Starting with the horrific start in Columbus as Ohio State raced out to a 26-6 advantage back on January 13th, eventually ending up as Michigan’s first loss of the season, the Wolverines never fully regained their early season swagger despite earning the No. 1 ranking in the country.
Although Michigan was able to bounce back the following Thursday with an impressive road win at Minnesota, not to mention home wins over Ohio State and Michigan State, losses to Indiana, a stunner in Wisconsin, and a blowout defeat in East Lansing at the hands of the Spartans, the Wolverines issues never seemed to whither away.
Jordan Morgan went down with an ankle injury at Illinois. Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas weren’t nearly as productive as defensive scouts keyed on their strengths, exposing weaknesses. And defensively, as a whole, Michigan failed to show the consistency required to win in such a stacked Big Ten conference.
Now set to get the NCAA tournament underway with a Thursday night battle against No. 13 seed South Dakota State, Michigan can morph back into the seemingly indestructible team seen just a few months ago. Here are five reasons why:
1. Trey Burke is that dude. Having the national player of the year in their corner, Michigan has its Carmelo Anthony, J.J Reddick, and most recently, Anthony Davis. Burke will be asked to do a lot for the Wolverines in the tournament, and he’s ok with that. Enjoying one of the most consistently productive seasons in a long time, Burke can be counted on to continue that trend -- a major luxury for Michigan. Factor in the fact that Burke returned to Michigan with talks of making a final four run citing “unfinished business” and the Wolverines could be primed to erase last season’s early exit.
2. Bye-bye Big Ten. The night in and night out fist fight called conference play and life in the Big Ten conference in the 2012-13 season unlike any seen in recent years. Coaches, players, fans -- everyone was familiar with the schemes, strategies, and personnel taking the floor, making life extremely difficult on everyone. Looking at how Michigan finished the season it’s easy to forget that the Wolverines are 4-1 on the year on neutral courts and were undefeated in non-conference play. Instead of Michigan having to adjust to how other teams want to defend them, teams in the tournament that can’t match-up athletically with the Wolverines will be forced to look for other answers.
3. A little home cooking. The road didn’t treat the Wolverines very well this season as Michigan finished the year 5-5 in opposing arenas. Fortunately Michigan isn’t traveling too far in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, ready to play in front of a home atmosphere at the Palace of Auburn Hills. As a young team the Wolverines feed off the fan support, getting the crowd into it on both ends of the floor. The feeling won’t quite feel like Crisler Center but Michigan’s comfort level will be about as good as any for a neutral site.
4. Rebounding the rebound. Michigan will have an obvious size and length advantage especially in the opening weekend of the tournament and they’ll have to take advantage like they did during their 20-0 start to the season. Michigan’s guards will have to get on the glass to help Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary, and Jon Horford, all of who could be taken out to the perimeter by a more athletic center. If all five Wolverines make a commitment to finish each possession with a defensive rebound, the limited extra possessions should come back to haunt their opponent.
5. All about Glenn Robinson III. Glenn Robinson III’s production is the key to the entire tournament for Michigan. When the Indiana native scores in double figures it usually means the Wolverines are getting stops, steals, and quick outlets to get in the open floor for easy bunnies or highlight reel dunks. If Robinson III is spending a lot of his time hurting the rim, the smile on his face should loosen him and his game up, all the while proving that the Wolverines are playing tough defensively. Teams that have been able to take care of the ball, run sets in the half court, and limit any semblance of fast break points for Michigan are the teams that have beaten them. If Michigan can get out and get some easy ones, who knows how far the Wolverines can go.