When thinking about this year’s Michigan Wolverines, phrases like “so close” and “good, but flawed” come to mind. Michigan is a very good basketball team and has compiled a really impressive resume this season. Unfortunately, it’s fallen short in some big moments. Those missteps not only cost the Wolverines the Big Ten regular season title, but also a reasonable shot at a one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
So, can Michigan figure how to finish this weekend? Let’s take a look.
As the three seed, Michigan earned a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and will tip-off its play on Friday evening in Chicago. The Wolverines will face the winner of the matchup between Illinois and Iowa. The Hawkeyes are the better team, but have been reeling in recent weeks. The Hawkeyes have lost four straight and five of six. And several of those losses have also come in blowout fashion.
Assuming it is Iowa on Friday, Michigan will be looking to get revenge for its loss on the road to the Hawkeyes in early February. The key will be how the Wolverines try to stop Joe Wieskamp. He killed Michigan in the first game and really correlates with Iowa’s success this season. More simply put, when Wieskamp plays well, Iowa usually plays well.
If it’s Illinois, Michigan will be favored pretty significantly heading into the matchup. The Illini played well on Wednesday in route to a win over Northwestern, but Illinois is well below .500 this season and have lost five of the team’s last seven games.
Either way, Michigan does sit in pretty good position to advance past Friday. The Wolverines are facing two weaker opponents who have underwhelmed over the last few weeks. The key will be whether Michigan shows up with its best game.
-If They Advance
Should Michigan take care of business on Friday, it will likely face Purdue on Saturday. The Boilermakers won the Big Ten’s regular season title and are one of the better teams in the country. Purdue sits in the top 10 on KenPom and have only lost two games over the last two months. It’s going to take quite an effort from the Wolverines to grab the win.
But even if Purdue is a great team, it still is far from unbeatable. The Boilermakers just lost to Minnesota last week and nearly lost to teams like Indiana, Nebraska, and Penn State during the regular season. Purdue also lost to a mediocre Notre Dame team in non-conference play. Michigan also won the only regular season meeting between the two.
The key to beating Michigan for the Boilermakers will be getting quality play from the backcourt. Zavier Simpson is a superb defender and will be all over Purdue’s guards. As such, Purdue is going to need to be able to avoid turnovers and convert in pick and roll situations. Slowing down Ignas Brazdeikis on defense is also crucial.
Michigan’s other potential Saturday opponent will be Minnesota or Penn State. The Wolverines swept the Gophers and split with Penn State. Michigan would certainly be favored against either of these opponents.
Nonetheless, each team remains dangerous.
To start, Minnesota literally beat Purdue less than two weeks ago in Minneapolis. Obviously, given that win, the Gophers are more than capable of pulling off some pretty big upsets. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that a team that’s already down something is fully capable of doing it again later in the season.
Additionally, Penn State has been red hot over the last month or so. In fact, if you look at the advanced stats since Penn State beat Northwestern on February 4th, they’re utterly jaw dropping. Per TRank, Penn State ranks eighth (!!!) nationally in team efficiency since beating the Wildcats for the team’s first Big Ten win. That’s above teams like Duke, Houston, Michigan State, and Tennessee.
If Michigan faces Penn State, it will have to figure out how to slow down Myles Dread, Lamar Stevens, and Jamari Wheeler. For Minnesota, it will need to stop Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy.
After that, Michigan would likely be looking at either Michigan State or Wisconsin in a potential championship game. Those two teams are both ranked among the top 15 nationally on KenPom, so there’s no denying they would be tough matchups.
After falling on the road to Michigan State last weekend, there’s no debating that Wolverine fans are a bit down. They were hoping for a Big Ten regular season title, but fell short in dramatic fashion to the team’s in-state rival. However, Michigan can turn the corner on that misstep this weekend by bouncing back in the Big Ten Tournament.
Things won’t be easy, though. Illinois and Iowa are both capable of pulling off upsets and Purdue would likely be waiting afterward. Minnesota and Penn State also are playing at a relatively high level. And a potential rematch with Michigan State wouldn’t be easy either.
Still, Michigan enters the Big Ten Tournament as a top 10 team nationally and is more than capable of making a run. And the Wolverines have to be confident, considering the program has won two straight Big Ten Tournaments.