no wonder we hired Hunter Lochmann
Yesterday, I posted the eight teams you should root for the most in this year’s Sweet 16. With games starting tonight, here’s the next eight. As a reminder, the top eight teams you should root for, in order, are Wichita State, Oklahoma, Arizona, Gonzaga, North Carolina State, Utah, Xavier, and Notre Dame.
Caution: hot takes.
9. North Carolina
“I have horrible taste in blazers blah blah blah”
I really don’t know what to say about this North Carolina team. I don’t like it, I don’t dislike it; I don’t think they’ve been particularly impressive, but on the other hand, they haven’t exactly been underwhelming either. As a team, they can’t shoot worth a lick, but the Heels feature a seemingly endless army of tall, variably athletic guys with overlapping skill sets. Recruiting guru approval only carried Carolina so far – there’s ridiculous Thad Matta-like consternation over the state of the program in recent years. Marcus Paige, the Heels’ go-to guy and only reliable shooter, hasn’t fulfilled All-American promise, and the rest of the team is still very young.
It’s perfectly fair to say that UNC acquitted themselves well this year despite failing to meet some of the loftiest annual expectations of any program in the country. Being among college basketball loyalty has its pluses and minuses: UNC has the facilities, financial resources, and recruiting cachet to remain forever stocked with talent – though this group seems starkly lacking in that there’s not a surefire NBA player in the whole bunch – but there’s the looming expectation that they have to remain extremely competitive in the ACC and must contend for Final Fours and National Championships.
Carolina finished 24-11 and fifth in the league, and although they managed a surprise run to the ACC Tournament final (where they lost to Notre Dame), they weren’t in the hunt for the regular season conference crown and were swept by their hated rival Duke, who has the future lottery picks and number one seed that Carolina envies. It’s tough.
Still, it’s not easy to feel bad for them. They’re still a four-seed and their front line of bouncy junior center Brice Johnson, burly sophomore power forward Kennedy Meeks (who is battling a knee injury), and lanky freshman swingman Justin Jackson will provide an interesting matchup against Wisconsin, though I think the Badgers have an advantage in each individual matchup. UNC isn’t a realistic Final Four contender – they’d need to beat Wisconsin and Arizona, a tall task for a teams that are far more well-rounded than UNC is.
Whatever. They’re nine.
The Monstars Kentucky
Karl-Anthony Towns is a national treasure and my goodness that young man can play some basketball.
[30 for 30 voice]
What if I told you, that in college basketball’s greatest bastion, in an era of increasing selfishness and commercialization, there was a group of young men who put aside their egos and banded together to play basketball The Right Way, with tenacious defense, egalitarian offense, and a desire to win, first and foremost, without any thought of personal gain.
That’s Kentucky. I’m not sure if they’re better than the Anthony Davis – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Cats back in 2012 (who received the top overall seed and romped to a national title), but this iteration of Cal’s Wildcats are four games away from the first undefeated season in almost 40 years. They have future NBA stars – Karl-Anthony Towns, in addition to being a funny and kinda weird dude, should be the top overall pick in my opinion, and junior (junior!) center Willie Cauley-Stein projects to be a plus-plus defender and rim protector at the next level. On average, they play about 23 minutes per regulation game, because they’re backed up by more freakishly huge, athletic, and imposing big guys.
Because it’s Kentucky – home to college basketball’s answer to Alabama and Florida State’s football fanbases – and because the team is guided by John Calipari, a shameless self-promoter who inspires precious little confidence in he and his program’s ethical legitimacy, for reasons both fair and unfair, people don’t like Kentucky. That’s fine. That’s why I have them way down at #9.
BUT LOOK AT THE PLAYERS. The rotation is just stupidly deep and talented: UK’s two best guards (arguably, but in my opinion) are Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, and they each come off the bench behind the Harrison twins, who were top ten prospects two years ago. Trey Lyles is 6’10 and slightly miscast as a small forward – he does play some power forward – but any offensive speed bumps are rendered inconsequential by Kentucky’s otherworldly defense. This team is insanely fun to watch and if these guys were coached by almost anyone else, they’d be celebrated.
It’s Kentucky and it’s Coach Cal though, so a legitimately fun and possibly historical outfit is side-eyed with suspicion. Instead of focusing on the negatives, let’s focus on the positives: these guys all came in with insane high school accolades and they eventually fit together as a team and fulfill whatever hokey platitudes about teamwork you’d like to throw out there. And they’re so damn good.
That’s my case for bumping up UK from the cellar of these rankings. I’ll be completely honest, the fanbase is spoiled rotten and Cal rubs me the wrong way too (even if I think exploiting the one-and-done loophole is good business and admirable in its own way). If they go undefeated, we’ll have to revisit this, but they’re a buzzsaw and we don’t get to watch teams play at this level in college basketball very often.
This is the second result for “Bo Ryan incredulous” on Google image search.
“But Alex, they’re in the Big Ten too! Conference camaraderie, right?” “You said yourself that this wasn’t a typical Wisconsin team in that they’re actually fun to watch on offense!” “I’d rather these guys win than say, Michigan State.” “I actually don’t mind Wisconsin.”
You know what, straw men? You’re wrong. Despite everything, it’s still Wisconsin – the Trohl Center; Bo Ryan’s ceaseless badgering (hah) of the refs; defense that borders on dirty until one of their generic white dudes sticks his foot under yours on a jump shot and then, you know what, it’s just straight up dirty; it’s Josh Gasser’s bank shot in Crisler, it’s Ben Brust’s heave in Madison, it’s everything that’s regressive and problematic about college hoops! (I actually don’t believe that last part, but I was on a roll).
I’ve never been a huge participant in the Great Conference Wars of college athletics, to be quite honest. I think that the SEC hivemind that stumps for their hated rivals in out-of-conference football games is absurdly warped and stupid. I think that, you know what, even if there’s tangible benefits to a team winning, I just might not like that team. That’s it. Wisconsin’s current team isn’t all that bad – Bronson Koenig has been an awesome surprise, Frank Kaminsky is obviously the dude, and Nigel Hayes is talented and endearing. But this Wisconsin team carries the ghost of all of their predecessors and the less enjoyable things that come with them. More than anything though, I don’t like Wisconsin because they’re good. It’s not really that much more complicated than that.
* * *
I do find myself in a quandary however. After each Badger win, this CBS guy Jon Rothstein tweets, verbatim, “Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan.” While I do enjoy that Bo Ryan is juxtaposed with each of those horrible things, it’s tired and roundly mocked on Twitter after Wisconsin victories. If Rothstein’s right though, what happens if we topple the great undead tax collector? Death and taxes would be vanquished forever!
Now, that sounds good, but let’s pause for a minute. If the unholy triumvirate of death, taxes, and Bo Ryan were to be defeated, we’d have immortality, 100% of our earnings, and no more Wisconsin in the tournament. Immortality sounds great, but it really would probably be the shittiest thing ever; taxes are an unfortunate necessity and our civilization would collapse completely without them. So, yeah, we need Bo Ryan to keep winning. And if Wisconsin manages to hoist the first national championship trophy in a decade-and-a-half for the Big Ten, so help me, I’m gonna stick another needle in my Bucky Badger voodoo doll.
This riff probably didn’t make any sense, and I’m sorry for that. Go Heels.
12. West Virginia
♫ Country Roads, take me home ♫
Since WVU is probably going to play Kentucky’s game and, in the process, try to debase the beauty of the game of basketball as much as they possibly can, I’m not really a fan. Perhaps I’m too aestheticist, but for the love of all that’s good and pure about hoops, I can’t stand West Virginia’s brand of basketball. Play physical defense and dare the ref to give you five fouls; run offense that can most generously be described as “rudimentary” and just chase offensive rebounds; and, really, play the most extreme form of defense possible – the Mountaineers are first nationally in forcing turnovers and worst nationally in allowing free throws. Get a steal or hack the shit out of someone. It’s ugly. It’s not fun. It’s West Virginia hoops! Bob Huggins just told his team to run Beilein’s offense when he got there because he didn’t want to install his own. I’m not a fan of Huggins, but that’s not really here nor there.
And, really, since they’re almost definitely going to lose to Kentucky, it’s not worth our time to discuss them much further.
Life’s not fair.
Firstly, UCLA probably should not have made the tournament in the first place. They were rewarded for testing themselves with a murderer’s row of a schedule, but only tallied one truly great win – over Utah at home. Colorado State and Temple, for example, probably should have gotten in ahead of the Bruins, and that UCLA missed out on playing one of the First Four games in Dayton was a complete joke. Their wins in the tournament don’t validate their inclusion – the committee had to work with the data available at the time and made the incorrect choice.
Beyond that though, UCLA was the beneficiary of the biggest officiating controversy of the tournament thus far. They led SMU comfortably in the 6 / 11 game in the Round of 64 before falling apart in the second half and the Mustangs led the Bruins by seven points with a minute and a half there. In all fairness, SMU completely collapsed down the stretch, but the game winning “three” – screenshotted above – came as a result of an incredibly dubious goaltending call. SMU’s Yanick Moreira went up for the rebound on a ball that was clearly off the mark by about a foot. The Mustangs bungled the subsequent possession and wound up losing by one, 60-59.
UCLA then dispatched 14-seed UAB easily in the Round of 32, setting up a rematch of the infamous “Adam Morrison crying” game with Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen.
They’re the worst team left in the field, per Kenpom, and quite frankly, they shouldn’t be here because of multiple reasons. Sorry, UCLA, but we’re going to hold that against you. Hopefully the Bulldogs exact Morrison’s revenge.
NO. THIS IS WRONG. NO. NOOOOOOOOOOO.
I was on the floor of the Georgia Dome for Michigan’s tragic defeat in the National Championship two years ago so it should really go without saying that I absolutely, unequivocally hate Louisville for that. That block was clean, dammit. The happiness in the picture above inversely correlated with my misery that fateful April night and I probably won’t be able to stop wondering what could have been if a few more possessions had gone our way.
That said, there’s more to hate about Louisville! I mentioned West Virginia’s brutish style above and Louisville is much of the same, except they have the recruiting ability to aspire to be something greater than that. Right now, Louisville might actually surpass the Mountaineers as the ugliest team left in the tournament – their offense is a mess without any spacing and each game of theirs seems to devolve into a 1980’s Big East bar fight. Montrezl Harrell is an exciting player who can dunk about as well as anybody in college basketball, but even he falls in love with terrible mid-range or three-point shots. Chris Jones, the most baffling and frustrating player on the team was kicked off the squad about a month ago.
On top of that, Rick Pitino’s often a grating figure – consider this wholly unnecessary attack towards a college kid in a press conference in response to a wholly reasonable question -- Papa John’s pizza sucks, and Louisville is and forever will be the little brother to Kentucky. Between their style and the championship game two years ago, watching Louisville’s been excruciating on more than one level. The Cards were fortunate to receive a lifeboat from the ACC after the dissolution of the Big East (and a brief purgatorial stay in the American Conference) and, unfortunately, between Pitino and conference relevance, Louisville doesn’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon.
Between the loss two years ago, Louisville’s brand of bully-ball, and Rick Pitino, it’s easy not to like Louisville.
15. Michigan State
January February IZZO April May June July August September October November December
Chances are, as a Michigan fan, you probably don’t like Michigan State. It’s alright – I don’t either (although I should note that there are plenty of amazing MSU fans that I interact with on Twitter on a regular basis. I know some of y’all are reading this so just know that it’s nothing personal – strictly business). And, to be quite frank, Michigan State’s success is bad for business, as far as Michigan’s concerned.
Predictably, the national media focused on East Lansing and fawned over Tom Izzo like he was the reincarnation of Dr. James Naismith himself – and the worst part is, you can’t really argue. Michigan State has become one of the premier programs in college basketball because of the Spartans’ success in March. It’s hard to admit, but it’s true. And it makes it even easier to resent them and pull hard against them, no matter the opponent.
As for the whole “Big Ten solidarity” thing: again, IT’S BAD FOR MICHIGAN IF MICHIGAN STATE MAKES A FINAL FOUR OR WINS A NATIONAL TITLE. Beilein and Izzo will be locked in some head-to-head recruiting battles over the next few cycles; highly-touted prospects will come down to a choice between Michigan and Michigan State. It’s not good for Michigan if MSU continues their surprise run through this NCAA Tournament, not even close.
And, of course, a lot of things really go without saying, but hey, why not go through one of them anyways. Let’s consider Michigan State’s fabled “Little Sister” chant as, well, somewhat microcosmic, a clever commentary on what happens when the hegemonic gaze is refocused back at the one who gazes… hah no, it’s just a terribly uncreative, reactionary chant that reeks of misogyny and an inferiority complex. “It’s an isolated thing,” you say. Not when the whole student section chants it. Way to go, guys. Hearing that at Crisler after they punked us at our own place made my blood boil. State absolutely hates us and they’re under our skin, definitely, especially considering their recent run of football dominance.
Of course, there are plenty of great Spartan fans out there, and for them, I wish nothing but the best – save for a humbling loss at the hands of my Oklahoma Sooners. And for all the recent sports success in East Lansing, it’s only natural to become anxious – when will something go wrong? Not this year, as State exceeded every expectation and made the Sweet Sixteen… so let’s just hope they won’t go any further.
Duke’s last. It’s a principle thing.
Now Touring: The Jim Harbaugh Experience
Remember last summer, when Penn State coach James Franklin ruffled some feathers by hosting satellite camps in Florida and Georgia? Jim Harbaugh is taking the same tack. The Wolverine's Brandon Brown reports that Michigan's coaches will run a camp at Prattville High School in Alabama, which produced 2015 signee Keith Washington, one June 5th. Four days later, they'll do the same in Dallas, per MLive's Nick Baumgardner. It wouldn't surprise at all if additional camps were set up in, say, Florida and California before all is said and done.
This is a great situation for Michigan, of course. The coaches get to see a ton of prospects in states they can't get to during the season, make connections with local coaches, and hopefully make some progress with recruits they've offered. There's really no downside to this that I can imagine.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
Oh, Michigan Hockey Summer, can't you let us get to actual summer first? No? You're a jerk, MHS. Junior captain Andrew Copp is out the door:
Andrew Copp has long called Ann Arbor home, but he's on the move.
The University of Michigan junior announced Thursday he will forgo his senior ice hockey season to purse a career with the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL. Copp signed a three-year, two-way, entry-level contract with the the team that drafted him 104th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
That is (or at least would have been had Mike Spath not been on top of the story) a shocking departure.
It's hard to not see it as a ringing condemnation of the team's prospects next year. Copp was on path to be a two-year captain, was only a fifth round pick, and could have taken the Hyman route. Hyman will either sign with the Panthers for max rookie money or wait 30 days and do so with another NHL team that he thinks he can play for immediately. Instead Copp is locked in with Winnipeg despite having dim prospects to actually be in the NHL next year. And he leaves without having ever played in the NCAA tournament.
That is grim. Michigan can replace Copp's production adequately since they have a ton of forward depth, but the implication of his departure underscores the things that have gone wrong with the program these three years.
Spath also projects that Dylan Larkin is on the fence, BTW. If he goes after a single year enthusiasm for next hockey season will be at lows last seen before Berenson's arrival.
Spoiler: nobody answers "the bumblee ones" (and lives)
With all the uniform-related news going around this week, I thought I'd ask about Michigan football's road jerseys, the not-so-constant in what's otherwise been a remarkably consistent wardrobe. Which of Michigan's road uniforms would you prefer they wear? Would you make any tweaks to a past look? Alternates—looking at you, Sugar Bowl uniforms—are very much eligible.
|Not sure of original source; Adam found it on the board.|
Adam Schnepp: Ah, yes, Michigan's ever-changing road uniform. The wearable lab where the apparel supplier can tweak and tinker and see what whets the appetite of the jersey-buying masses.
My ideal road uniform is one that Michigan's essentially already wearing in practice (at right). I love the look of the all-navy numbers, but I'd add the blue-maize-blue shoulder striping Michigan wore from the mid-70s to the 90s.
I know Ace mentioned alternates as candidates for primary road jerseys, but in a world where multiple night games are likely it's hard to think alternates go away so I'll pick one of those while I'm at it. If Michigan wants to wear a "legacy" jersey on the road let's make it:
1) something they actually, you know, wore
2) something that integrates the wolverbear:
[Via the MVictors Uniform Timeline]
Go back to 1962 and there it is: block M on the sleeves, wolverbear on a patch, otherwise clean design. A legacy jersey I might actually buy despite knowing that I usually look like a doofus in jerseys.
[after the JUMP: we take piping very seriously]
See also: hockey.
a shruggie of a year [Bryan Fuller]
Despite a lot more playing time than anyone expected, Michigan seems content to allow Max Bielfeldt to graduate and move on. As a 6'7" center it seems unlikely he can feature on a team with major aspirations.
That is all.
And this isn't graduating yet but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that Austin Hatch may transition to a medical scholarship at some point.
NBA PIRACY AHOY
The looming unresolved question of the offseason is "wither Caris LeVert?" LeVert would be a mid-to-late first round pick if he decided to enter the draft, but chatter from Scout and Rivals holds that LeVert seems to be favoring a return. I don't have to explain how huge that would be. Fingers will be crossed until the deadline.
Other attrition is unlikely. Zak Irvin's late diversification has not piqued the interest of NBA evaluators just yet; Derrick Walton has not shown the kind of meteoric rise necessary for a guy of his stature to leave early.
technically incoming is the best kind of incoming [Bryan Fuller]
Technically, nobody right now. Michigan has two guys who are functionally incoming, however. D-III transfer Duncan Robinson spent his redshirt year testing Nik Stauskas's practice marksmanship records and gathering hype:
"I texted Nik (telling him the record fell)," Beilein said of Robinson's record on WTKA 1050-AM on Thursday morning, adding that he didn't witness it personally. "(Stauskas) was happy, but he was also sad that the record went down. Duncan can really shoot the ball and as he learns the other parts of the game, he's tough to stop in practice." …
"He can help us against that zone anytime," said Beilein, who kept the record to himself, later saying, "I'm not going to disclose the numbers and maybe it will come out at some time, because I'm not sure I'm supposed to do that."
Robinson should be Just A Shooter, always a handy thing to have around. He could be something more.
Meanwhile, DJ Wilson took a redshirt after a second injury in a few months. Prior to that he'd offered hints that he could be an impact defender and skilled 4/5 man. He'd also struggled immensely in brief spurts of playing time against grown-ass men. (Not Eddie Johnson. Others.) Wilson was a solid four star recruit after an impressive senior season in California and could play either post-type position.
Michigan is also active in the spring recruiting period. Uber-prospect Jaylen Brown just took a visit, and Sam's saying there's a chance; German Moritz Wagner took a visit and seems set to choose Ann Arbor unless his pro team can convince him to change course; late-rising instate post Mike Edwards was just on campus; Seton Hall point guard transfer Jaren Sina, who Michigan recruited a bit a couple years ago, is listing Michigan amongst his options.
Edwards is 6'10" instate player who blew up as a senior, going from a lonely Akron offer to high-major offers from Nebraska and Georgia. Michigan is poking around but has not offered.
Will they? I'd be a bit surprised. Michigan has Donnal and Doyle plus 2016 7-footer Jon Teske; DJ Wilson may play the 5 for them as well. Even if you assume Wilson is a full-time 4, that would be a post per year for four straight. On the other hand, an incessant parade of senior Cs sounds okay by me.
Michigan has at least one slot from Bielfeldt's graduation and may have up to three depending on Hatch and LeVert. It seems like the most likely outcome here is Wagner, and only Wagner, comes.
USELESS BUT MANDATORY MINUTE BREAKDOWNS
After a year in which we fussed about auto-bench and a couple of walk-ons got meaningful playing time in most games, here is a happy about-face: it's difficult to find minutes for everyone if LeVert comes back.
remember me? [Eric Upchurch]
POINT GUARD: Walton 25, Spike 15.
Hard to imagine Walton getting fewer than 30 a game even with Albrecht establishing himself a very good offensive player in trying circumstances last year, but 1) Walton only got 26 as a freshman when he was fully healthy and 2) all of the remaining minutes went to Spike.
Meanwhile Albrecht ended up playing over 30 this year and maintained a healthy 112 ORTG thanks to lots of assists and excellent shooting. There are going to be games and matchups where he may be the preferred option. When Michigan goes up against Bennie Parker or Lourawls Tum-Tum Nairn Jr, Spike's size deficiency isn't going to be, you know, deficient.
Walton could blow up a la Morris/Burke and relegate Albrecht to more bench time. The above is a best guess at a position that's relatively uncertain despite having two upperclassmen.
SHOOTING GUARD, LEVERT EDITION: LeVert 30, Spike 5, MAAR 5.
There will be some dual-point lineups. Spike's five minutes here are a representation of that. Past that, if LeVert's around he's playing a lot of minutes. Surprise!
MAAR looks like he might be the odd man out in the musical chairs of next year's lineup: his handle won't be needed to spot PG minutes, he didn't shoot anywhere near Dawkins's numbers, and he doesn't bring the rebounding others might. Ace pointed out on a podcast that MAAR showed hints that he might be a lockdown perimeter defender (D'Angelo Russell had a terrible game against him) and that this might be a ticket to playing time. That's probably his best hope for PT next year.
SHOOTING GUARD, NBA PIRACY EDITION: MAAR 20, Spike 10, Robinson 10
In the unhappy event LeVert decides on the draft, dual-point lineups increase, MAAR gets a healthy chunk of playing time, and Duncan Robinson finds more time as a floor-stretching kickout option even if that's the extent of his game.
It'll be disappointing if LeVert does enter after these positive noises, but this hypothetical SG lineup is far from ominous.
SMALL FORWARD: Dawkins 25, Robinson 15
Dawkins's late shooting surge—he shot 48% from 3 in Big Ten play as part of a larger improvement in his game has everyone hype, as does the addition of the alley-oop dunk to his arsenal late in the season. This minutes breakdown is looking at Dawkins as 3 defensively but envisions his role on offense similar to that of GRIII: shoot corner threes, cut to the basket for explosive dunks, drive off closeouts.
Meanwhile, Robinson is a wildcard. It seems like his floor is a knockdown shooter off the bench. Robinson hit 45% from three as a freshman at Williams, and if he's given similar quality shots there's no reason to expect a dropoff. Readiness won't be an issue after a redshirt year, especially since highlight videos of his year in D-III demonstrate he's running Beilein's offense down to the cut.
If Jaylen Brown does come to Michigan—knock on wood—he would suck up 30 minutes here, leaving Dawkins and Robinson in a situation similar to MAAR's.
HELLO THIS IS ZAK [Fuller]
"POWER" FORWARD: Irvin 30, Chatman 10, Wagner?
Irvin will be the non-post most suited to bang in the paint on defense and rebound so he goes here. Michigan hopes to get the playmaking ability he demonstrated late last year. He could be the alpha dog; that could be LeVert; hopefully we get something like the Trey/Tim/Nik or Nik/Caris/Derrick teams in which the shots are spread out such that focusing on any one player just makes his assist totals go up.
Chatman struggled for most of last year. Like Irvin and Dawkins, he did come on late with a number of skilled drives to the basket and the first flashes of the passing ability he was noted for in high school. It does not seem likely he will push through anyone to field extensive playing time in year two, but if he can start giving consistently quality minutes off the bench that would set the table for a starting job as a junior if Irvin's improvement carries him to the draft.
Wagner's not even on the team yet; if he comes he will compete at the 3 and 4. He is not coming to redshirt but he's super skinny so playing time in year one might be scant.
CENTER: Doyle 24, Wilson 8, Donnal 8
Bigs develop. Repeat this mantra until you feel good.
Either Mark Donnal takes a quantum leap forward on defense or Ricky Doyle eats up most of the minutes in the post next year, fouls permitting. Doyle has a much larger frame than other options and held his own against the posts of the Big Ten. Since Doyle is also a year younger than Donnal you would expect him to develop more quickly.
Doyle has a terrific ability to finish around the basket and actual post moves. he needs to work on his hands, mostly, and reduce the foul rate that is inherent in project freshman bigs. He hedges pretty well and he gets a lot of offensive rebounds Meanwhile I wonder what the team defensive rebounding rates are with Doyle on the floor versus other options with shinier DREB numbers. Michigan is utilizing a boxout-focused style that often results in a guard skying for the rebound as Doyle butt-shoves his man out of the way.
In any case, I've been a bandwagon member since the start and think he will develop into a very solid option. He shot 61% this year in a finishing environment leagues tougher than that faced by any Michigan post since the Beilein effect kicked in; with more assisted buckets he could scrape Jordan Morgan efficiency levels while providing a bit more size on D.
Donnal, meanwhile, needs to spend the offseason gluing sand to his jaw and making mean faces in the mirror. (Also lifting weights but mostly the first two.) He averaged 6.4 fouls per 40 last year (Doyle and Bielfeldt were around 4), which was indicative of his overall struggles on D. Offensively he was efficient but low-usage.
Wilson could figure in at the 4; the guess here is that Michigan deploys him as a skilled, skinny 5, hoping his promising shot blocking makes up for what figures to be a rebounding deficiency.
FORWARD [Patrick Barron]
A major rebound beckons. This is a team that was a few points away from being 10-8, even 11-7 in the Big Ten despite not having the two guys expected to be stars before the year. If LeVert returns Michigan adds him, Walton, Robinson, Wilson, and possibly a recruit to that team. Meanwhile subtract only Bielfeldt.
Michigan also gets a year older all around. This should see them rise to approximately average in Kenpom's "experience" metric. Michigan has been hovering in Kentucky territory for a while now. It is a Beilein miracle that they've had the results they have despite that.
It'll be nice to have some guys who are a bit older. Michigan started Getting It on offense late last year as the posts realized when they should roll to the basket and the wings figured out their cuts. It wasn't just Zak Irvin knowing he should pass that helped his assist numbers go up; there were also options for him to pass to.
The LeVert version of this team can be really good, especially if Irvin is going to continue to progress and Walton regains the explosion he lost as a sophomore. They would be a Big Ten contender—and depending on what happens with the rest of the league possibly the favorite—and an easy Sweet 16 seed.
The No LeVert version of this team could still hit that ceiling but it seems more reasonable to project them as a second-tier Big Ten team that gets a seed from 5 to 9.
Even though Michigan’s basketball season has come to its sad end, college basketball is still at a fever pitch – after the 48 games last weekend, sixteen teams are left with Final Four (and possibly National Championship) aspirations. I’m here to sort out which teams you should be rooting for; of course, it’s a free country and you’re perfectly at liberty to root for whoever you want. There’s no set criteria here, and I’ll try to avoid personal biases as much as possible for the most part. The list came together quite quickly, and without further ado, here it is:
1. Wichita State
Fred VanVleet is a badass. Is that a Dutch name, Freddy? If so, you’re joining the pantheon of West Michigan Hoops idols alongside Kaman, Korver, and – sigh – Neitzel.
Wichita State tops the list for several reasons:
They eliminated Tom Crean and Indiana.
Their win over Kansas was one of the better early round games in recent memory, if only for the storyline: due to scheduling disputes, the teams hadn’t played each other since the early nineties, despite Wichita State’s emergence into a legitimately great program in recent years. The committee faced a lot of criticism for some dubious selections and seedings this year, but KU – WSU in the 2 / 7 game was a gift from the basketball gods.
And they gave Kansas that work. Wichita State looked like they were clearly better than the Jayhawks and watching the Shockers go to work behind Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, their normal stars, and Tekele Cotton, typically a defense-first pest on the wing. After trailing 24-16 early in the game, Wichita State outscored Kansas by 21 points.
Demerits come because of the relative lack of trash talk after the game by Wichita State players. I guess they’re better men than me because I would be woofing about how Kansas was right in being afraid to play us.
I still feel like the Shockers’ draw last season was patently unfair.
Looking ahead past Notre Dame, there’s the potential for an absolutely outstanding Elite Eight game between Kentucky and Wichita State: the Wildcats ended WSU’s undefeated year last season and even though WSU is worse and UK is better, it would still be a good contest – Wichita State’s backcourt is probably better than Kentucky’s and the Shockers are seventh nationally in Kenpom, perfectly within range of the Cats. An upset there would be one for the ages.
Even with all of those legitimate points in their favor, Wichita State is just a very fun team to watch for some basic reasons: very good point guard play, unselfish ball movement, stingy defense, and that unmistakable underdog je ne sais quoi.
Buddy, my favorite non-Michigan college hoops player, after hitting the game-winner against Kansas in the season finale.
I’ll be up front in admitting my Sooner love here – my grandfather graduated from OU with the help of the GI Bill, he’s a diehard fan who had football and basketball tickets for decades, and I grew up with Oklahoma as a clear but definite #2 behind Michigan. BOOMER!
But seriously, check the schedule and Oklahoma plays… Michigan State. As expected, the media follow-up to MSU’s upset win over Virginia has fixated on the “Tom Izzo is a March God” phenomenon, and frankly, who wouldn’t like to see that nipped in the bud as soon as possible? For that reason and that reason alone, you should all be joining in and rooting for Oklahoma – it’s them, or it’s State.
Beyond that though, OU is an objectively likable team. Fast-talking Bahamian swingman Buddy Hield was named Big XII player of the year as a junior and even though he’s a serial whiner, his game is enough to redeem him and then some. For some reason, I fixate on a possible parallel between he and an idealized Zak Irvin; Hield’s usage was at levels Zak’s will never reach, but watch the way they play and let me know if I’m just imagining this or not. Flanking Hield is Houston transfer Tashawn Thomas, and for those of you that appreciate a bruising, classic four man, Thomas is your guy. He’s a load on the low block and helps anchor the Sooner defense alongside Ryan Spangler (who looks like a stereotypical Oklahoman).
There are other dudes: Jordan Woodard, a tiny, audacious and fearless point guard with a frustrating propensity for turnovers; Isaiah Cousins, a chucker who’s hitting 45% of his threes as the two guard; Frank Booker, who hit some big shots in a win over Dayton; and backup big man Khadeem Lattin, the grandson of the starting center on Texas Western’s trailblazing national title team (Khadeem lists Glory Road as his favorite movie on OU’s official site because of course). Lon Kruger is a Beileinesque head coach in that he’s been a successful nomad and seems like a fairly decent dude, as far as I know.
If nothing else, root hard for the Sooners against Michigan State, but I’m hopeful that you’ll stick around if they advance. OU is a frustrating team – at their best, they look like a reasonably-priced knockoff Kentucky (though with a more fun, guard-oriented offense); at their worst, it looks like it’s the first time they played together. Come for the Spartan haterade, stay for the roller coaster.
FUTURE PISTON STANLEY JOHNSON. PLEASE. GIVE US STANLEY.
Yes, Michigan got stomped by these guys. No, I can’t really hold it against them.
Arizona is the trendy pick as Kentucky’s best foil, especially after Villanova crashed and burned and Wisconsin struggled to overwhelm a pesky Oregon squad. Look at the frontcourt and you’ll see why: veteran seven-footer Kaleb “Zeus” Tarczewski mans the paint and protects the rim and he’s joined by two versatile – not to mention big and athletic – power forwards, Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. One-and-done freshman big Aaron Gordon was replaced by one-and-done freshman wing Stanley Johnson, who’s currently second-place in Kenpom’s NPOY algorithm and is an absolute joy to watch. He did dunk all over Michigan a few times, but hopefully he’ll be putting on the Piston red, white, and blue for the next decade or so.
Like the teams above, the Wildcats make the list because of Basketball Reasons as well as situational circumstances. They have just enough shooting – thanks Gabe York! – to augment their elite frontcourt; they have a scrappy floor general who just plays the game the right way, bringing his hard-hat and lunch pail to the court every day (I sense a lot of Aaron Craft white guy platitudes for T.J. McConnell from the national media). They’re one of the few tolerable blue-bloods (or the next tier down, depending on your perspective) and if you’re a fan of good basketball, you’ll like Pomeroy’s second-rated team. Oh, and they wound up knocking out Ohio State and making D’Angelo Russell’s college finale a miserable game.
Plenty of teams can beat Kentucky – hello home OT win over Ole Miss minus their star player in that overtime, or a road OT win over Texas A&M, who didn’t make the tournament – even though most almost certainly wouldn’t. If you don’t like Kentucky, Arizona is the team to circle: they may very well be the Cats’ equals more or less. And if they lose to UK in the Final Four, at least they’ll have given Kentucky the toughest test possible before the coronation.
I know plenty of you hate Wisconsin and they’re on track to face the Badgers in the Elite Eight. So there’s that too.
[After the jump, 4 through 8]