Last Saturday, Michigan wrapped up a tremendous regular season with a win against Indiana at the Crisler Center. This victory gave Michigan a 15-3 record in the Big Ten and the number one seed going into the conference tournament. Regardless of how they perform in the conference tournament, the Wolverines have more than likely locked up a two seed in the big dance with an outside chance of moving up to a one seed. Their resume includes two wins against both Michigan State and Ohio State (it feels so good to say that), and wins versus Iowa and Wisconsin. All of these teams have played their way into a tournament bid with Wisconsin expected to be on the two line with Michigan. The season is far from over though, and John Beilein’s Wolverine’s still have plenty of gas left in the tank. Here are 5 reasons Michigan is going to make their second straight final four in 2014.
1. Efficient Offense
Michigan runs an extremely efficient offense which limits turnovers and gets the most out of every possession. Michigan currently ranks 7th in the country in turnovers per game at 9.4. This not only means that Michigan is limiting the number of possessions that their opponents get, but it also means that the Wolverines are getting more shots at the rim. Getting more shots is particularly good when your team is in the top 20 in a country in field goal percentage. Michigan is shooting 48% from the field this season and 39.7% from three, which ranks 10th nationally. If that wasn’t enough, Stauskas and crew are 7th in the nation in free throw percentage at 76.3%. If they’re shooting, it’s probably going in. Take a look at kenpom for a bunch of in depth statistics that nobody truly understands.
2. Star Power
Nik Stauskas is a 6’6 Canadian guy who plays for the Michigan Wolverines basketball team. He also happens to be really, really good. Stauskas brought home the Big Ten player of the year award and was a unanimous decision for first team all Big Ten. Nik averaged 17.4 points per game while shooting 48.9% from the field and 45.8% from deep. Oh, and he averaged 3.4 assists per game and had an assist to turnover ratio of almost 2/1. There’s also the 81.1% he shoots at the free throw line. Stauskas has really learned to play within John Beilein’s system and let the game come to him. Earlier in the Big Ten season teams had begun to neutralize the sharpshooter by denying him the ball with their quickest player. The Wolverines have countered this by inserting a series of backdoor cuts and screens into their offense which led to a lot of easy baskets. Ball denial on Stauskas is no longer an option and the Michigan’s offense has been running on all cylinders ever since.
3. Supporting Cast
As good as Nik Stauskas has been this year, Michigan is far from a one man show. Sophomore Caris Levert has really become a force to be reckoned with this season, often being Michigan’s number two scoring option. Levert finished the regular season averaging 13.4 ppg, along 4.4 rebounds and almost 3 assists per game. Freshmen Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin have been consistent players capable of having big games, and Glenn Robinson III has been playing with a lot of confidence after his game winning shot against Purdue. Big men Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan are tasked with holding down the interior, a difficult task given Michigan’s propensity to play smaller lineups. Typically only one of the big guys is on the court at a time, leaving them with a lot of the rebounding responsibilities.
4. John Beilein
John Beilein was hired in 2007 to take over a Michigan program that was struggling under coach Tommy Amaker. In Beilein’s second season, he led Michigan to the NCAA tournament where they upset the Clemson Tigers in the first round. This was Michigan’s first tournament appearance in 11 years. Beilein never looked back. Last season he led the 4th seeded Wolverines all the way to the National Championship game before being defeated by the Louisville Cardinals. After losing two players to the NBA draft and pre-season All-American Mitch McGary to injury many people thought that Michigan was destined for a down year. All he did was lead the team to a 15-3 conference record, an outright Big Ten title, and a sweep of both of Michigan’s conference rivals, all on his way to being named Big Ten coach of the year by the media. If there’s a game in the tournament that comes down to coaching adjustments, Michigan is going to be in good hands.
Aside from freshmen Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin, all of the Michigan rotational players have Final Four experience. Glenn Robinson, Nik Stauskas, Caris Levert, Jon Horford, Jordan Morgan, and even Spike Albrecht each played important roles in Michigan’s tournament run last year. Experience can prove invaluable, as you never know what wrinkles other teams are going to bring to the table during tourny time. It’s not uncommon to go from a run ‘n’ gun opponent to a team that likes to full court press to a coach that prefers to play at a slower pace all in succession. A team that is familiar with different styles and a team that is used to facing adversity (like being down ten points in pretty much every game this season) is a team that is going to be a tough out in the tournament.
The Wolverines exceeded expectations this season on their way to an outright Big Ten championship, but the real season begins now. Notching a few wins during the conference tournament will help solidify their seeding during the NCAA tournament, and hopefully give them an easier bracket to play in. Regardless, the boys in maize and blue are looking to once again make their mark and let everyone know that this program is here to stay. Maybe if Spike makes a few threes this time Michigan will be able to bring the trophy home.