Good Wins: N-UCLA, Duke, Illinois, @Purdue, Minnesota, @Minnesota
Bad Losses: @ Iowa.
1. Free-Throw Shooting: Late-game situations on the foul line require each player to have “ice water in his veins” as the popular cliché goes. Despite its youth, Michigan shoots 74.8 percent from the charity stripe, 22nd in the country. If the Wolverines hold the lead in the latter stages of a game, it is almost impossible to play catch-up when Michigan continually sinks the freebies.
2. Manny Harris: The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard out of Detroit has solid numbers across the board: 17.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.2 apg. Oh, Harris is also automatic from the foul line (85.7 percent). His “weakness” might be the 31.1 percent 3-point shooting but he can catch fire at anytime so defenders are forced to play on his hip which inevitably make it easier for a blow-by to the hoop. He is the engine that makes Michigan go, though some would argue DeShawn Sims is more valuable. Regardless, take Harris out of the equation and Michigan loses a huge part of its identity.
1. Reliance on the ‘3′: Coach John Beilein’s offense is predicated on drive and kicks where any player can shoot the triple. The problem isn’t Michigan’s 3-point percentage – Michigan shoots close to 33 percent – it is that when the Wolverines fall in love with the 3-pointer, Sims becomes ignored and, unfortunately, invisible. Michigan follows the old motto: “Live by the 3, die by the 3″ to a tee. In losses to Wisconsin (6-for-21), Michigan State (4-for-24) and Duke (6-for-22), Michigan couldn’t top 30 percent from outside and paid for it. In wins against Duke (7-for-16) and Purdue (8-for-16) the shots fell but the Wolverines also made a valiant effort to get the ball inside.
2. Rebounding: Michigan just doesn’t hit the glass. Part of it is because Beilein wants to make sure his team is back to set up his 1-3-1 zone (or whatever zone the Wolverines might be playing at the time), but part of it is the team’s toughness. The Wolverines grab just 29.5 percent of their own misses (275th in the country) and rarely out-rebound the opposition.
Bench: Michigan’s rotation pattern is like a revolving door. The Wolverines will go nine deep on a consistent basis but also use senior Jevohn Shepherd and sophomore Anthony Wright on occasions to extend the bench to 11 players. Eight players have taken at least 30 3-pointers this season (which is, at minimum, one per game). When Beilein goes to the bench, he’s usually sacrificing height for a 3-point shooter.
The Drought: Michigan hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1998. However, if you take vacated records into account, the appearances in ’98 and ’96 don’t exist bringing the drought back to 1995. For any run-of-the-mill program it might be a tolerable drought. But this is Michigan, “the leaders and the best” according to the school’s fight song. Even for one of the top football schools in the country, basketball is important. Michigan has been close a few times in recent years (Bracketography editor David Mihm had Michigan as his last team in the field in 2006) but the Wolverines ended up one of the last four out.
Second Round. Despite how rough the Michigan economy is right now, it’s amazing to see the hope some people continue to exude. A caller told 97.1-The Ticket‘s hosts the following: “Michigan not only will make the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines will reach the Final Four!” The callers laughed him off the line because obviously his fruit punch was spiked. The fact remains, John Beilein’s teams have proven very tough to prepare for in the NCAA Tournament. (Remember, seventh-seeded West Virginia was on the verge of a Final Four in 2005 before coughing up a 20-point second half lead against Louisville). By no means can this team repeat that magic, but a higher-seeded team will undoubtedly underestimate these Wolverines, giving Michigan one tournament win. Heck, if Michigan is the last team in the field, the Wolverines might reach the Sweet 16, playing the “we deserve to be here” card that Villanova played so well last season.