University of Michigan Basketball Poised for Return as Top Program in Nation
By Shaun Odell
The college basketball season is in full swing now, and anyone who remotely resembles a basketball fan couldn’t be more excited. Now is the time when all of the preseason rankings start to shake out. We see who might’ve been overrated, who might’ve been underrated, and everything in between.
The University of Michigan, through its ups and downs of the last two decades, appears to be on its way to consideration as one of the top programs in the country. They’re currently ranked fourth in the nation, and took away a win Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, one of the most famous arenas in the world. Some can argue that Pitt is not what they were in recent years, but they remain an extremely competitive team who came into the game with a 4-0 record.
Michigan has not seen an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament since 1994. However, it’s hard to think that it is too far off. It’s only a matter of time until this program returns to dominance.
John Beilein is now in his sixth season at the University of Michigan. He was hired before the start of the 2007 season, walking into a program that hadn’t even made an appearance in the NCAA tournament in nearly ten years, since 1998. Beilein is a coach who knew that this was not a one-year turnaround. He knew that it would be a process, one that he felt he could see through to the point that we’re at now. He’s improved recruiting, turning Michigan into a desirable place for top recruits to land. He not only recruits well, but also develops his players well. After two seasons of rebuilding, he took the Wolverines to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 2009. They’ve now been a part of March Madness three out of the past four seasons. To my point about recruiting, Beilein currently boasts three Top 100 recruits on his roster, forwards Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, and guard Nik Stauskas.
Trey Burke is clearly one of the leaders of this team, and he is one of those players who has incredible talent, and yet is continuing to develop and improve under Beilein. To this point in the young season, Burke is averaging three minutes less of playing time per game than he did last season, yet his averages in points, assists, and shooting percentage have all improved. His intangibles are improving as well. He has a sense of the entire floor that is crucial to the point guard position.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., in his third season with the Wolverines now, is averaging 17 points per game, and bringing down nearly seven rebounds. He and Nik Stauskas are bringing strong play to the guard positions, taking some of the pressure off of Burke. Matt Vogrich still brings valuable play to the team, even though he’s only averaging 15 minutes per game right now. Stauskas, a freshman, is averaging twelve points per game and brings invaluable defense to the team as well. An often-overlooked statistic that Stauskas also brings is his free throw shooting, only missing one free throw all season (14-15).
Jordan Morgan and Glenn Robinson III bring strength to the forward position. They have size, but agility at the same time. They’re a combination that is combining to produce nearly 20 point of offense per game, and bringing down just over ten rebounds together.
Mitch McGary, Jon Horford, and the rest of the bench only add to the depth of this team. If Beilein continues to develop this team as he has, they will be on the right path. Understanding that Pitt is the only true test they have faced thus far, and it proved a close match, they’ve shown that they have the pedigree to go far this season. They do have areas where improvement is needed. They had more turnovers (9) than assists (8) against Pitt. They do, however, continue to take smarter shots, as shown by the fact that they are currently sixth in the nation in field goal percentage. There’s a lot of basketball still to be played, and many things could change, but this is a team that finds itself in a position where it has not been since before some of these players were born. Only time will tell where it goes from here.