The Michigan Wolverines entered this season with mixed expectations. Most thought the team could make some noise in the Big Ten and NCAAs, but wouldn’t be serious contenders for anything significant in March. Instead, Michigan jumped out to an 11-0 start to the season thanks to some marked improvement and a few quality additions. All told, Michigan ended up winning the Big Ten regular season title and putting together a one seed worthy resume. The Wolverines will hope to add another trophy this week.
But can Michigan get the job done in Indy? Let’s take a look.
As the one seed, Michigan will get a double-bye and be off until Friday. That’s great news on a few fronts. Obviously, getting the top seed is a boost itself, but the team is also hoping for starting guard Eli Brooks to return after he went down with an injury on Sunday. Michigan will get an extra few days for Brooks to recover. That’s great news for Wolverine fans.
_________ will be cutting down the nets Sunday? pic.twitter.com/umsMb9qEoV— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 8, 2021
As far as the games themselves, Michigan starts with what figures to be a tricky opening round game against either Maryland or Michigan State on Friday afternoon. The Wolverines went a combined 3-1 against those teams in the regular season, but both have shown (largely) improved play down the stretch and the Spartans beat Michigan in the team’s regular season finale last Sunday. Obviously, that’s not an encouraging note heading into a potential third meeting between the teams.
What’s interesting about comparing Maryland and Michigan State as opponents is that you can reasonably argue either side would be the more challenging opponent for the Wolverines. Maryland’s overall resume and statistical profile are significant better than Michigan State’s profile. In fact, Maryland is ranked 25 spots above Michigan State on KenPom. However, the Spartans have looked far more dangerous down the stretch, notching three top 10 wins over the last few weeks while Maryland lost its final two games. It’s just hard to feel too strongly either way. Both opponents look tricky.
Should Maryland advance, Michigan’s top priority has to be slowing down Eric Ayala in the backcourt. He’s been the key for the Terps this season. For the Spartans, it’s going to be stopping Aaron Henry and scoring against a feisty Michigan State defense. Michigan figures to be favored in either game, especially if Brooks is healthy.
-If They Advance
Should Michigan beat Maryland or Michigan State on Friday, the Wolverines would then likely face Purdue or Ohio State on Saturday afternoon. Based on the advanced statistics, both opponents look pretty even. Both are top 15 teams who have some of the Big Ten’s best players on their rosters. As such, beating either team will be difficult.
From an on-court perspective, the key against Purdue will be slowing down Purdue big man Trevion Williams. He’s been red hot over the last month and will certainly be Purdue’s primary offensive option. Jaden Ivey has also been a bright spot for the Boilermakers, so Mike Smith would have his hands full. For Ohio State, it has to be slowing down Duane Washington, who went off in Ohio State’s game against Michigan earlier this season.
If Michigan makes it past either Purdue or Ohio State, it would then likely meet Illinois or Iowa in the title game. The Illini look like the more challenging opponent. Not only because Illinois blew out Michigan in Ann Arbor just last week, but also because Illinois has been phenomenal down the stretch, winning 11 of its final 12 games to close the regular season. Michigan would certainly have a shot to beat either opponent, but it would be challenging.
Despite middling preseason expectations, it’s been a remarkable season for Michigan. The team jumped out to an 11-0 start, followed that up with another seven-game winning streak, and clinched the Big Ten regular season title last Thursday. The team now hopes to build on that in this week’s Big Ten Tournament.
And with what looks to be a decent slate, Michigan has a chance to do some serious damage this week. The biggest questions will be about Brooks, who may or may not be ready to go this week. Wolverine fans will get their fingers crossed. If he’s healthy and ready to play, Michigan could certainly grab another banner this weekend.