Coming off a surprising Sweet Sixteen run as an 11 seed last year, the Michigan Wolverines were picked to finish third in the conference in the AP preseason poll. It hasn’t been pretty, but at 8-5, the Wolverines are now part of the group of four teams tied for second in the Big Ten.
Despite having won three straight games, Michigan is still on the outside looking in of the NCAA tournament, not even appearing on the bubble for prominent forecasters like Joe Lunardi. It’s been a tough season for the Wolverines, who now have to string together some impressive wins to save their postseason hopes.
If there’s any chance for Juwan Howard’s group, it likely starts with a win at home against Indiana tomorrow. Michigan has every reason to be playing desperately, so Indiana will have to come out locked in from the opening tip and ready for a hostile environment in Ann Arbor.
Here’s what you need to know about Michigan:
Right now, Michigan is in the unenviable situation of having 14 wins without any of them being very impressive. Five of its eight conference wins came against teams in the bottom four spots in the Big Ten, while its only non conference win against a high-major opponent was a November win over Pittsburgh.
One thing that does stand out about the Wolverines is the margin of victory in some of their wins. On the road at Northwestern, for example, Michigan won by 17 points, holding the Wildcats to just 51 points.
There are, of course, some suspiciously close games, like the overtime victory against Ohio University in December or the four point home win over Minnesota. On the whole though, there are enough blowout wins against decent teams to demonstrate that this is a team that has the potential to get hot.
The Wolverines suffered their first loss of the season on a neutral court to an Arizona State team that’s also fighting for its tournament hopes right now. Had Michigan’s early season struggles stopped there, it might not be in this position right now.
On December 29, Michigan did the unthinkable, dropping a buy game to Central Michigan to close out its non conference slate. Central Michigan comes in at 325th in Kenpom’s rankings, so it’s hard to overstate how bad of a loss that is.
In any other year, losses to North Carolina and Kentucky would probably not look bad. As of now though, those two teams are also probably NIT-bound, which doesn’t reflect well on Michigan.
The rest of the losses are justifiable, coming on the road or against top seeded teams like Virginia and Purdue. If it weren’t for those stinkers, Michigan might be in okay shape even without quality wins.
For what feels like the 15th consecutive season, Michigan is led by center Hunter Dickinson, who is averaging 18 points and 8.5 rebounds per game so far. Dickinson remains something of a threat from deep too, hitting 38.9% of his 36 attempts from 3-point range.
Behind Dickinson, the Wolverines get the bulk of their offense from Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin, who average 15 and 12.3 points per game respectively. Howard, a 6’8” freshman wing, is Michigan’s biggest 3-point threat, hitting 39.2% of his 6.9 attempts per game.
Michigan relies heavily on its young players, with Dickinson being the only one of the top four scorers with two full seasons of Big Ten experience under his belt. Juwan Howard’s most frequent lineups this year feature two freshman and a sophomore, which reflects how young the whole roster is. Per Kenpom, Michigan is 306th in Division I basketball experience.
Looking at team stats, Michigan is about middle of the pack in terms of reliance on the three ball, getting 31.9% of its offense from deep. Its offense excels at limiting turnovers, but its defense is also well below average at forcing turnovers.
Both Bart Torvik and Kenpom have this as a one point game, though they disagree on who will win, meaning it will probably be close throughout. Kenpom currently favors Indiana, projecting a 75-74 victory.