It’s easy to remember the exciting parts of last season. Whether it is the early season win over UCLA or rushing the court after the Duke game. Maybe finally winning a big road game at Minnesota or the NCAA tournament win over Clemson. Last season was a breath of unexpected fresh air that caught most Michigan fans off guard.
Now, expectations are real: this is an NCAA tournament team. Michigan has typically fallen in the 10-20 range in most pre-season polls and success is expected.
All signs point to a successful season this year but let’s play devil’s advocate for a bit now and take a look at five of Michigan’s not so glorious moments. It’s important to remember that although they made their first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade, Michigan was a couple bounces (versus Savannah State or Indiana for example) away from the NIT.
No team looks great every time they take the floor, but these five games stand out as the worst performances by Michigan last year and reminders that there is still a ways to go.
December 31st – Wisconsin 73 – Michigan 61 (Recap)
Michigan started their conference slate with a dud. Wisconsin came out on fire with an eFG% of 65.2% and maintained a comfortable lead from start to finish. This was Michigan’s worst defensive performance of the year as they allowed the Badgers to score 1.24 points per possession.
This was a rude awakening for Michigan — taking games off in conference play doesn’t work. Michigan had played four relatively easy games after the huge Duke win and it was clear that they lost their focus over the holidays.
This was Michigan’s worst home performance of the year and Wisconsin remains one of the two teams that Michigan has yet to beat under John Beilein.
January 17th – Ohio State 65 – Michigan 58 (Recap)
Gut wrenching home losses appear to be the theme of this list. The Ohio State game felt like one that Michigan was supposed to win. It was Ohio State and the 1989 team was in the house, there was a great crowd, and Michigan had the opportunity to go to 4-2 in conference.
Michigan fell behind early but managed to claw their way back into the game before falling just short. In the end Ohio State ran away with the game thanks to BJ Mullens alley-oop dunks and Evan Turner’s 14 free throw attempts. It was another game where the opponent simply picked apart Michigan’s defense, scoring over 1.1 points per possession.
January 20th –Michigan 58 – Penn State 73 (Recap)
Garbage time began with 12:55 left in the 2nd half (HD Box)
That’s pretty much everything you need to know about this one. Penn State absolutely man handled Michigan from the tip. Jamelle Cornley pounded them inside for 17 points on 9 shots before Penn State got started from long range — hitting 9 of their 17 three point shots.
Manny Harris scored 4 points on 9 shots and took a seat early after his lackluster play. Michigan was 5-30 from three point range, refusing to go inside despite making 65% of their twos. This performance probably hurts a little more when you realize that Michigan beat the same team two weeks later by 20 points at Crisler Arena.
February 10th – Michigan State 54 – Michigan 42 (Recap)
42 points. That’s all Michigan could muster against their in-state rival on their own floor. Michigan State is the other Big Ten team that Beilein has yet to knock off. The capacity crowd at Crisler was held at bay from start to finish as Michigan State controlled the game. Every Michigan run was answered by the Spartans who managed to make enough big plays to coast to victory.
In a dreadfully slow 53 possession game Delvon Roe and Kalin Lucas made just enough shots to keep Michigan an arms length away. It was another painful shooting day for Michigan, who hit only 4 of 24 three point attempts.
Michigan didn’t do anything well on offense, scoring only .79 points per possession and turning the ball over on 22.5% of their possessions. Michigan State managed to hold onto the ball, control the glass, and get to the free throw line enough to win the ugly game.
February 22nd – Michigan 60 – Iowa 70 –(OT) (Recap)
There was actually a mysterious benching in Iowa City before Tate Forcier was even a household name. Beilein’s benching of Manny Harris in overtime led to a 10 point Iowa run. A quick run through of the comments after that game shows that people were convinced that Beilein was throwing away the season and could care less about making the tournament.
The bottom line is that Iowa had no business taking Michigan to overtime. Iowa was a team in disarray and they had just given Indiana their only Big Ten win. Harris only managed 9 points on 13 shots and Sims put up a meager 13 points on 13 shots. Three weeks later Harris and Sims combined for 45 points on 70% shooting in a 28 point romp of the same Iowa team.
This year’s team should be very good. John Beilein is one of the best teachers in the country and his teams almost always improve from year to year, especially when they return this many players. However, this team is far from perfect and bad things can happen to good teams. There are endless reasons to be excited about the upcoming season but it’s important not to blow expectations out of proportion.
The Big Ten is stronger than it has been for years and the difference between 3rd place and 6th place very well could be one or two games. There are teams of all different styles that will provide a different challenge night in and night out. Conference play is going to be an 18 game war.
This post should serve as a reminder that last year was far from perfect and this team has a long ways to go. Last year’s team lost 7 out of 9 games at one point before rebounding and putting some wins together.
The high points were certainly fun and there are numerous reasons for excitement but we are still talking about a team that finished .500 in conference play and tied for 7th in the conference.