Michigan Basketball: Why Michigan Will Be in the Final Four Next Season


Mar 12, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Spike Albrecht (2) celebrates with teammates Max Bielfeldt (44) , Zak Irvin (21) and Kameron Chatman (3) after a basket against the Illinois Fighting Illini during the second half in the second round of the Big Ten Conference Tournament at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Michigan men’s basketball team suffered through a .500 season in 2014-2015. Coming into the year, Team 99 seemed poised to continue the two-year streak of dominant basketball at Michigan. After two games with NJIT and Eastern Michigan, however, many fans began doubting the squad. Couple that with season-ending injuries to top players Caris Levert and Derrick Walton Jr., and you’ve got yourself a lost season.

It turns out that all was not lost. In fact, the two injuries may have very well been a blessing in disguise.

After Walton went down with his foot injury, Michigan finished the year 4-8. Wrapped inside that not-so-appealing record are some major reasons to be extremely optimistic for next year, starting with their competitiveness in those games. Michigan played Indiana (at Assembly Hall), Maryland, and Wisconsin very tough down the stretch, despite the lack of ultimate talent thrown onto the floor game in and game out. After playing so many teams so close, but lacking the ability to finish out games, it finally got the coveted win: versus Ohio State, making it that much sweeter.

Michigan played top-tier opponents tough with reserve players forced into starting roles. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, a late addition to last year’s recruiting class, became one of the few players who could create his own shot off the dribble. Aubrey Dawkins played 20-plus minutes just once up until January 20th, but finished the year as our hottest shooter, racking up 21 points at Northwestern and a career-high 31 (on 8-11 from three) in late March. Zak Irvin had his cold streaks throughout the year, but in the last month of the season, played like an All-Big Ten small forward, scoring in double digits in his last seven games. Spike Albrecht stepped up as the team’s leader, averaging over 36 minutes a game down the stretch on two bum hips (which later required surgery). And you can’t forget his sensational 91% from the charity stripe.

Many others, including big man Ricky Doyle and freshman Kam Chatman, got crucial in-game experience. Doyle didn’t falter when matched up with Frank Kaminsky in the Big Ten Tournament, scoring 12 points on 6-6 shooting.

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While no Michigan fan wanted to suffer through the struggles of last season, it is clear the future of this team is brighter than ever. Losing the entire starting five from the Final Four team in 2013 is about as bad as it gets when it comes to college basketball.

Despite all the attrition, Coach John Beilein has done a masterful job in setting up Michigan basketball for major success in the near future. Beilein now has what he has always wanted: a team full of upperclassmen, with experience in his system. The years of playing together have led to an undisputed chemistry among the Wolverines, a priceless factor when it comes to winning in college basketball.

Caris Levert returns to lead the 2015-2016 Michigan Men’s Basketball Team. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O

Levert is a four-year player who will be a first round pick next summer. Walton Jr. is the bulldog, the guy who is counted on to lead the team on the floor and come through in the clutch. Irvin is on the verge of breaking through to be an all-conference type of player. Combine those three upperclassmen with an Aubrey Dawkins and a Kam Chatman, both of whom have barely scratched the surface of their potential, as well as new addition Duncan Robinson (via transfer), and you’ve got an extremely formidable rotation.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who sees the potential this team has coming back. Gary Parrish of CBS Sports has them slotted at 18th overall to begin the year, and Jeff Goodman of ESPN has stated Michigan would be in his top 10.

Team 99 gained invaluable playing experience down the stretch at the expense of two key injuries. Nearly every player set to be in the rotation next season has at least a year of learning Beilein’s system under their belt, and the importance of that cannot be stressed enough. All the ingredients for a Final Four run are on the table: leadership, experience, talent, and chemistry. Now we just have to wait to see Team 100 put it all together.