What Was Michigan’s Season?
Had you asked me a week ago Monday (the day before Illinois came to Ann Arbor), I would’ve told you that the Maize & Blue machine was unstoppable. The Way that their offense was able to score in multiples from any/everywhere on the court, their depth, their ability to defend, I thought this was a Final Four team no doubt. Many in the national media felt the same, but then on that Tuesday night in Crisler, #2 Michigan hosted #4 Illinois and things have changed.
The Fighting Illini, without their player of the year candidate Ayo Dosunmu rocked the Wolverines 76-53. To try and put into words what that meant for Illinois; Michigan has been ranked Top-10 in KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency rankings and has been in their Top-5 for a WHILE now. It wasn’t so much that Kofi Cockburn’s sized proved to be a massive problem or that the guard play from Trent Frazier & freshman Andre Curbelo was outstanding, it was the way Michigan looked both on offense and defense. Out of sorts, staggering, stuck.
STAGGERING FINAL WEEK CAUSED CONCERN
Then in the next two games, both of which were against rival Michigan State, Thursday at home and Sunday on the road, Michigan continued that same look they had on Tuesday. UM split with MSU winning the first game on Thursday night that clinched the BIG-10 Championship (although Illinois would like to tell you different). That was a special night for a multitude of reasons, but more on that at a later date. Even though Thursday was a 19-point victory, 69-50, I attributed that to MSU just having a down year. Sparty showed up on Sunday and beat Michigan by six, 70-64. Those two games against MSU continued more of the same trend that we saw on the previous Tuesday vs. Illinois. The offense just struggled for lack of a better way to put it.
Now, no one expected Michigan to finish this season at 19-3 overall and 14-3 in conference play. They were picked pre-season to finish sixth in conference. But what Michigan accomplished through this crazy 2020-2021 COVID year was nothing short of astonishing. That first loss to Illinois snapped a seven-game winning streak. Prior to their return to play (missing three games against Indiana, Northwestern and Illinois) the Wolverines had won 13 out of 14 games including a run that featured three-straight wins of 19+ points vs. Top-25 teams. UM jumped out of the gates on fire starting the season 11-0 before their road loss to Minnesota (without starting guard Eli Brooks, who also missed all but five minutes vs MSU in their second matchup after rolling his ankle).
NOBODY EXPECTED MICHIGAN’S SEASON OF SUCCESS
Although the confidence of the Michigan fanbase may be a little shook with the way the final three games of the season went, it’s important to understand just how special this campaign was overall. A BIG TEN Championship and Coach of the Year honors for second-year boss Juwan Howard. Freshman of the Year and first team All-Big Ten to Hunter Dickinson, second team All-conference honors for Isaiah Livers & Franz Wagner. No matter what’s to come in the BIG Ten Tournament this weekend, or what happens on “Selection Sunday” or what the Big Dance might bring us, this Michigan season is one we can look fondly on as a success.
Photo: Wolverines Wire at USA Today