To say the least, this year’s basketball team has had many ups and downs. In the games against Michigan State, Texas, UCLA, and both Purdue games (even though we lost), Michigan looked like a team that could make a Final Four run.
But in the Nebraska and Northwestern games, Michigan looked like a team that could lose in the first round.
This year’s team is incredibly similar to last year’s team. Both teams have a tough time winning on the road and both of these teams can go on either unstoppable hot streaks, or cold streaks that could quickly end the season.
Additionally, both of these teams play to the level of their competition, showing lack of confidence.
But which team is better? I believe last year’s team was better than this year’s team and I will explain the logic behind my opinion.
Fans of college basketball underestimate the power of having talented and experienced senior leaders. The 2017 team had two of the best senior leaders a team could ask for: Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin.
We all know what happened at the end of last year’s season, and most of it was because of the talent and experience the seniors on our squad possessed.
Seniors can control the game easier, take smart shots and make the easy pass. Most importantly, they can knock down free throws at the end of the game (which seems impossible for this year’s team).
Derrick Walton simply took over the postseason for Michigan and Zak Irvin made crucial shots at the end of many games. Oh yeah, I forgot one pivotal moment of the postseason…the team was in a plane crash on the way to the Big Ten Tourney.
Beilein’s ability to get the team ready for their first tournament game demonstrated excellent coaching, and the senior leaders and team captains helped the team mentally prepare for the B1G and NCAA tournament by putting the plane crash on the back burner.
The team this year lacks this essential aspect. We have two seniors that see a copious amount of minutes: MAAR and Duncan Robinson. These two players have not played up to their potential this season and it undoubtedly hurts this team.
Duncan has not been hitting shots like he used to and MAAR is playing poorly in big games (except for the Purdue game when he simply could not miss, but still could not pull out a win). In order for this team to have a run like last year’s, these two seniors have to step up and make big plays.
Two years ago, no one would have ever predicted that DJ was going to leave Michigan early and he would be a first round pick. He averaged only 2.7 points per game and 0.7 rebounds per game his sophomore year. He improved immensely over the summer before his junior year, and because of this, he increased his points per game to 11.0 and his rebounds per game to 5.3.
DJ had the ability to take over games and he demonstrated that during their run late in the season. He dominated the Purdue game during the B1G tournament when he scored 26 points and collected 8 rebounds in the overtime win.
Derrick Walton Jr excelled in the first round game vs Oklahoma State but DJ added an essential 19 points, 5 boards, and 4 blocks.
If DJ stayed for his senior year, I believed this year’s team would be a top 10 team and competing for a one seed. This team could use him because of the trouble guarding the other team’s second biggest guy.
DJ could have limited Luke Maye who torched Michigan and he could have shut down Vincent Edwards who minimized Michigan’s defense. Another thing this year’s team struggles with is getting out in transition. One of DJ’s best attributes was pushing the offense in transition and showing off his vertical athleticism with his high flying dunks.
His length and athleticism would have been an incredibly valuable asset for this team.
Size and Length
The 2017 team had a much bigger and more talented front-court than the 2018 team. Moe Wagner, (6’11”) and DJ Wilson (6’10”) provided a much needed post presence that helped them win a ton of games.
Even Mark Donnal (6’9″) provided a big body who could stretch the floor with his outside shooting. Actually, all of our big men could stretch the floor with their lethal shooting ability. They could either knock down threes consistently and when the defense guarded them tightly, they could blow by and get to the rim.
These players could rebound and defend the post effectively, leading to wins against Purdue and Wisconsin. Their height helped them limit some of the best post-players in the country such as Caleb Swanigan, Isaac Haas, and Ethan Happ.
This year, they lack this critical height. Besides Moe, they have only one other player that is above 6’9″, Jon Teske (7’1″). He has been one of the most improved players I have seen this year, but he still has a lot of work to do.
Isaiah Livers (6’7″) or Duncan Robinson (6’8″) have been forced to guard their opponent’s second biggest guy and it has hurt us.
Duncan was forced to guard Luke Maye who went off for 27 points and Vincent Edwards went off for 30 points. If Michigan had the size this year that they had last year, the Wolverines would definitely be a much improved team.
Overall, I still think that the 2018 team has the capability to make a deep run in March, but I believe that last year’s team was more talented and just better all around.
Their experience, height and length, and the presence of play-makers is a reason for why they cut down the nets in D.C. and why they made it to the Sweet Sixteen.
This year’s team has the potential to do exactly what the team last year did, but the seniors are not playing their best. Moe Wagner cannot do everything himself and he desperately needs help down in the post.
Duncan Robinson needs to start looking like his old self and knocking down shots. To say the freshman have talent and potential is obvious, but they are so young, it’s hard to predict how they will play in a pressure cooker game with the season on the line.
Hopefully Michigan can sort things out offensively and start a run that will catapult us to San Antonio.
- Michigan Basketball: Which Team is Better: Last Year’s or This Year’s? - February 12, 2018
- Preview of the 2018 Michigan Basketball Recruiting Class - January 21, 2018
- Michigan Football Schedule Outlook for 2018 - January 3, 2018