Through 25 games of the Michigan season, I'm not quite sure what we know about Michigan. When they are making their shots, they can be one of the most fun teams in the entire country. When shots are not falling, they barely look like an NCAA tournament. With five conference games remaining plus the B1G tournament and the NCAA tournament, let's examine the good, the bad and the future for these Wolverines.
Michigan has won at Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Even the most optimistic Wolverine fans would not have expected the Wolverines to go into such hostile environments and win, yet they have picked up 3 massive road wins for their resume. Of these 3, the most impressive to me was the Ohio State victory. No single player shot particularly well, and playing a road game during the week is even tougher to get motivated for. In this game however, Derrick Walton Jr. grew up, nearly reaching a triple-double and controlling the entire game in a hostile Value City Arena. Michigan will need performances close to this caliber from at least a few of its starters if it hopes to make a run similar to last year. The most impressive statistic for me is how well Michigan has been able to "hold serve" at home. In the last two seasons, the Wolverines have only lost three games, making Crisler a formidable place for opposing teams. The key for Michigan will be to win the games at home down the stretch, and hopefully win at both Purdue and Illinois. This would give an extremely young Wolverine team momentum heading into the B1G tournament and the NCAA tournament as well.
There have been times this season where it has been downright ugly for the Wolverines. A typically loud student section, the "Maize Rage" was looking for anything to cheer for during the first half of the Wisconsin game. Nik Stauskas couldn't get going, Walton and freshman Zak Irvin had a disappointing freshman game, Frank Kaminsky bullied his way to 25 points in all varieties. When a 7-footer hits a step back 3-pointer and you're sure it's good the second it leaves his hand, it's just not your day. Fortunately for the Wolverines, they won't have to guard mobile 7-footers with Kaminsky's skill set, but the interior play of Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan still left something to be desired. Because Horford and Morgan rarely look for their own shot on the offensive end, their primary focus should be left to defense and rebounding. This is also an issue because if the Wolverines are not making shots, Caris LeVert is the only player who is crafty enough to consistently create his own shot. If the 3's are not dropping, this could pose a huge problem within the last month or so of the season.
Michigan has five games left on its B1G schedule, and I expect them to take care of business in every one of those games. That would leave them at 23-7, and even with one of those losses, they would still be at 22-8. They will likely secure a top 2 seed for the conference tournament, and I don't expect them to either gain or lose much from any of these games. The hope for Michigan fans is that the Wolverines can lock up a top-4 seed. It seems unlikely that a 2-seed is a possibility, but as Michigan fans learned last year, they don't particularly mind being in that spot. Michigan almost plays a mid-major style of play, very similar to teams like Creighton and even Wichita State. With Jordan Morgan starting at center, their tallest starter is 6'8, and this could pose a serious problem against a team with a bigger front line (see Arizona fully healthy, Frank Kaminsky). However, they have the 3-point shooting prowess to beat any team on a neutral court. My x-factor for the remainder of the season is Nik Stauskas. At the beginning of the year, you could have pointed to another player that was not having consistently great games. There's no other way to put it that Stauskas is in somewhat of a funk. Teams are figuring out how to play him by using a box-and-1, and Michigan is struggling playing 4-on-4 on offense. If Stauskas can average 20 points the rest of the season and play like one of the best players in the nation, this Wolverine team has the chance to duplicate what last year's squad did. If not, it could be an early exit from the tournament for Stauskas and co.