follow a similar development process as his host. LeVert was also a lightly-recruited late addition to a Beilein class, and after a year learning the ropes, broke out as a sophomore, earning All-Big Ten second-team honors. He now figures to be the team leader in 2014-15. Abdur-Rahkman will serve as LeVert’s backup next season, coming off the bench to spell the will-be junior for a few minutes a game while working on his own development.

Earlier this week, he told Scout’s Sam Webb, “I’m more of a facilitator…get in the lane, drive and kick (and) find the big guys inside. I can play defense. I’m a good defender. I can shoot a little bit, (but) I need to get better. Dribbling better, but need to get better. Midrange is pretty good.”

Abdur-Rahkman joins Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Ricky Doyle, and Austin Hatch in the incoming class. With one scholarship remaining, there’s still a chance for another addition. Beilein also extended an offer this weekend to shooting guard Aburey Dawkins, the son of former Duke star and current Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins, so stay tuned for a possible commitment from him. In addition, if Mitch McGary opts to follow Stauskas and Robinson III to the NBA, another scholarship will open up and Beilein will likely target a big man.

Stauskas, Robinson III declare for NBA Draft

April 15th, 2014 by Derick Hutchinson


Stauskas-Robinson

Michigan star guard Nik Stauskas and athletic forward Glenn Robinson III announced Tuesday afternoon at a press conference at the Crisler Center that they will declare for the NBA Draft after their sophomore seasons with the Wolverines.

In two seasons, Stauskas and Robinson helped Michigan advance to the national championship and then return to the Elite Eight in addition to the program’s first outright Big Ten title since 1986.

Stauskas took over a team that lost leaders Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. from the 2012-13 team and came within one miracle shot of leading his team back to the final Four.

Thanks to an offseason dedicated to improving his game, Stauskas not only increased his scoring from 11 points per game to 17.5 during his second college season, he also led the team with 3.3 assists following the exit of assist-leader Burke.

“For as long as I can remember I have had a goal of playing in the NBA, whether it was on my backyard court or winning the Big Ten title at Crisler Center,” Stauskas said in a statement released by U-M media relations. “Following some heartfelt discussions with my family, Coach Beilein and the rest of the coaching staff, I am ready to pursue my goals and begin my NBA career.

Robinson and Stauskas are leaving early. Michigan now turns its attention to McGary's decision (Detroit Free Press)

Robinson and Stauskas are leaving early. Michigan now turns its attention to McGary’s decision (Detroit Free Press)

“What cannot be understated is how the University of Michigan has helped prepare me for this moment both on and off the court,” continued Stauskas. “This great university took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to achieve my college basketball dreams. I hope in some small way, I was able provide some lasting moments. As I move forward into this next stage of my life, it cannot be said enough how thankful I am to the Wolverine fans for embracing me. I will always be a Wolverine at heart.”

Robinson, often criticized for his seemingly nonchalant demeanor, stepped up during the later part of the season to give Michigan the boost it needed to contend for a championship. He finally found a comfort level with his mid-range jumper and became an all-round offensive weapon as a result.

“I have thought a lot about the next step in my career over this past year,” said Robinson. “After talking with my mom, my dad, my grandma, Coach Beilein and the coaching staff, I feel the time is right for me to begin my professional career and declare for the NBA Draft. I am confident I have the work ethic, the talent and maturity to pursue this path successfully.

“It has truly been a blessing to have had the opportunity to attend to the University of Michigan and be part of this basketball program,” added Robinson. “The Wolverine fans and U-M alumni are the best in the world. I have developed many relationships and created so many positive memories that I know will last a lifetime. As excited as I am about my future, I will always be grateful for this wonderful two year experience at the University of Michigan.”

The two sophomores helped amass a school record 59 wins in two seasons in Ann Arbor.

Stauskas became a fan favorite with his clutch shooting, most notably jump-starting Michigan’s run to the regular season outright Big Ten championship this season with a step-back three-pointer in Madison to bury the No. 3 Badgers. The flashy guard ended his outstanding college career by dropping 24 points on the eventual-runner up Kentucky Wildcats. Stauskas played 39 minutes during the game and single-handedly kept the Wolverines in the game.

The departure of these two key pieces seemingly leaves the team in the hands of fellow sophomore Caris LeVert, pending the decision of Mitch McGary. LeVert similarly stepped up this season, more than tripling his minutes and trailing just Stauskas on the team with 12.9 points per game and 2.9 assists per game.

Though the loss of his leading scorer certainly stings, John Beilein had to expect this decision. If McGary returns for another season, then Michigan is equipped with enough returning talent to compete for another conference championship. If McGary follows in the footsteps of his classmates, then Beilein will once again have to work his magic with the incoming freshmen. But what’s encouraging is that he’s replaced a similar loss of production before. Pretty recently, in fact.

 

Four-star small forward Kameron Chatman and a pair of three-stars, center Ricky Doyle and power forward D.J. Wilson, certainly bring a fresh wave of talent to Ann Arbor, but filling the holes of all three sophomores would represent an extremely difficult test. Beilein proved he can cope with losing talent to the next level through the team’s shocking performance this season, but Michigan would certainly benefit from keeping at least one of the star sophomores to help LeVert mentor the newcomers.

The loss of Stauskas and Robinson doesn’t bury the defending Big Ten champions for the upcoming season, but McGary’s decision, which could come at any time, will certainly hold a much greater significance now that his teammates have moved on.

Inside the Numbers: The fifth golden era of Michigan basketball

April 11th, 2014 by Drew Hallett


Michigan(MGoBlue.com)

The college basketball season officially has ended. Accordingly, this will be the final entry of my “Inside the Numbers” series for the 2013-14 athletic season. This hiatus will last a few months until I begin previewing the 2014 Michigan football team this summer. But I still will write for Maize and Go Blue in the meantime. I am starting a bimonthly mailbag. If you have any questions about Michigan football and basketball that you want answered, please tweet them to me (@DrewCHallett) or email them to me (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com), and I will answer them here. On that note, I hope you enjoy my last “Inside the Numbers” piece on the 2013-14 Michigan basketball team. 

Michigan is a “football school.” Always has been. Always will be. This is expected when Michigan is the winningest football program of all-time, leads the Big Ten with 42 conference championships, owns 11 national championships, has three Heisman Trophy winners, plays its home games in the nation’s largest football stadium, and has made more television appearances than any other college football program. But this “football school” label should not overshadow the achievements of the Michigan’s basketball program. Especially right now.

Michigan basketball is not some poor or substandard program. Michigan has won 14 Big Ten regular-season championships, which is one more than the number Michigan State has won. The Wolverines have appeared in the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight 13 times each. Michigan has participated in the Final Four seven times. Only nine schools in the nation have advanced to the Final Four more often. And the Wolverines have celebrated one national championship. Indiana and Michigan State are the only Big Ten programs with more than one national title.

Unlike the football program, though, Michigan’s basketball program has experienced only sporadic success. Historically, Michigan has not always been one of the best basketball programs in the nation. Michigan has not competed for Big Ten or national championships on a consistent basis. When the Wolverines have competed at such a level, they have not been able to sustain it for an extended period of time. This is why, from the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 1939 to 2011, there had been only four brief stretches during which Michigan was near the top of the college basketball landscape.

A-Maize-ing Stretches of Michigan Basketball (1939-2011)

Years

Overall
Win Pct.

Conference Win Pct.

B1G Titles

Sweet Sixteens

Elite Eights

Final Fours

1964-66

79.27%

83.33%

3

3

3

2

1974-77

79.31%

79.41%

2

3

3

1

1985-89

78.31%

72.22%

2

2

1

1

1992-94

78.43%

72.22%

0

3

3

2

Other 58 Years

52.65%

43.46%

1

0

1*

0

*Michigan appeared in the 1948 NCAA Tournament when the field had only eight teams

When John Beilein arrived in Ann Arbor in April 2007, it had been 13 years since Michigan had last been considered elite and nine years since Michigan had participated in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines were in a rut and in need of a new leader to rebuild their program. The first few seasons under Beilein were slightly rocky. Yes, Michigan overachieved in 2009 with a 21-win season and its first NCAA Tournament since 1998. But a disappointing sub-.500 record in 2010 and underwhelming start in 2011 gave the impression that Michigan was still a long ways away from the top of the mountain.

Then, suddenly, everything began to click a few weeks into the Big Ten season in 2011. With a worrisome 1-6 conference record, Michigan traveled to East Lansing, a place where it had not won since 1997, to play rival Michigan State. With the program trending downwards, Michigan seemed destined to suffer yet another loss at the Breslin Center. But Zack Novak and Stu Douglass had different plans. Novak buried a career-high six triples, and Douglass drilled a three-point dagger with 20.2 seconds left to secure a surprising victory for the Wolverines. The win turned around the season. Michigan closed with a 10-5 record and pushed No. 1 seed Duke to the brink in a promising NCAA Tournament appearance.

Thanks to Beilein's ability to identify under-the-radar recruits and develop them for his system, Michigan is amid another golden era (MGoBlue.com)

Thanks to Beilein’s ability to identify under-the-radar recruits and develop them for his system, Michigan is amid another golden era (MGoBlue.com)

While this was happening on the court, Beilein was striking gold on the recruiting trail. In August 2010, Beilein landed an undersized point guard, whom Rivals ranked No. 136 in the 2011 class when he committed. His name was Trey Burke. One month later, Michigan received a pledge from an athletic wing whose father played in the NBA. The commitment earned little fanfare, though, because Rivals ranked the prospect only No. 118 in the 2012 class. His name was Glenn Robinson III. In March 2011, a Canadian sharpshooter, whom Rivals ranked No. 106 in the 2012 class at the time, decided he wanted to be a Wolverine. His name was Nik Stauskas. Then, after Beilein landed the highest-ranked recruit of his career in the form of five-star Mitch McGary, Beilein added a last-second commit, whom Rivals did not rank nationally, to the 2012 class. His name was Caris LeVert.

The combination of Michigan’s end-of-the-season turnaround in 2011 and Beilein’s superb recruiting of under-the-radar prospects ushered in what can now be considered the fifth golden era of Michigan basketball. Since 2011, Michigan has posted an 83-27 overall record (75.45 win percentage). The Wolverines’ 83 wins are the most they ever have had in a three-year span. U-M’s 59 total wins in 2013 and 2014 are the most ever by the school in consecutive seasons. With this type of on-court success, Michigan recently has accomplished goals and records that it has not done been able to do since the Fab Five era.

For starters, Michigan has been the best Big Ten basketball program during this timeframe. Since 2011, Michigan has a 40-14 conference record (74.07 win percentage). No Big Ten school has more conference wins or a higher conference win percentage in that span. The closest is Michigan State with 38 conference wins. Accordingly, the Wolverines won a Big Ten regular-season championship in 2012 and 2014. These were Michigan’s first conference championships since 1986. Further, Michigan ran away with the title in 2014, winning the Big Ten by three games. This was a feat no team had achieved since Michigan State in 2009. For the first time in almost three decades, Michigan sits atop the Big Ten without an equal.

Michigan’s success has translated to the postseason, too. Michigan has been no lower than a No. 4 seed in each of the past three NCAA Tournaments. Its No. 2 seed in 2014 was its highest since it was a No. 1 seed in 1993. Yes, the Wolverines fell unexpectedly to Ohio in the Round of 64 in 2012. But they have more than made up for it since then. Michigan has advanced to the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons, doing so in consecutive years for the first time since 1992-94. This included a magical run to the national championship game in 2013, where Michigan finished as the national runner-up. In these two NCAA Tournaments, the Wolverines accumulated eight wins. No other school in the nation can claim more in this span.

Michigan is amid this golden era of regular-season and postseason success because it has become the nation’s gold standard for offense. The Wolverines have finished in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency in each of the past three seasons. Michigan actually led the nation in this category in both 2013 and 2014. In fact, Michigan’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 124.1 in 2014 was the highest by any team in the nation for the 12 seasons this stat has been tracked. Therefore, Michigan’s offense this past season was the most efficient in the nation since at least 2002. Beilein’s offensive system is predicated on having four guards or wings on the court, spacing, constant motion, and outside shooting. With the proper weapons at Beilein’s disposal, few teams, if any, can score at a rate like Michigan.

Regardless of who goes pro, Michigan should remain elite next season (MGoBlue.com)

Regardless of who goes pro, Michigan should remain elite next season (MGoBlue.com)

And Beilein has found the proper weapons. Beilein has hauled in some of the best talent Ann Arbor has seen in decades, even if those players were not considered blue-chip recruits by other elite programs. In 2013, Burke was named the consensus National Player of the Year. It was the second time ever a Wolverine had received such an honor and the first time since Cazzie Russell in 1966. Additionally, Burke also was honored as a consensus first-team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year. Burke was Michigan’s first member of an All-America first team since Chris Webber in 1993 and first Big Ten Player of the Year since Glen Rice in 1989.

There were some outsiders who claimed that Michigan was a one-man program and would return to mediocrity with Burke’s departure. This was far from case. The following season, Stauskas became Michigan’s go-to player and blossomed into a star. Stauskas, like Burke in 2013, was named to an All-America first team and the consensus Big Ten Player of the Year. It was the first time a Wolverine had been a first-team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year in consecutive seasons since 1964-66 and 1988-89, respectively. McGary was a preseason first-team All-American in 2014, but his season was derailed by a lower back injury. LeVert was selected as a member of the All-Big Ten second team in 2014 after having a minimal role as a freshman the previous season. And Robinson III has been a two-time All-Big Ten honorable mention and projected to possibly be a first-round draft pick.

This is an exciting time to be involved with Michigan basketball. In each of the past three seasons, the team has competed for conference and national championships. The players have run Beilein’s offensive system to perfection, showing the rest of the nation how offense is supposed to be played. As a result, the players have received multiple national and conference honors to recognize their performances. Additionally, there have been so many other awards, honors, records, and accolades that Michigan and its players have attained since 2011, but there are too many to recognize all of them in this piece. It would be a stat overload. But the message is clear: this is the fifth golden era of Michigan basketball.

The logical follow-up question is, “How long will this fifth golden era of Michigan basketball endure?” Will Michigan drop from its lofty perch in the college basketball world quickly as it has historically? Or has Beilein built this program into a consistent contender that will be among the nation’s best for another decade-plus? This is anyone’s guess. If I had to give mine, I would lean toward the latter, even if one or two Wolverines declare early for the NBA Draft in the next week or so. Nonetheless, Michigan fans should not take this success for granted. Michigan may be a “football school,” but, at the moment, its basketball program is superior and may be for quite some time.

The M&GB Hail Awards: Basketball 2013-14

April 10th, 2014 by Justin Potts


Pregame huddle(MGoBlue.com)

With the 2013-14 basketball season in the books and the Michigan Basketball Awards Celebration approaching next week, it’s time to hand out our own awards, the M&GB Hail Awards. This is the first time we’ve done this for basketball, and after doing it for the past three football seasons, we decided it was time to give the boys of the hardwood the same love.

After reaching the national title game and coming up just short a year ago, and then seeing the departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA, a step back in 2013-14 would be expected. But Michigan still had plenty of star power in Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas, but just 10 games in McGary was lost for the season and the Wolverines stood just 6-4 with an embarrassing loss to Charlotte.

But then something started to click. A three-point win over Stanford in the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational started a 10-game winning streak that included wins over three straight AP Top-10 teams. Suddenly, a Michigan squad many had written off before December ended was now a Big Ten title frontrunner. And although the Wolverines lost three of their next five, they won the last five down the stretch to pull away from the crowd and win the Big Ten by a whopping three games.

Entering the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 1 seed, Michigan didn’t have much to prove and needed only to avoid injuries that could derail another long NCAA Tournament run. John Beilein’s squad survived a scare from Illinois in the quarterfinals and completed the season sweep of Ohio State in the semis, but then ran into a hungry and determined Michigan State squad in the championship. But the beauty of it is that the Wolverines still won the season series with the Spartans 2-1.

In the Big Dance, Michigan used its No. 2 seed to its advantage, topping Wofford by 17 points despite a lackluster performance. Texas was up next and the Wolverines answered any questions about their ability to handle a dominant frontcourt, winning by 14. Tennessee presented a similar problem, and after building up a big lead, Michigan committed a flurry of turnovers in the closing minute, needing a heroic charge taken by senior leader Jordan Morgan to pull out the win. The season then came to a close, one step short of a return trip to the Final Four, when Michigan had its hearts ripped out by an NBA-range three from Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison.

Although the goal of a national championship was not reached, this Michigan squad still accomplished plenty, including its first outright Big Ten title since 1986. The offense became college basketball’s most efficient offense in the past 12 years (the KemPom era). Two straight deep tournament runs proves that Michigan is here to stay, and doing so despite the personnel losses from a year ago are a testament to Beilein’s coaching acumen.

Let’s take the time to honor the top players, plays, performances, and moments of the 2013-14 Michigan basketball season.

To revisit our football Hail Awards: 20132012, 2011.

Player of the Year Nik Stauskas

Stauskas 3 vs IowaA year ago, Nik Stauskas played the role of sharpshooter, heeding the playmaker role to Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. He wasn’t needed to do much more than stand behind the arc and toss in daggers. But this season, with Burke and Hardaway playing at the next level, there was a void and Stauskas stepped in to fill it.

Everybody already knew he was more than just a shooter, but in his new role, the Canadian was able to flourish, adding a good penetration game and an affinity for finding the open man to his already proven three-point stroke.

All he did was earn Big Ten Player of the Year and AP All-America second team honors while averaging 17.5 points and 3.3 assists per game. He scored in double figures in 32 of the 36 games and scored at least 20 points 14 times. He was named Big Ten Player of the Week a conference-leading four times and Oscar Robinson National Player of the Week once.

“This season was undoubtedly a team effort in every sense of the word, but it’s hard to ignore Nik Stauskas’s individual improvement and contributions,” said Sam. “He was the one that I wanted with the ball in his hands late in the game and, more times than not, he delivered. Take a look at Michigan’s losses and then look at the box score. When Stauskas struggled, the whole team usually struggled without his scoring and creating abilities as well.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Guard of the Year Nik Stauskas

Stauskas 3 vs MSU 1-25-14After opening the season with nine points against UMass Lowell, Stauskas scored at least 20 in each of the next five games before being sidelined with an ankle sprain. He was still hampered when Michigan traveled to Duke and managed just four points on two shots, but proceeded to average 18.6 points over the next 12 games.

In three games against Michigan State, he averaged 20.3 points and shot 11-of-16 from three-point range. In the Round of 32 win over Texas, Stauskas scored 17 points and dished out eight assists, and in the Elite Eight loss to Kentucky — what might be his final game in a Michigan uniform — he poured in 24 points. In addition to leading Michigan in scoring, he led the Wolverines in assists, field goals, three-pointers, three-point percentage, free throws made, and free throw percentage.

“Stauskas spearheaded the nation’s most efficient offense of the past 12 seasons by being more versatile as a sophomore,” said Drew. “He attacked the rim more frequently, attempting more than double the number of free throws he shot last year. He was more effective finding open teammates for easy buckets, especially out of the pick and roll, increasing his assist rate from 7.6 to 18.8 percent. And he still made 44 percent of his triples, proving that, despite his versatility, he will always be most dangerous as a shooter.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Caris Levert (1)

Big Man of the Year Jordan Morgan

Jordan Morgan vs MSU 2-23-14Entering the season, Michigan figured to have one of the Big Ten’s best front courts with preseason All-American Mitch McGary and senior Jordan Morgan backing him up. But McGary began the season less than 100 percent and the back injury continued to linger, forcing him to undergo season-ending surgery. As a result, Morgan was thrust back into the starting lineup.

Morgan finished the season with a scoring average of 6.4 points and a rebound average of 5.0, but more than anything, he was a rock inside. The barely-recruited big man from Detroit especially came on late in the season, recording 15 points and 10 rebounds in the regular season finale against Indiana, and averaging 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament. He also set the all-time Michigan records for single-season  (70 percent) and career (63.1 percent) field goal percentage.

“If you asked me this question in the middle of the season, I would have had a very difficult time picking one player here, but Morgan really solidified himself as one of the premier Big Men not only in the conference but in the whole country by March,” said Sam. “JMo’s play was all the more impressive when considering the bigger, more athletic opponents Michigan was facing on a day-by-day basis in the tournament.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Morgan

Morgan block vs TennesseeNot only did Morgan provide a reliable offensive threat late in the season, but he also lived up to his reputation as a solid defender. Although he was snubbed from the Big Ten All-Defensive team — which he was a part of last season — Morgan was consistent against some of the best big men in the Big Ten and the country.

No play provided bigger proof of his defensive prowess than his game-saving drawn charge in the closing seconds of the Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee. With Michigan clinging to a one-point lead with six seconds remaining, UT big man Jarnell Stokes lowered his shoulder as he made his move to the basket. Morgan took the blow, drawing the charge, and giving Michigan the ball back to seal the win.

“They set a screen for him to come open, so I knew that the play was going to be for him,” Morgan said of the play. “I just know he likes to play bully ball and was just in a stance ready. I don’t know, I just was there. That’s just something I do. I take charges. That’s just what I do.”

“Michigan’s adjusted defensive efficiency was 102.1, which was U-M’s worst under John Beilein,” said Drew. “This was not Jordan Morgan’s fault, though. Morgan may not be the biggest or most athletic defender, but he certainly was the smartest. He knew how to play the angles, whether it would be to prevent a post-entry pass or take a last-minute charge. In the NCAA Tournament, Michigan’s defense noticeably declined when Morgan sat on the bench. It is a scary thought to imagine the Wolverines’ defense this year without Morgan down low.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Caris LeVert (1)

Game of the Year 79-70 home win over Michigan State

GRIII dunk vs MSUThere were certainly plenty of memorable games, but in terms of importance, the Feb. 23 win over Michigan State takes the cake. Michigan had already beaten the Spartans 80-75 in East Lansing a month before, but many discounted it because MSU was missing both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. In this one, Payne was back, and the Spartans held a half-game lead over the Wolverines in the conference standings. The winner was in the drivers’ seat, while the loser had some catching up to do.

Michigan State jumped out to a 22-11 lead in the first 10 minutes, looking as if the Spartans were going to exact revenge for the previous game. But a Spike Albrecht three ended a nearly-four-minute scoring drought and ignited a 10-0 Michigan run. The Wolverines pulled within two by halftime and then outscored MSU 45-34 in the second half. Stauskas and Caris LeVert combined for 48 points on 16-of-28 shooting as Michigan completed the regular season sweep and vaulted into the Big Ten lead.

“Never before had these two rivals played each other under similar circumstances,” said Drew. “Michigan, thanks to 25 points from Nik Stauskas and 23 points from Caris LeVert, overcame an early 11-point deficit and used a 21-4 second-half spurt to beat the Spartans, 79-70. The Wolverines leapfrogged the Spartans into first place and never looked backed, winning their first outright conference title since 1986.”

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: 77-70 win at Wisconsin (1), 73-71 Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee (1)

Play of the Year Glenn Robinson III buzzer-beater at Purdue

GRIII game-winning shot vs Purdue 2-26-14After the big home win over Michigan State that put Michigan in the drivers’ seat for the Big Ten title, the Wolverines hit the road for a classic let-down game against Purdue. Michigan was expected to win, but games like this were never easy.

Purdue had nothing to play for except to throw a wrench into the title hunt and played inspired ball for 40-plus minutes. The Boilermakers led by as many as 19 points in the first half before Michigan cut it to 13 at the break. In the second half, Michigan began chipping away. Eleven points, nine points, seven points, four points, and suddenly it was a game again.

A Stauskas free throw made it a one-point game with 9:50 to play, but Purdue refused to let Michigan get over the hump. The Boilers maintained the lead the rest of the way, until Stauskas tied it up with a pair of free throws, sending the game into overtime.

In the extra stanza, Michigan took its first lead of the game, but every time the Wolverines tried to exert their force, Purdue answered. A pair of Ronnie Johnson free throws gave Purdue a 76-75 lead with 31 seconds remaining. Michigan missed a shot and was forced to foul, but Purdue missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Wolverines one more chance.

With the ball out of bounds on the sideline and 2.9 seconds remaining, Caris LeVert heaved a jump ball across the court to Glenn Robinson III, who came down with it, took one dribble and kissed a runner off the glass as time expired. Michigan survived 77-76.

“A loss at Purdue would have killed all the momentum from sweeping Michigan State, but luckily GR3 pulled it off,” said Derick.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Performance of the Year Nik Stauskas’ 25 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds in 79-70 win vs MSU

Nik Stauskas dunk vs MSU 2-23-14There were plenty of performances that could be considered here, especially by Stauskas, but his performance in the 79-70 home win over Michigan State was a thing of beauty. He followed up a 19-point, 5-of-6 three-point shooting first meeting by lighting up the Spartans for 25 points, five assists, and three rebounds on 9-of-13 overall shooting in the return trip.

That second meeting was an important game for both teams as Michigan State held a half game lead, and Michigan, despite winning in East Lansing, needed the win for its Big Ten title hopes. The Spartans jumped out to a big lead early in the game, but Michigan whittled it down to two at the half. And that’s when Stauskas took over.

He opened the half with a layup to tie the game, and after a MSU dunk, hit a free throw and a jumper to give Michigan its first lead. A few minutes later, after the Spartans had pulled ahead by five, Stauskas scored seven straight to put Michigan back ahead. Gary Harris hit a three, but Stauskas responded with one of his own, and after a pair of LeVert free throws, Stauskas hit another three to give Michigan a seven point lead. He scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half, one of the few moments all season that when he shot you knew it was going in.

“Pick any one of about 10 Stauskas performances throughout the season and you’re sure to be wowed, but his second half against Michigan State at home to help Michigan sweep the Spartans was probably the most exciting,” said Sam. “After Michigan State came out looking like world beaters in the first half, Stauskas paired with Caris LeVert to put on the most impressive run of the season early in the second half, and by the end of it, everyone in the arena knew every Stauskas shot was falling no matter how off-balance or guarded he was.”

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: Stauskas’ 23 points, four rebounds, four assists, two blocks, one steal at Wisconsin (1), Derick Walton Jr.’s 19 points, six rebounds, four assists in win at Michigan State (1)

Newcomer of the Year Derrick Walton Jr.

Derrick Walton Jr.Losing an all-everything point guard to the NBA is never an easy task for any coach, but John Beilein got a superb season out of Derrick Walton Jr. The freshman from Detroit started 36 of the 37 games, averaging 7.9 points, three rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. Most importantly, he provided a steady presence at the point guard position with nearly twice as many assists as turnovers.

Walton wasn’t always counted on to score, but he could certainly do it when needed. His best performance came in the 80-75 win at Michigan State when he scored 19 points, pulled down six rebounds, and dished out four assists. His clutch free throw shooting down the stretch sealed the win. He also recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the Feb. 11 win at Ohio State and finished the season with a 41 percent three-point rate.

“Zak Irvin had an impactful freshmen season, playing his role to perfection as a scoring threat off the bench,” said Drew. “In most years, he would win this award. But it is difficult not to give it to a freshman starting at a position just vacated by the consensus national player of the year. Derrick Walton, Jr. averaged 7.9 points, made 41 percent of his threes, and had the second-highest defensive rebounding rate among Michigan’s guards and wings despite being only 6’1″. Most importantly, he did not shy away in big moments, making clutch plays in the final minutes of critical road wins against Nebraska, Michigan State, and Ohio State.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Those Who Stay Senior of the Year Jordan Morgan

BiP-LF1CMAAZ3HLMorgan wins this by default, but even if he wasn’t the only senior on the team, another would have had a tough chance of beating him. His exploits have already been talked about in the Big Man of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year sections, but his contributions this season should not be downplayed.

Morgan committed to Beilein in 2010 under very different circumstances, when simply making the NCAA Tournament was a major accomplishment. By the time his career came to an end, Morgan had played in more games (142) than any player in Michigan history and started the third most (122). He holds the single season and career field goal percentage records, played in four straight NCAA Tournaments, won two Big Ten titles, and this season was named to the Allstate Good Works Team.

“Morgan, along with Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, is the foundation of the program that John Beilein has built in Ann Arbor,” said Drew. “Morgan committed to Michigan before U-M was considered one of the elite programs in the nation. And it sure did pay off. Most importantly, Morgan exemplified the leadership, determination, and heart that fans hope to see from every future player that dons the maize and blue.”

“Morgan’s grit, leadership, and confidence were absolutely crucial to this team, and were all the more impressive when considering Morgan’s complete loss of confidence in last year’s tournament,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Most Improved Player  Caris LeVert

LeVert vs Wisconsin 1-18-14When Trey Burke left early for the NBA and Tim Hardaway Jr. graduated, Michigan was in need of playmakers to step up. A sophomore class that performed well as freshmen had plenty of options, and several showed significant improvement in 2013-14, but none more than Caris LeVert.

The Columbus, Ohio native that was once committed to Ohio University started all 37 games and improved his minutes from 10.8 to 34.0 and points per game from 2.3 to 12.9. He scored in double figures in 25 of 37 games and scored 20 or more points seven times. He also averaged 4.3 rebounds per contest and led the team with 141 defensive boards.

When Michigan struggled to find any offense in an early season matchup at Duke, LeVert carried the team with 24 points. He did the same in a loss to Wisconsin when the Badgers shut down Stauskas, scoring 25, and also poured in 23 in the home win over Michigan State. He earned All-Big Ten second team honors and was named to the NCAA Tournament All-Midwest Regional team.

“LeVert often drew an audible sigh from the crowd when he would make mistakes last season, and his inconsistency in limited minutes was certainly frustrating,” said Sam. “Fast forward to this season, however, and one could argue that LeVert’s out-of-nowhere contributions were just as important as Stauskas’s dominance on occasion. And any time Stauskas was off, LeVert was the one picking up the slack. I don’t think anyone truly believed LeVert could improve THAT much in just one offseason.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Inside the Numbers: Best offense of the KenPom era

April 8th, 2014 by Drew Hallett


Michigan huddle vs UK(MGoBlue.com)

In 2013, Michigan had the best offense in the nation. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. were the offensive engines, holding the two highest usage rates on the roster. Burke consumed a team-high 29 percent of U-M’s possessions, while Hardaway, Jr. used the second-most at a 22.3-percent rate. And neither wasted many possessions when they had the ball in their hands. They averaged a combined 33.1 points per game, accounting for 44 percent of Michigan’s points. Burke and Hardaway, Jr. were the main reasons why the Wolverines had the highest adjusted offensive efficiency in the country in 2013 (120.3).

It was no surprise then that Burke, the consensus national player of the year, and Hardaway, Jr., member of the coaches’ All-Big Ten first team, decided to forego their Michigan careers and declare for the 2013 NBA Draft. This left a huge void offensively for the Wolverines. How would Michigan overcome their departures offensively? Although Michigan had skilled, efficient players returning, none had before lifted the load the Burke and Hardaway, Jr. had just lifted. It was not preposterous to assume that their individual efficiency would suffer at the expense of a bigger workload. This is why most outside the Michigan locker room, myself included, expected the Wolverines to step back offensively in 2014.

Boy, were we wrong.

Despite the departures of Burke and Hardaway, Jr. and the lower-back injury that forced Mitch McGary to miss most of the season, Michigan led the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency for the second straight season. This is the third time that a school has achieved this feat two years in a row. The other two were Wake Forest (2004-05) and North Carolina (2008-09). However, unlike Michigan, the Demon Deacons and the Tar Heels did not lose their star players after the first year. Wake Forest had current NBA star Chris Paul for both years, and North Carolina kept their core nucleus of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, and Deon Thompson intact. Michigan did not have such a luxury and still did it anyway.

In addition to having the best adjusted offensive efficiency for the second straight season, Michigan actually increased its rating in 2014 without Burke, Hardaway, Jr., and McGary. In 2013, Michigan would be expected to score 120.3 points in a 100-possession game against an average NCAA D-1 college basketball team. In 2014, Michigan would be expected to score 124.1 points in such a game. Not only is this a significant improvement, no team has ever posted a better adjusted offensive efficiency in the KenPom era. Therefore, Michigan’s offense this season was the most efficient in the nation since at least 2002.

Top 10 Kenpom era offenses

The 2014 season featured three of the six most-efficient offenses of the past 12 seasons. In addition to Michigan, Duke and Creighton had historically impressive offenses. In fact, for most of the season, the Blue Devils and the Bluejays, not the Wolverines, were dueling for the designation as the nation’s most-efficient offense. However, Michigan made a giant push in the NCAA Tournament for the top spot. After a lackluster showing against Wofford in the Round of 64, the Wolverines scored 1.379, 1.213, and 1.265 points per possession against three top-50-caliber defenses. These offensive explosions propelled Michigan past both Duke and Creighton for the title as the most-efficient offense not only in 2014, but also in the KenPom era.

These offensive explosions were common throughout the entire season, not just in the NCAA Tournament. It did not matter whether the opponent had one of the nation’s best defenses or one of the worst. Most defenses that challenged Michigan’s potent offense limped away whimpering. Ten of Michigan’s opponents—Coppin State, Houston Baptist, Arizona, Holy Cross, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Texas, Tennessee, and Kentucky—had their worst defensive performance, in terms of efficiency, against the Wolverines. An additional four opponents—South Carolina State, Long Beach State, Penn State, and Illinois—had their second-worst defensive performance against Michigan. Therefore, 14 of U-M’s 27 different opponents this season had either their worst or second-worst defensive performance against Michigan. And Michigan State’s two worst defensive performances were at the hands of the Wolverines.

So how did Michigan pull this off without Burke, Hardaway, Jr., and McGary? Well, for starters, Michigan had absolutely no weak links on offense. All eight of Michigan’s major contributors—Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, Derrick Walton, Jr., Jordan Morgan, Zak Irvin, Jon Horford, and Spike Albrecht—had an individual offensive rating higher than 110.0. Therefore, all eight Michigan regulars averaged more than 1.10 points per individual possession, which is extremely efficient.

Off efficiency & Usage rate

But, most importantly, the key to Michigan maintaining this offensive success was that five of U-Ms six returners upped their offensive efficiency in 2014. LeVert and Stauskas had the most significant improvements because they increased both their usage rate and offensive rating, which is a difficult task. LeVert’s improvement is eye-popping. He was the least efficient Wolverine last season and had a minor role accordingly. This season? LeVert’s usage rate was the second-highest on the team, and he increased his offensive rating by 18.3 points. A legitimate argument can be made that LeVert’s sophomore season (21.4-percent usage rate, 111.7 offensive rating) was more productive than Hardaway, Jr.’s junior season (22.3-percent usage rate, 106.7 offensive rating). Either way, it is clear that LeVert filled the void left by Hardaway, Jr.

Stauskas’ improvement is just as impressive as LeVert’s even though Stauskas’ offensive rating increased by only 1.3 points. Stauskas had little room to increase his efficiency after recording an offensive rating of 122.8 as a freshman, which was the 36th-best in the nation in 2013. Yet Stauskas did this despite increasing his usage rate from 16.2 to 23.9 percent and becoming Michigan’s offensive star. Generally, a go-to player may struggle with his efficiency because he receives the most attention from defenses and must shoot bad shots in late-shot-clock situations. But Stauskas still upped his offensive efficiency anyway. While he was not the playmaker that Burke was, Stauskas mitigated the loss of the consensus national player of the year as well as any player can.

Three Wolverines improved their offensive efficiency while either maintaining their usage rate or using fewer possessions than last season: Morgan, Horford, and Albrecht. Morgan saw the largest spike in his offensive rating not only among these three Wolverines, but everyone on the team. His offensive rating jumped 18.8 points, just surpassing the 18.3-point spike LeVert’s offensive rating experienced. As a result, Morgan’s offensive rating of 128.2 was the highest on the team and the 26th-best in the country. This is what happens when a player makes a school-record 70 percent of his field-goal attempts.

The only returning major contributor that did not see his offensive efficiency increase was Robinson III. Not only did his offensive rating drop, it plummeted by 14.7 points. But this is unfair. Last season, Robinson III had an offensive rating of 128.4, which was the 10th-best in the nation. Similar to Stauskas, Robinson III had little to no room to improve his offensive efficiency. He pretty much hit the ceiling as a freshman. It is no surprise that his offensive rating dropped to a still very good 113.7 while increasing his usage rate by six percentage points. This is normal. Stauskas is the exception, not the rule. So, although Robinson III was not as consistent or efficient offensively as he was as a freshman, he still was very reliable offensively for a player handling over 20 percent of his team’s possessions.

So what does this all mean? It means that Michigan just had the best offense of the past 12 seasons despite losing two NBA first-round draft picks. It means that John Beilein and this Michigan program is more than just one or two players. It means that Beilein is recruiting skilled players that fit and are developing quickly perfectly in his offensive system, which no other school has been able to match for the past two seasons. And it means that you should not make the mistake of assuming that Michigan’s offense will take a step back next year, even if Michigan loses another player or two to the NBA.

A statistical look at Michigan’s 2013-14 season

April 7th, 2014 by Justin Potts


Huddle vs UK(MGoBlue.com)

With the 2013-14 Michigan basketball season in the rear view mirror, it’s time to take a statistical look back at the team. The chart  below is color-coded for each player’s rank in each statistical category based on that player’s team rank. The darker the maize, the higher he finished, with the team leader represented in dark maize and the number bolded. The darker the blue, the lower he finished, with the low man in dark blue and the number bolded.

Two years ago when I did this, the chart showed that Michigan was basically a six-man team. The first six were mostly maize and the bottom eight were mostly blue. This year’s team went a little deeper with a nine-man rotation (counting the injured McGary) before the colors turn to blue. The nine regulars played 97.8 percent of the team’s total minutes all season, while the bottom five played a combined 162 minutes. That’s 35 minutes fewer than McGary played in the eight games he played in.

Nik Stauskas led the team in 10 categories: minutes, minutes per game, field goals made, three-point field goals made, three-point percentage, free throws made, free throw percentage, assists, points scored, and points per game. He also had the most turnovers. He had an average team rank of 4.57.

Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert had an identical average team ranking of 4.79. They were the only two players on the team to play in and start every game, and while Robinson didn’t lead the team in any other category, LeVert led the Wolverines with 141 defensive rebounds. The two ranked second or third in most other categories.

Jordan Morgan led the team in three categories: field goal percentage, offensive rebounds, and total rebounds, while McGary led in rebounds per game and Horford led in blocked shots.

Final Player Stats
Name GP-GS Min Avg
Min
FG-FGA FG% 3FG-3FGA 3FG% FT-FTA FT% OR DR Tot
Reb
Reb
Avg
A TO Blk Stl Pts Avg
Pts
Nik Stauskas 36-36 1281 35.6 185-394 .470 92-208 .442 168-204 .824 15 90 105 2.9 118 67 11 20 630 17.5
Glenn Robinson III 37-37 1194 32.3 182-373 .488 33-108 .306 87-115 .757 54 110 164 4.4 44 46 11 35 484 13.1
Caris LeVert 37-37 1258 34.0 163-371 .439 60-147 .408 92-120 .767 19 141 160 4.3 109 62 10 44 478 12.9
Mitch McGary 8-4 197 24.6 30-55 .545 0-2 .000 16-24 .667 23 43 66 8.3 12 13 6 15 76 9.5
Derrick Walton Jr. 37-36 989 26.7 91-212 .429 43-105 .410 69-87 .793 14 98 112 3.0 106 56 1 21 294 7.9
Zak Irvin 37-0 569 15.4 85-196 .434 62-146 .425 15-21 .714 14 35 49 1.3 13 16 3 9 247 6.7
Jordan Morgan 37-27 743 20.1 98-140 .700 0-0 .000 39-62 .629 72 113 185 5.0 22 32 16 16 235 6.4
Jon Horford 37-7 512 13.8 62-110 .564 0-2 .000 17-26 .654 49 105 154 4.2 19 19 26 10 141 3.8
Spike Albrecht 37-1 545 14.7 38-94 .404 24-62 .387 21-27 .778 6 35 41 1.1 75 16 1 18 121 3.3
Cole McConnell 4-0 10 2.5 1-3 .333 1-3 .333 1-2 .500 0 1 1 0.3 0 0 0 0 4 1.0
Max Bielfeldt 19-0 89 4.7 6-21 .286 3-9 .333 0-1 .000 8 12 20 1.1 0 2 2 2 15 0.8
Sean Lonergan 11-0 23 2.1 2-5 .400 0-1 .000 2-2 1.000 2 2 4 0.4 1 2 1 1 6 0.5
Brad Anlauf 8-0 16 2.0 1-4 .250 0-0 .000 0-0 .000 0 2 2 0.3 1 1 0 0 2 0.3
Andrew Dakich 12-0 24 2.0 1-4 .250 1-1 1.000 0-0 .000 1 3 4 0.3 5 2 0 0 3 0.3
Color Key
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Further analysis will follow in the individual player season profiles in the coming days, but below are the overall team stats and how they compared to last season.

The column on the far right shows the difference for each stat category. A maize highlight means the team improved in that category and blue means it declined. This year’s team won three fewer games and lost one more than a year ago, but improved in conference play by three games, which was good enough to win the Big Ten.

This year’s offense was college basketball’s most efficient offense in the last 12 years according to Kenpom, but it scored 1.3 fewer points per game and shot 0.7 percent worse than last year’s squad did. That said, this year’s team took 278 fewer shots (in just two fewer games) than last year’s, which is a big reason for the great efficiency. This squad improved its three-point shooting by 1.7 percent while attempting 25 more, and improved its free throw shooting by a whopping 6.2 percent while attempting 49 more, compared to last season.

On the glass, this squad pulled down 3.6 fewer boards per game, but also allowed its opponents to rebound 0.9 fewer as a result of the great offensive efficiency. Assists, blocks, and steals all went ever so slightly down, but turnovers improved by a hair.

Final Team Stats
2012-13 (Last year) Category 2013-14 (This year) Difference
75.2 Points Per Game 73.9 -1.3
63.3 Scoring Defense 65.1 -1.8
1,093-for-2,260 (48.4%) Field Goal % 945-for-1,982 (47.7%) -0.7
941-for-2,221 (42.4%) Def. Field Goal % 905-for-2,035 (44.5%) -2.1
296-for-769 (38.5%) 3-point % 319-for-794 (40.2%) +1.7
242-for-745 (32.5%) Def. 3-point % 201-for-632 (31.8%) +0.7
450-for-642 70.1%) Free Throw % 527-for-691 (76.3%) +6.2
11.5 Free Throws Made/Game 14.2 +2.7
35.0 Rebounds Per Game 31.4 -3.6
32.1 Opp. Rebounds Per Game 31.2 +0.9
14.5 Assists Per Game 14.2 -0.3
9.4 Turnovers Per Game 9.3 +0.1
6.1 Steals Per Game 5.2 -0.9
2.8 Blocks Per Game 2.4 -0.4
12,138 Average Home Attendance 12,698 +560
G – Trey Burke (18.6)
G – Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.5)
Leading Scorers G – Nik Stauskas (17.5)
F – Glenn Robinson III (13.1)
F – Mitch McGary (6.3)
F – Glenn Robinson III (5.4)
Leading Rebounders F – Mitch McGary (8.3)
F – Jordan Morgan (5.0)

Stay tuned in the coming days for the individual player season profiles, where we’ll evaluate each player’s contribution to the season, how it compared to his previous season(s), and the main areas of improvement for next season.

This team will never be forgotten

April 4th, 2014 by Sam Sedlecky


Stauskas vs Kentucky(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Last year was supposed to be Michigan’s year, and what a year it was. After sputtering near the end of the Big Ten season, the Wolverines, led by All-Everything point guard Trey Burke and fellow future first-round NBA Draft pick Tim Hardaway, Jr., danced their way to the Final Four and then the championship game with pizzazz. And although they ended up falling just short of being NCAA tournament champions, those Wolverines were certainly impressive.

Following the magical run, Burke and Hardaway announced their entry into the draft, and any hopes of a repeat season seemed out the window.

Sure, Mitch McGary, the darling of the Dance, was back for his sophomore season along with best pal and projected lottery pick Glenn Robinson III, and Michigan had another interesting piece in Nik Stauskas, but the consensus was that this year’s squad simply could not become what the previous team was.

And for a long while, those sentiments seemed spot on. After bowling over two overmatched opponents, Michigan traveled to Iowa State and failed to hold onto a win despite the return of the injured McGary. Two more wins came, including an overtime thriller over Florida State in which it seemed that the team may have turned a corner, just to be followed by a head-scratching loss to Charlotte in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

Three of these five may be gone next year but they'll always be remembered for a special season (MGoBlue.com)

Three of these five may be gone next year but they’ll always be remembered for a special season (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan went on to split the next four games, with losses at Duke and to Arizona sandwiched among them, and learned that McGary’s injury would probably hold him out for the rest of the season.

The non-conference season was just about over, Michigan had no big wins to speak of, and perhaps the Wolverines’ best player was down for the count. Just like that, the Maize and Blue went from a potentially solid, but not great, team to a team that many thought had an uphill climb just to make the Big Dance.

We all know where things went from there. Inexplicably, the Wolverines regrouped, winning 15 of 18 Big Ten games, swept Michigan State, won the conference outright by three games, and came inches away from making a second straight Final Four.

None of this was supposed to happen. This team was too young, too small, too weak. Jordan Morgan was not a Big Ten-caliber starter, and much less on a Big Ten championship team. Caris LeVert was too skinny and erratic, Nik Stauskas and Zak Irvin were too one-dimensional, Glenn Robinson III was too passive and inconsistent, Spike Albrecht was too slow, Derrick Walton needed another year of experience, and Jon Horford was, well, Jon Horford.

Together, however, those “toos” became one. This team of misfits banded together as friends and showed all the doubters what they were capable of.

This team wasn’t a fluke. It was a team that maybe lacked some recruiting star power, but certainly didn’t lack heart or a star coaching staff. It was a team that, when things started to click, was perhaps more dangerous than any other in the country. It was a team that was a joy to watch.

There were plenty of bumps along the way, with the non-conference season being the biggest of all. There were puzzlingly lazy starts (Florida State,  at Minnesota,  at Purdue, and Wisconsin) and games that you couldn’t help but sit back, enjoy, and shake your head at (Nebraska, Michigan State,  at Illinois, and Texas). There were heart attacks and heart breaks, comebacks and even a few letdowns.

But more than anything, this was a team to be proud of. It was clear from the start that these guys loved playing with each other and loved playing for their coach. McGary, watching from the bench for the majority of the season, perhaps had more fun than anyone else, and in this day and age of superstars with inflated egos, that is something to behold.

A regular season sweep of Michigan State en route to a Big Ten title highlighted a great season (MGoBlue.com)

A regular season sweep of Michigan State en route to a Big Ten title highlighted a great season (MGoBlue.com)

When players answered questions after games, they gave standard coach-speak responses as they’ve been coached to do, but it still felt sincere. When Stauskas said he was confident that Horford would finish his passes with buckets, he meant it. When Jordan Morgan told everyone that he didn’t care who was scoring the points or collecting the rebounds down low so long as the team won, and then shed tears on Senior Day and after the season-ending loss to Kentucky, he wasn’t faking it.

You rarely heard anything negative about these players because there was little negative to tell. These weren’t the college basketball players who would scuffle with each other and their coaches or the type to break a hand smashing a table in frustration.

By the end of the season, the team had accomplished so much and won so many close games and overcome so much doubt that another Final Four seemed inevitable. Yes, Kentucky proved to be the more talented team, but Michigan had already ousted many talented teams this season. When Julius Randle accidentally tipped in two points for Michigan after Caris LeVert battled for seemingly endless offensive rebounds in what would be the second-to-last offensive possession the Wolverines would have this season, I knew the Wolverines would pull one out like they had so many times before. Even when Aaron Harrison made that improbable deep three with a LeVert hand in his face, I thought Stauskas would drain a heave to send it to overtime, where, of course, the Maize and Blue would punch their ticket to Dallas.

Alas, it all ended too soon. Michigan will not travel to the Lone Star state this weekend to battle for the ultimate prize in college basketball, and this team, these warriors, will never all take to the court as a team again. And it still seems a bit surreal.

When next season rolls around, Morgan will have exhausted his eligibility, and Stauskas and Robinson III will have probably moved on to bigger and better things in the world of basketball. Many of the players will return, but things will be different.

There will be a couple new banners hanging in the rafters of Crisler, however, to honor and remember this team.

Because, after all, this team will never be forgotten.