Michigan Back Among Big Ten Elite in Basketball? A Fan’s Take

by on March 7th, 2015
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The Fab Five scandal set the Michigan Wolverines basketball program back further than few imagined it would, but now, the last traces of booster Ed Martin’s ghost have finally left Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines are back in the top 15, this time under coach John Beilein, and are coming off of an overachieving season in which they nearly beat Duke to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16.

Even a surprise NBA defection from Darius Morris, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, hasn’t been enough to derail Beilein and the program’s progress.

A question mark before the season at point guard has been answered with an exclamation mark by the name of Trey Burke, the ultra-smooth Ohio point guard and former teammate of Ohio State star Jared Sullinger’s who might be among the best in the nation at his position already despite limited recruiting hype.

Burke’s addition is just another example of Beilein’s ability to find hidden gems and make them fit his unique offensive and defensive systems. Zack Novak for example had almost no offers as an undersized guard-forward out of Chesterton, Indiana, but he’s not one of the top role players and leaders in the entire country.

Tim Hardaway, Jr. was a three-star prospect in some circles despite his impressive size, athletic ability and famous bloodline, and Beilein brought him into the fold and made him one of the best players in the Big Ten as a freshman.

Michigan now has an excellent mix of depth, stars and role players, and seem like a tournament lock even though some thought the Morris departure could make them a bubble team this year.

Now that the foundation is set, the big question on everyone’s mind is whether or not the Wolverines can ascend back to college basketball’s elite. The new Crisler Center including the long-awaited player development center will help immeasurably, and the Wolverines have three top 100 recruits coming in next year in Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and top-five recruit and power forward Mitch McGary.

If Burke and Hardaway stick around and the recruits, especially McGary, live up to the hype, the Wolverines could be an instant Final Four contender.

And while the road through the Big Ten to a high seed will be tough in what’s now the top NCAA conference, Beilein’s team’s efficiency and skill reminds some of the Butler Bulldogs, who have made back-to-back NCAA title games.

Michigan might have just as much or even more talent than those teams, meaning that a good draw could lead to a deep tournament run. The Wolverines still have a lot to prove, but they have shown that their efficient offense and disciplined man-to-man defense (with some 1-3-1 zone thrown in, a Beilein specialty) make them good enough to hang tough in the Big Ten while causing huge problems for teams that have seen them come tournament time.

Not bad for a team and a coach that some thought were not cut out to survive in the Big Ten because of what was called a “finesse” system for that wouldn’t work well in a physical conference.

But the Wolverines sent yet another message to the contrary early in January when they dominated Wisconsin at home, once again proving the doubters wrong by out-toughing the Badgers, the Big Ten’s gold standard for toughness along with Michigan State, a team they swept last year for the first time under Beilein. The next step could be even bigger for the Wolverines, but this time, it won’t be nearly as surprising.

Nick Meyer is a lifelong Michigan fan from metro Detroit.

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