On Friday night, Michigan saw its eventful and hectic 2015-16 season come to an end. It was a year that started with plenty of promise, but ultimately ended with a finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten and just a handful of noteworthy wins all year. There were some great moments, some rough ones, and everything in between.
With the loss to Notre Dame late Friday night (early Saturday morning on the East Coast), the Wolverines officially wrapped up play for the 2015-16 season. The team had an overall record of 23-13, a 10-8 record in Big Ten play, and a trip to the Round of 64 - thanks to a win over Tulsa in the NCAA Tournament's First Four.
But what should fans think about this year?
Was it a success, a failure, or something in between?
Broadly speaking, it's hard to be too overjoyed with how Michigan performed this year. For a program that has won two Big Ten titles and made the Elite Eight twice since 2012, sneaking into the NCAA Tournament isn't exactly going to get most Wolverine fans excited. These fans have come to expect Michigan to be competitive with the top of the Big Ten and be a serious threat in the postseason on a yearly basis.
Of course, it would also be foolish not to at least acknowledge some of the reasons that Michigan failed to reach its goals and suffered an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. Notably, the season-ending injuries to senior guards Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert and the early season injuries to Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton were major factors in Michigan never reaching that next level as a team.
The difficult part is determining just how important those injuries were this year. After all, Michigan's biggest issues this season didn't come in the backcourt, but upfront, where the team failed to create its own scoring opportunities and was one of the worst interior defenses in the country. The Wolverines were ranked just No. 311 nationally in percentage of team points from two point range and No. 308 in defensive block rate.
Regardless of what you think of Albrecht and LeVert, those two aren't fixing those issues by themselves.
Still, it couldn't have hurt to have a player that had the ability to create his own looks like LeVert or a player like Albrecht that could do damage in transition or setup teammates with his passing skills. Plus, having those two would have pushed players like Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman back to the bench, which would have given the team more depth and more lineup options. Instead, Michigan found itself playing a walk-on off the bench.
It's a fine line, but it's really just about balancing the injuries and Michigan's mixed play this season. Would the Wolverines have been the Big Ten champions with a fully healthy team? Of course not, but could the team have played better in February and potential won another game or two? Absolutely. Even take Friday night's loss to Notre Dame, where the lack of backcourt depth really derailed the team's momentum late in the first half and early in the second half.
So what's the answer? Was this season a success? A failure?
Maybe it's not as interesting or controversial to say, but for Michigan, this season truly was something in between. Fans certainly don't have to think that a Round of 64 loss in the NCAA Tournament is a great season, but it would also be ridiculous to call it a failure either.
Michigan just nearly took down a talented Notre Dame team in the Round of 64 after losing its best player, its sixth man, and having two of its better players deal with injuries. There are a lot of teams out there that wouldn't even be competitive in those circumstances, but the Wolverines found a way.
It was a mixed season in Ann Arbor, but the one thing that is certain is that next season will be vital for Michigan's long-term potential. With so many key contributors returning and a talented incoming recruiting class, the program will need to show more for fans to feel great about the program's outlook.