There are still two regular season games, the Big Ten Tourney and the NCAA Tournament left for Michigan this year. Pretty soon, each game they play will be the biggest game of the season for John Beilein’s bunch. The destination for this season has not yet been determined, but after all that’s happened in the past twelve months, this season has already been a success for the Wolverines.
Last season, although ending with disappointment in the NCAA Title Game, was a smashing success for Michigan. They made a thrilling Final Four run behind Wooden Award winner Trey Burke and an exciting cast of freshmen and veterans. Beilein had reached new heights and Michigan was back on-top of the college basketball world. But it was uncertain how sustainable the winning would be, with a potential mass exodus of Michigan players to the NBA Draft. It ended up being just Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. leaving for the draft.
In the summer, the hype over Michigan’s young 2013-14 team started to build up. The trio of exciting sophomores, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Preseason All-American Mitch McGary, were all returning for what had the potential to be an exciting young core.
However, McGary’s bothersome back caused concern early in the year and he would be shut down for the season by Christmas. Just as troubling, Michigan lost four non-conference games, including one to a bad Charlotte team, and never looked convincing in the non-conference slate. It was clear that they missed Trey Burke orchestrating the offense and McGary’s interior presence. There was talent, but little poise. Without the return of McGary coming, Michigan looked like a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team. If things gelled and freshman point-guard Derrick Walton could play well, it was conceivable Michigan could win 10 conference games.
Well after todays events, a Michigan State loss to Illinois and Michigan’s victory over Minnesota, the Wolverines have clinched at-least a share of the Big Ten title. With one win in the last two games, or a Spartans loss, they will have their first out-right title since 1986. Who saw this coming?
Surely Ohio State, with Aaron Craft’s scrappiness, or Michigan State, with Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Kieth Appling, should be battling it out for the Big Ten title at the start of March, right? Surely not the Michigan team that lost the best player in the country from last year and an All-American from this year and only plays two upperclassmen, right?
Instead Nik Stauskas, Caris Levert and Glenn Robinson III have all played like stars for much of the Big Ten schedule. Jordand Morgan and Jon Horford have combined to be a solid, dependable replacement for MvGary in the paint, while Spike Albrecht and Walton have taken over the point guard position at a level as close to Burke’s as one could ask for. The lack of cohesion that plagued Michigan early in the year has given way to a slick, efficient attack and improved defense. Beilein deserves so much credit for getting this young team to both beat the big boys in the Big Ten, while avoiding upsets from the rest of the pack.
It isn’t often that a team coming off a Final Four trip is an underdog the next year. But that’s what Michigan was this season. And so far, so good.
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Tags: Michigan Basketball