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Inside the Numbers: The fifth golden era of Michigan basketball

Friday, April 11th, 2014


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

Thursday, April 10th, 2014


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

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014


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

Monday, April 7th, 2014


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

Friday, April 4th, 2014


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.

That close: Kentucky 75 – Michigan 72

Sunday, March 30th, 2014


Jordan Morgan vs Kentucky 3-30-14(MGoBlue.com)

A perfect juxtaposition of basketball styles put on a thrilling performance Sunday evening in Indianapolis with a trip to the Final Four on the line. One, the embodiment of college basketball in its truest form, a well-coached mixture of NBA talent and role players performing together as a team. The other, a high-flying collection of all-stars playing an NBA style, vying to extend their reluctant seven-month pit stop in Lexington a few more days before moving on to the next level and the riches that await them.

If games were won or lost by recruiting rankings alone this one wouldn’t have been close. Yes, Michigan has elevated its recruiting over the past few years, but one of John Beilein’s two five-stars was riding the bench as he has since mid-December after undergoing season-ending back surgery. When John Calipari’s four-star big man suffered an ankle injury in Friday’s Sweet Sixteen win over Louisville, forcing him to miss this game, he got a big lift from an unsung hero who just happens to have been rated even higher. No, this one shouldn’t have been close. But it was.

When Michigan lost last season’s national championship game and two NBA draft picks, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., it was assumed that the team would take a slight step back this season. There was plenty of talent, sure, but the leadership of Hardaway and the game-changing ability of Burke would be tough to replace. Then, preseason All-American Mitch McGary was lost for the year and Michigan opened the season 6-4. But instead of wilting, this resilient group of overachievers tore through the Big Ten, winning the conference by three games, and marched right back to the Elite Eight, into this matchup with what had been considered just two weeks ago a highly-heralded group of underachievers.

Aaron Harrison's three with two seconds remaining ended Michigan's season (IndyStar)

Aaron Harrison’s three with two seconds remaining ended Michigan’s season (IndyStar)

Michigan raced out to an 11-4 lead in the game’s first five minutes, sending a message to the young superstars that, despite the disparity in recruiting rankings and NBA potential, they wouldn’t be taken lightly. Kentucky responded with an 8-3 run to pull within two, showing time and again that their sheer athleticism and skill was superior. Of the Wildcats’ first eight baskets, seven were layups or dunks.

Michigan pulled ahead by six at 25-19, but Kentucky’s five-star guard James Young — who went to high school an hour from Ann Arbor — answered with a three. Michigan scored the next seven to open up a 10-point lead and suddenly the pro-Kentucky crowd in Lucas Oil Stadium — a mere three hour drive from Lexington — was stunned. But Michigan went scoreless for the next two-and-a-half minutes and the Wildcats had closed the gap to two. By halftime, Kentucky had tied the game at 37 and captured all of the momentum.

Five-star Julius Randle opened the second half with a dunk to give Kentucky its first lead of the game, but two-star Caris LeVert answered with a jumper. Kentucky scored the next six and it looked like the big boys were finally starting to take charge. But the unheralded LeVert hit a shot, followed by a three from four-star Derrick Walton Jr. After a Randle layup, LeVert hit a three to tie the game at 47. Michigan wasn’t going away.

Michigan regained the lead when lone five-star Glenn Robinson III threw down a dunk with 12:27 to play. Two-star Jon Hoford followed with a dunk of his own and Michigan was up four. But 11 straight points by Kentucky turned a four-point deficit into a seven-point lead before Robinson connected on a three to stop the bleeding. Michigan had gone five minutes and 25 seconds without a point.

After a rare defensive stop, Michigan got a three-point play from no-star Jordan Morgan and it was a game again, 62-61 Kentucky with 4:47 remaining. But Kentucky’s five-star guard Aaron Harrison knocked down a three to keep Michigan from pulling even.

Back and forth went the final few minutes, neither team able to stop the other. Morgan dunk on one end, five-star Alex Poythress layup on the other. Robinson dunk on one end, five-star Dakari Johnson layup on the other. Four-star Nik Stauskas free throws on one end, Harrison three on the other. Robinson three-pointer on one end, turnover on the other. Kentucky’s turnover with 1:39 to play was the first stop for either team since five-star Andrew Harrison turned it over with 5:25 to play.

Michigan found itself within two points, with the ball, with 56 seconds remaining and a chance to either tie the game or take the lead. Stauskas drove to his right, into the lane, but his contested layup attempt was no good. LeVert grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it out Stauskas in the corner for three. His shot missed, but LeVert was there again for the rebound. He found Walton for three, but again it was no good. This time, Morgan was there to tip it in and tie the game at 72.

Just 27 seconds remained and Michigan needed a defensive stop to force overtime. Kentucky had had its way with the dribble-drive all game, consistently beating Wolverine defenders off the dribble and either finishing in the paint or giving their taller and more athletic big men a chance to grab the rebound or tip it in. But with the game on the line, Michigan’s defense held firm, forcing Kentucky — which entered the game shooting just 32.6 percent from three-point range — a contested NBA-range three. It was just the shot Michigan wanted Kentucky to take. And Harrison nailed it. Stauskas’ half-court heave at the buzzer fell just short and the book on Michigan’s season was closed.

Kentucky’s season extends for at least six more days, at most eight, before five — maybe more — players will declare for the NBA Draft and Calipari will reload with four of the nation’s top 25 incoming freshmen. Beilein will await the decisions of sophomores Stauskas, Robinson, and McGary. He’ll also lose Morgan, who defined the essence of pure college basketball, committing to a much different-looking Michigan program in 2010 as an unranked big man, and going out with a degree in industrial engineering as one of the most beloved Wolverines on the team.

Two very different programs. Two very different philosophies. The one that was supposed to win on Sunday evening won, but the difference on the court was virtually nonexistent. The one that didn’t will go down as one of the best in Michigan history. Michigan’s mixture of stars and unsung heroes — some of whom virtually nobody wanted — stood toe to toe with the nations best and proved they belonged. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Three Stars

***Nik Stauskas***
24 points (6-of-14 FG, 2-of-7 3PT, 10-of-11 FT), 1 rebound, three assists, three turnovers in 39 minutes

**Julius Randle (UK)**
16 points (7-of-16 FG, 2-of-2 FT), 11 rebounds (four offensive), one block, one steal, in 32 minutes

*Marcus Lee (UK)*
10 points (5-of-7FG), eight rebounds (seven offensive), two blocks in 15 minutes

Quick Hitters

 The 59 wins over the last two seasons are the most in program history and the highest two-year total since the 1991-92 and 1992-93 teams won 56.

 This year’s team finishes the season as the seventh-highest scoring in Michigan history with 2,736 points.

 Jordan Morgan finished his career as the program’s all-time leader in career field goal percentage (63.1) and single-season field goal percentage (70).

 Nik Stasukas passed Louis Bullock (1995-97) for the most made three-pointers in the first two years. He now has 172.

 Stauskas and Caris LeVert were both named to the Midwest Region All-Tournament Team, becoming the 25th and 26th players in program history to earn regional all-tournament teams.

 

 


_______________________________________________________________

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-14 2-2 0-0 1 3 4 1 14 1 0 0 1 37
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 1-7 1-5 0-0 1 2 3 2 3 1 0 0 1 33
11 Nik Stauskas* 6-14 2-7 10-11 0 1 1 0 24 3 3 0 0 39
52 Jordan Morgan* 5-6 0-0 1-1 4 0 4 3 11 0 2 0 0 22
23 Caris LeVert* 4-7 1-3 0-2 2 1 3 4 9 5 1 1 2 31
02 Spike Albrecht 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 7
15 Jon Horford 3-5 0-0 0-0 2 1 3 2 6 1 0 0 0 14
21 Zak Irvin 2-2 1-1 0-0 0 0 0 2 5 0 0 0 0 13
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
Totals 27-57 7-18 11-14 14 10 24 14 72 11 7 1 4 200
Kentucky 31-58 7-11 6-11 17 18 35 14 75 8 11 6 2 200
Full Stats

Michigan hoops preview: Kentucky

Sunday, March 30th, 2014


Michigan vs Kentucky banner
#7/8 (2-seed) Michigan (28-8, 15-3) vs (8-seed) Kentucky (27-10, 12-6)
Sunday, Mar. 30 | Indianapolis, Ind. | 5:05 p.m. EST | CBS
Offense
74.0 Points/gm 75.4
(918-1,925) 47.7 Field Goal % 45.1 (926-2,052)
(312-776) 40.2 3-pt FG % 32.6 (189-579)
(516-677) 76.2 Free Throw % 68.6 (748-1,090)
14.3 FT Made/gm 20.2
31.6 Reb/gm 40.8
14.3 Assists/gm 11.3
9.4 Turnovers/gm 12.2
Defense
64.8 Points/gm 66.5
(874-1,977) 44.2 Field Goal % 40.8 (861-2,111)
(194-621) 31.2 3-pt FG % 31.8 (201-632)
31.1 Opp. Reb/gm 31.0
5.2 Steals/gm 4.8
2.4 Blocks/gm 6.1
Individual Leaders
N. Stauskas (17.3), G. Robinson III (13.1) Points/gm Julius Randle (15.1), James Young (14.1)
Jordan Morgan (5.0), LeVert/Robinson (4.4) Reb/gm Julius Randle (10.7), W. Cauley-Stein (6.1)

___________________________________________________________________________________

For the second straight season Michigan is one of just eight teams remaining, battling it out for the national title. The Wolverines built a big lead on Friday night and then survived a furious Tennessee comeback to top the Vols 73-71. Now, Michigan gets another SEC team, and one of the most storied programs in college basketball, the Kentucky Wildcats, for a trip to the Final Four.

Kentucky entered the season with expectations so high that a group of fans printed “40-0″ t-shirts. Hopes of an undefeated season lasted just three games as the Wildcats fell to Michigan State by four in the Champions Classic. They then lost to Baylor and North Carolina to enter conference play with a 10-3 record. 

Related
M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Kentucky
Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville/UK edition

But that’s where things got interesting. In January, Kentucky lost in overtime to Arkansas and then fell to LSU. Florida came into Rupp Arena and won by 10, and after a win over Ole Miss and an overtime victory over LSU, the Wildcats lost three of their next four — an overtime loss to Arkansas, at South Carolina, and  by 19 to Florida. Suddenly, the undefeated hopefuls were six games behind the Gators in the SEC. 

Kentucky topped LSU and Georgia in the first two rounds of the SEC Tournament and battled Florida for the championship, but fell by one. They were given a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a first round matchup with Kansas State. The Wildcats won by seven, but the reward was a showdown with unbeaten No. 1 seed Wichita State. In what was perhaps the best game of the tournament so far, Kentucky outlasted the Shockers 78-76 and moved on to the Sweet Sixteen for a rematch with rival Louisville. 

On Friday night, Louisville jumped out to a sizable lead and maintained it for most of the game, but Kentucky remained within striking distance. The Wildcats finally took their first lead of the game with just 1:27 to play and then held on to beat the Cardinals 74-69. 

The Cats entered the season the clear-cut No. 1, suffered some growing pains throughout the season to the point they were almost written off, and now find themselves as perhaps the most dangerous team remaining in the tournament. That’s who Michigan gets to face on Sunday evening in Indianapolis. Let’s take a look at the Wildcats.

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Julius Randle (F) 30.8 15.1 50.1 16.7 70.8 10.7 1.4 2.6 0.8 0.5
James Young (G) 32.1 14.1 40.1 33.9 68.9 4.2 1.7 1.9 0.2 0.8
Aaron Harrison (G) 32.4 14.1 42.3 34.6 79.8 3.0 1.9 1.6 0.3 1.1
Andrew Harrison (G) 31.5 11.1 37.6 35.6 76.8 3.1 3.9 2.7 0.2 0.5
Dakari Johnson (C) 13.5 5.0 56.3 00.0 46.1 3.9 0.2 0.6 0.6 0.2
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
W. Cauley-Stein (F) 23.8 6.8 59.6 00.0 48.2 6.1 0.7 0.8 2.9 1.2
Alex Poythress (F) 18.1 5.8 47.9 25.8 64.9 4.5 0.4 1.0 0.8 0.3
Dominique Hawkins (G) 8.5 0.8 26.7 12.5 45.5 0.7 0.4 0.2 0.0 0.1

 For a detailed breakdown of Kentucky’s personnel and statistics read Drew’s Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville and Kentucky post. 

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 8 UNC Asheville W 89-57
Nov. 10 Northern Kentucky W 93-63
Nov. 12 #2 Michigan State* L 74-78
Nov. 17 Robert Morris W 87-49
Nov. 19 Texas-Arlington W 105-76
Nov. 25 Cleveland State W 68-61
Nov. 27 Eastern Michigan W 81-63
Dec. 1 Providence# W 79-65
Dec. 6 #20 Baylor# L 62-67
Dec. 10 Boise State W 70-55
Dec. 14 at #18 North Carolina L 77-82
Dec. 21 Belmont W 93-80
Dec. 28 #6 Louisville W 73-66
Jan. 8 Mississippi State W 85-63
Jan. 11 at Vanderbilt W 71-62
Jan. 14 at Arkansas L 85-87 OT
Jan. 18 Tennessee W 74-66
Jan. 21 Texas A&M W 68-51
Jan. 25 Georgia W 79-54
Jan. 28 at LSU L 82-87
Feb. 1 at Missouri W 84-79
Feb. 4 Ole Miss W 80-64
Feb. 8 at Mississippi State W 69-59
Feb. 12 at Auburn W 64-56
Feb. 15 #3 Florida L 59-69
Feb. 18 at Ole Miss W 84-70
Feb. 22 LSU W 77-76 OT
Feb. 27 Arkansas L 67-71 OT
Mar. 1 at South Carolina L 67-72
Mar. 4 Alabama W 55-48
Mar. 8 at #1 Florida L 65-84
Mar. 14 LSU^ W 85-67
Mar. 15 Georgia^ W 70-58
Mar. 16 #1 Florida^ L 60-61
Mar. 21 (9) Kansas State+ W 56-49
Mar. 23 (1) Wichita State+ W 78-76
Mar. 28 (4) Louisville+ W 74-69
*Champions Classic, ^SEC Tournament, +NCAA Tournament

Kentucky 4 factors

The Series

Michigan is 2-4 all-time against Kentucky. The last time the two storied programs met was in the 1993 Final Four which Michigan won 81-78 in overtime. The only other NCAA Tournament meeting was in the 1996 Midwest Regional Final, which Kentucky won 84-77. Michigan won the first ever meeting on Dec. 20, 1924 by a score of 21-11 in Lexington, while Kentucky won 96-79 on Dec. 2, 1967 in Ann Arbor; 112-104 on Dec. 20, 1968 in Lexington; and 104-93 on Dec. 5, 1970 in Lexington. 

While Michigan has experience playing in Indianapolis, this will mark the second game Michigan has played at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Wolverines are 10-9 all-time in Indianapolis, but all 18 games prior to Friday night’s win over Tennessee, including three this season, were at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (formerly Conseco Fieldhouse) in the Big Ten Tournament. 

Michigan hoops preview: Tennessee

Friday, March 28th, 2014


Michigan vs Tennessee banner
#7/8 (2-seed) Michigan (27-8, 15-3) vs (11-seed) Tennessee (24-12, 11-7)
Friday, Mar. 28 | Indianapolis, Ind. | 7:15 p.m. EST | CBS
Offense
74.0 Points/gm 72.2
(891-1,876) 47.5 Field Goal % 45.1 (897-1,991)
(301-756) 39.8 3-pt FG % 32.6 (202-620)
(508-667) 76.2 Free Throw % 72.2 (605-838)
14.5 FT Made/gm 16.8
31.7 Reb/gm 38.8
14.3 Assists/gm 12.8
9.3 Turnovers/gm 10.6
Defense
64.6 Points/gm 61.4
(844-1,920) 44.0 Field Goal % 41.0 (796-1,942)
(191-610) 31.3 3-pt FG % 33.8 (181-536)
31.2 Opp. Reb/gm 30.1
5.2 Steals/gm 5.1
2.5 Blocks/gm 4.6
Individual Leaders
N. Stauskas (17.4), LeVert/Robinson (13.1) Points/gm Jordan McRae (18.6), Jarnell Stokes (15.2)
Jordan Morgan (5.0), Caris LeVert (4.5) Reb/gm Jarnell Stokes (10.7), Jeronne Maymon (8.3)

___________________________________________________________________________________

In Michigan’s NCAA Tournament opener against Wofford, the Wolverines advanced despite a sluggish performance. They avoided a letdown in the second game against Texas, opening up a large lead thanks to hot first half shooting and then staving off a Longhorn run to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight season. Now, Michigan faces a tougher test in a surging Tennessee squad.

Related
Sam’s 3 thoughts: Tennessee
Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville/UK edition
Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Tennessee edition
Inside the Numbers: It sure is sweet
M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Tennessee

Tennessee enters with a 24-12 overall record and went 11-7 in the nation’s seventh-best conference (according to conference RPI), the SEC. The Vols have an interesting resume with a 35-point win over Virginia, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, but also three losses — including one by 26 — to South Region No. 1 seed Florida. UT split a pair of non-conference games with Xavier and lost by 11 to Wichita State, but also lost twice to Texas A&M.

Coming into this matchup, Tennessee has won eight of nine, the lone blemish a seven point loss to Florida in the SEC Tournament semifinal. The late-season push got the Vols into the NCAA Tournament First Four where they held off a team Michigan is very familiar with, Iowa, in overtime. They then cruised past six-seed UMass and 14-seed Mercer by 19 and 20 points, respectively. 

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Jordan McRae (G) 32.0 18.6 43.3 35.9 80.1 3.4 2.5 2.1 0.9 0.7
Jarnell Stokes (F) 32.4 15.2 53.0 00.0 69.7 10.7 2.0 2.1 0.9 0.6
Josh Richardson (G) 30.1 10.1 46.6 33.7 79.3 2.9 1.5 1.0 0.8 0.7
Jeronne Maymon (F) 28.6 9.9 53.8 00.0 68.4 8.3 1.1 1.8 0.4 0.7
Antonio Barton (G) 25.4 7.7 37.2 33.8 68.9 2.3 2.1 0.9 0.1 0.6
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Armani Moore (G) 12.7 3.0 46.2 28.0 58.6 2.1 0.6 0.3 0.6 0.4
Darius Thompson (G) 16.5 2.6 38.8 19.5 73.3 2.0 2.4 0.9 0.2 1.0
Derek Reese (G) 10.7 2.3 32.1 25.7 69.2 3.0 0.3 0.5 0.4 0.2
A.J. Davis (G/F) 9.4 1.3 40.0 37.5 22.2 1.6 0.2 0.4 0.2 0.2

 For a detailed breakdown of Tennessee’s personnel and statistics read Drew’s Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Tennessee post. 

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 12 at Xavier L 63-67
Nov. 16 USC Upstate W 74-65
Nov. 18 Citadel W 86-60
Nov. 22 Tennessee State W 88-67
Nov. 28 UTEP* L 70-78
Nov. 29 Xavier* W 64-49
Nov. 30 Wake Forest W 82-63
Dec. 7 Tennessee Tech W 84-63
Dec. 14 at #12 Wichita State L 61-70
Dec. 18 N.C. State L 58-65
Dec. 23 Morehead State W 82-67
Dec. 30 Virginia W 87-52
Jan. 4 Tusculum W 98-51
Jan. 7 at LSU W 68-50
Jan. 11 Texas A&M L 56-57
Jan. 15 Auburn W 78-67
Jan. 18 #13 Kentucky L 66-74
Jan. 22 Arkansas W 81-74
Jan. 25 at #6 Florida L 41-67
Jan. 29 Ole Miss W 86-70
Feb. 1 at Alabama W 76-59
Feb. 5 at Vanderbilt L 60-64
Feb. 8 South Carolina W 72-53
Feb. 11 #3 Florida L 58-67
Feb. 15 at Missouri L 70-75
Feb. 18 Georgia W 67-48
Feb. 22 at Texas A&M L 65-68 OT
Feb. 26 Mississippi State W 75-68
Mar. 1 Vanderbilt W 76-38
Mar. 5 at Auburn W 82-54
Mar. 8 Missouri W 72-45
Mar. 14 South Carolina^ W 59-44
Mar. 15 #1 Florida^ L 49-56
Mar. 19 (11) Iowa# W 78-65 OT
Mar. 21 (6) UMass# W 86-67
Mar. 23 (14) Mercer# W 83-63
*Battle 4 Atlantis, ^SEC Tournament, #NCAA Tournament

Tennessee 4 factors

The Series

Michigan is 5-5 all-time against Tennessee with each team winning every matchup on the other’s home court and Michigan winning the only previous NCAA Tournament meeting. The last time the two met was in the 2011 NCAA Tournament Second Round when Michigan defeated the Volunteers 75-45. Michigan also beat Tennessee in Ann Arbor 87-52 on Dec. 2, 1985; 78-74 on Dec. 7, 1974; 71-63 on Dec. 1, 1965; and 70-60 on Dec. 19, 1959. The Wolverines lost to Tennessee in Knoxville 81-77 on Dec. 29, 1984; 82-81 on Dec. 6, 1975; 72-54 on Dec. 1, 1966; 75-64 on Dec. 3, 1960; and 80-66 on Dec. 6, 1958. 

While Michigan has experience playing in Indianapolis, this will mark the first time Michigan has played at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Wolverines are 9-9 all-time in Indianapolis, but all 18 games, including three this season, were at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (formerly Conseco Fieldhouse) in the Big Ten Tournament. 

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Tennessee

Friday, March 28th, 2014


Michigan-Tennessee header_NCAAT

This year’s Michigan basketball team has been called many things — too young, too soft, too small — and perhaps some of those issues will creep up before the end of the tournament. But right now, the Wolverines are something else — just plain good.

After cruising through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, however, Michigan is still not getting the attention that one might think it deserves — perhaps because of a lack of drama in their clinical victories — and I’m sure that is completely fine with John Beilein and his players. After all, they’ve gotten quite used to getting written off all season long. Yet tonight at 7:15 on CBS, the Wolverines will continue their quest for another Final Four against the upstart, quasi-Cinderalla 11th-seeded Tennessee Volunteers, the only team in the field with three tournament wins to date.

One more win, and Michigan will find itself in the Elite Eight for the second straight season. One more win, and the Maize and Blue can smell the end of the Road to Dallas. One more win, and perhaps one or two doubters will believe.

Here are my three thoughts on the showdown:

Fight on the Glass: It’s no secret that Michigan is far from a bruising inside team. Once Mitch McGary went down in December, any notion of a two-big style went out the window. The Wolverines win with other-worldly shooting and an all-around incredibly efficient offense. In most games, they simply out-score the competition while figuring that enough of their shots will fall that losing the rebounding battle won’t ruin their chances.

UT coach Cuonzo Martin played with Glenn Robinson's dad at Purdue (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

UT coach Cuonzo Martin played with Glenn Robinson III’s dad at Purdue (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

For now, that likely has Tennessee licking its chops. The Volunteers, under third-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, do one thing very well: rebound. Tennessee boasts a pair of 6’8″, 250-pound brutes in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon that are, according to KenPom, both top-30 offensive rebounders in the country. Neither is a slouch on the defensive glass, but the Volunteers are at their best when the two big boys are feasting on misses and easy put-backs. Stokes is really the one that gets things going, and his three monster double-doubles in the Big Dance, totaling 61 points and 45 rebounds, are the reason Tennessee is still alive.

This evening, Michigan will have to at least limit the two beasts on the offensive glass, but they do not have to be world beaters. Against Texas, Michigan actually allowed the Longhorns to rebound more than half of their own misses but still ran away with a comfortable 14-point win.

Dare Them to Shoot: Michigan’s relative ineptitude defensively this season has been in allowing far too many uncontested drives and layups. In a few games, an opposing star player has really gone off from downtown, but the Wolverines have generally been solid against the three-pointer, only allowing opponents to make 31.3 percent from deep.

Against Tennessee, however, Michigan will be happy to sag off to protect the paint and dare the Volunteers to jack up shots. On the season, Tennessee is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country, as they make less than 32 percent of their attempts beyond the arc, and it has gotten even worse in the tourney. In their three victories, all by at least 13 points (but one in OT), the Volunteers have made a miserable 22.8 percent (13-of-57) of their triple tries, yet they are still attempting almost 20 deep ones per night. Michigan, on the other hand, has made eight more threes in one fewer game than Tennessee while attempting 12 fewer shots (21-of-45, 46.7 percent).

The two Volunteers Michigan will have to keep an eye on outside the arc are senior Jordan McRae and junior Josh Richardson, who shoot 35.8 percent and 34.4 percent, respectively. A third player, senior Memphis transfer Antonio Barton, knocked down four of nine triples in a blowout win over Mercer last weekend, but is just shooting 32.6 percent from deep on the year. To give these stats some contrast, Tennessee’s best three-point shooter would be Michigan’s sixth-best.

Triple Double-Double Time?: Jordan Morgan does not want to go home. Michigan’s only senior, who said as much after the Wolverines dismantled Texas last Saturday, has shown that sentiment just as strongly on the court, where he has recorded two straight double-doubles and three in his last six games. Morgan, with a very quiet 25 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, and three steals in Milwaukee, has been one of the tournament’s most unsung heroes. If his stellar play continues, people will eventually take notice, but he has made it clear thus far that he’d rather simply prove people wrong.

Tonight’s primetime matchup, the first game of this year’s Sweet Sixteen, will provide Morgan with plenty of naysayers. Certainly Stokes’s rising star will fuel Morgan’s fire even more, and if the native Detroiter can outplay his counterpart on the way to a third straight double-double and second straight Elite Eight, there will be little ignoring his worth.

Prediction: To be completely honest, I think Michigan has been overlooked by many pundits so far in this tournament and Tennessee has been a bit over-hyped at the same time. Tennessee needed overtime to get by a crumbling Iowa team before rolling through overrated Massachusetts and 14th-seeded Mercer, and has yet to face a serious test. John Beilein’s offense could do serious damage against this 12-loss SEC squad. If Michigan continues to shoot the ball well, and there is little reason to believe they won’t, the Wolverines should win by double digits again. I like the Maize and Blue behind another monster performance from Nik Stauskas, 77-67.

Inside the Numbers: It sure is sweet

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014


Michigan huddle vs Texas(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

It sure is sweet.

On Saturday evening, No. 2-seed Michigan bombed No. 7-seed Texas, 79-65, with a school-record 14 three-pointers in an NCAA Tournament game to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. This is the second straight year and the 13th time in school history that Michigan will participate in the Sweet Sixteen. This also is the seventh time that Michigan has made the Sweet Sixteen when it did so the previous season.

The Wolverines will travel to Indianapolis this weekend, hoping they will be the lone school to survive the Midwest Regional. This will not be an easy challenge. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Wolverines will square off with the underrated No. 11-seed Tennessee Volunteers. With a victory, the Wolverines will play the winner of No. 4-seed Louisville and No. 8-seed Kentucky with a spot in the Final Four at stake.

John Beilein reached the 700-win milestone on Saturday and hopes to continue Michigan's Sweet Sixteen success on Friday (Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

John Beilein reached the 700-win milestone on Saturday and hopes to continue Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen success on Friday (Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

Michigan fans may be wondering what the Wolverines should expect from these three teams. “Inside the Numbers” will provide an in-depth scouting report for each of Tennessee, Louisville, and Kentucky and how Michigan can exploit those teams’ weaknesses tomorrow. Today, “Inside the Numbers” will focus on Michigan’s past performances in the Sweet Sixteen and why they should give fans a reason to be optimistic when the Wolverines and the Volunteers step on the hardwood on Friday night.

Before “Inside the Numbers” does so, a discrepancy needs to be clarified first. As aforementioned, this will be the 13th time that Michigan appears in the Sweet Sixteen. However, the University of Michigan’s Athletic Media Relations’ media guide lists a record for U-M in Sweet Sixteen games which suggests that the Wolverines already have played in the Sweet Sixteen 13 times before this season.

The confusion seems to stem from Michigan’s appearance in the 1948 NCAA Tournament. Prior to 1951, there were only eight teams in the NCAA Tournament, which means there was no “Sweet Sixteen.” After 1951, the NCAA Tournament expanded to 16 teams with the first round labeled as the “regional semifinals,” which now is nicknamed the “Sweet Sixteen.” Yet the media guide labels Michigan’s first game in the 1948 NCAA Tournament as a “regional semifinal” game. The result of this game seems to mistakenly have been added to Michigan’s listed record in the Sweet Sixteen. Therefore, the 1948 NCAA Tournament will not be discussed in this post.

With that discrepancy clarified, “Inside the Numbers” can finally reveal one reason why fans should be optimistic that the Wolverines will defeat the Tennessee Volunteers on Friday night. In its 12 games played in the Sweet Sixteen, Michigan has posted an 11-1 record. Yes, 11-1. This means that Michigan has a 91.7 win percentage in the Sweet Sixteen. Additionally, the Wolverines have won all five of their Sweet Sixteen contests since 1988.

Results of Michigan’s 12 Previous Sweet Sixteen Games

Year

Opponent

Result

Year

Opponent

Result

1964

Loyola

W, 84-80

1988

North Carolina

L, 69-78

1965

Dayton

W, 98-71

1989

North Carolina

W, 92-87

1966

W. Kentucky

W, 80-79

1992

Oklahoma St.

W, 75-72

1974

Notre Dame

W, 77-68

1993

George Wash.

W, 72-64

1976

Notre Dame

W, 80-76

1994

Maryland

W, 78-71

1977

Detroit

W, 86-81

2013

Kansas

W, 87-85 (OT)

Michigan has experienced a tremendous amount of success in the Sweet Sixteen. Only one other NCAA D-1 college basketball team that has made a minimum of five Sweet Sixteen appearances has won a higher percentage of its Sweet Sixteen games than Michigan. That team is Temple, which is 7-0 in the Sweet Sixteen. When the minimum number of Sweet Sixteen appearances is raised to 10 games, a feat 31 schools have achieved, there is no team better than the Wolverines.

Highest Win Percentage in the Sweet Sixteen (Min. 10 Appearances)

Rank

School

Record

Win Pct.

Rank

School

Record

Win Pct.

1

Michigan

11-1

91.67%

9

UCLA

21-10

67.74%

2

North Carolina

24-6

80.00%

10

Ohio St.

10-5

66.67%

3

Kentucky

30-10

75.00%

11

Michigan St.

11-6

64.71%

t-4

Georgetown

8-3

72.73%

12

Illinois

7-4

63.64%

t-4

Oklahoma St.

8-3

72.73%

13

Villanova

10-6

62.50%

6

Duke

19-8

70.37%

14

Cincinnati

8-5

61.54%

7

Kansas St.

11-5

68.75%

15

Connecticut

10-7

58.82%

8

Kansas

19-9

67.86%

16

San Francisco

7-5

58.33%

Among schools that have played in a minimum of 10 Sweet Sixteen games, Michigan is the only school to have won more than 90 percent of them. In fact, the Wolverines are the only such team to have won more than 80 percent of them. Even if Michigan lost to Tennessee on Friday, U-M’s win percentage in the Sweet Sixteen would drop only to 84.62 percent, which would still be high enough to be the best. Although other schools, such as North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas, and UCLA, have more Sweet Sixteen wins, no team has made the most of its Sweet Sixteen appearances than Michigan.

There are two trends that have been established in Michigan’s previous 12 Sweet Sixteen games of which fans should be aware. First, almost all of these Sweet Sixteen games have come down to the wire. Of the previous 12 games Michigan has played in the Sweet Sixteen, all but one of them were decided by single digits. Seven were decided by five points of fewer. The average margin of victory in these games is seven points. It would be fewer if not for Michigan’s 27-point win over Dayton in the 1965 Sweet Sixteen.

Trey Burke's three against Kansas last March kept Michigan's Sweet Sixteen success intact (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Trey Burke’s three against Kansas last March kept Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen success intact (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Michigan fans should not expect this to be any different on Friday evening. Generally, games at this stage of the NCAA Tournament pit two equal teams against one another. This definitely applies to the matchup between Michigan and Tennessee. The Volunteers may be only a No. 11 seed, but the computers and advanced statistics view Michigan and Tennessee as equals. So does Vegas, which has the Wolverines as only a 1.5-point favorite over the Vols. Michigan may have beaten Tennessee by 30 points in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, but do not expect a repeat result this week.

Second, as aforementioned, this is the seventh time that Michigan has appeared in the Sweet Sixteen one year after doing the same in the previous season. In the previous six such games, the Wolverines never lost. A repeat appearance in the Sweet Sixteen always has led to a victory for the Maize and Blue. There are lots of possible reasons for this: quality of team, quality of opponent, matchups, hot shooting, lucky bounces, etc.

Yet another potential explanation for this phenomenon is experience. When teams appear in the Sweet Sixteen for a second consecutive season, these teams likely have most of the roster intact from the previous season. These players have already dealt with nerves of playing in the Sweet Sixteen and have become accustomed to the high stakes of such a game. Six of Michigan’s eight key contributors participated in last season’s Sweet Sixteen showdown against Kansas—Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Spike Albrecht. It is unlikely that any of these six players will be fazed by the circumstances of Friday’s Sweet Sixteen contest. The same may not be able to be said about the Volunteers, none of whom have appeared in the Sweet Sixteen before.

The one caveat is that historical trends generally have little impact on upcoming games. All trends are broken or snapped at one point or another as teams and rosters change over time. Michigan’s 11-1 record in the Sweet Sixteen does not guarantee that the Wolverines will advance to the Elite Eight on Friday.

However, it is much more reassuring for Michigan fans to hear that their team has been extremely successful in the Sweet Sixteen rather than not. Michigan fans would be much more concerned about U-M’s prospects on Friday if they learned that their team had only a 1-5 record in Sweet Sixteen games. Why a 1-5 record specifically? Because that is Tennessee’s record in the Sweet Sixteen. It sure is sweet.