1 stat looms large if Michigan is to make NCAA tournament push
Michigan has been the most disappointing team in all of college basketball this season.
That might read like an opinion, but based on the preseason top 25 it’s factually quantifiable. The Wolverines were No. 6 in the AP preseason top 25. They were the preseason favorites to win the Big Ten. And they had even more respect from Vegas than from pollsters. Michigan had the top preseason odds to win the NCAA tournament behind favorite Gonzaga.
The Wolverines haven’t been a top-6 team in the Big Ten, much less all of college basketball. Simply reaching the NCAA tournament is going to be an uphill climb.
Fortunately, the season is a long way from done.
Michigan successfully completed the first step on that trek with an 80-62 win at Indiana on Sunday afternoon, improving its record to 9-7. It was a massive win not so much for the margin but because of where the game took place.
Indiana was a perfect 12-0 at Assembly Hall this season, including a massive upset win over No. 4 Purdue Thursday night. And by beating the Hoosiers on their home floor, the Wolverines picked up their first Quad 1 win after starting the season 0-4 in such games. Quad 1 and 2 wins under the NCAA’s NET rankings are a major factor in evaluating tournament resumes.
If the Wolverines can finish the final 12 games* of their schedule at 8-4 or better and pick up at least 1 win in the Big Ten tournament, it is more than reasonable to believe they’ll hear their names called on Selection Sunday. (*Michigan has yet to reschedule 2 games that were postponed due to COVID issues within the program, and those home contests against Michigan State and Purdue loom large in the tournament-resume equation.)
Based on how the season has gone to this point, whether the Wolverines can actually get that far appears to hinge on one statistic more than the rest.
A team that truly lives or dies by the 3
It’s almost cliche for fans to say their team lives or dies by the 3-point shot. A lot of times it may feel that way, but rarely are things that cut-and-dried.
For this Michigan team, however, it really may be that simple. And that’s exactly why it’s so hard to predict whether the Wolverines will qualify for the NCAA tournament, the NIT or miss the postseason altogether.
Michigan fans certainly shouldn’t expect Sunday’s performance to be replicated.
Indiana came into the game with the Big Ten’s second-best 3-point defense and it didn’t matter a bit. The Wolverines wouldn’t have missed with blindfolds on. Michigan shot a season-best 64.7% from the perimeter (11 of 17), which was nearly 10% higher than its next-best outside shooting performance this season.
But Michigan doesn’t need to hit two-thirds of its 3-point shots to win games. One-third has been enough to get the job done.
With Sunday’s win, the Wolverines improved to 9-1 in games in which they shoot at least 33% from 3-point range. They are 0-6 when failing to reach that benchmark.
And boy, is Michigan’s 3-point shooting exceptionally abysmal in those defeats.
- Nov. 16 vs. Seton Hall: 20% (3 of 15)
- Nov. 21 vs. Arizona: 7.1% (1 of 14)
- Dec. 1 vs. North Carolina: 31.2% (5 of 16)
- Dec. 11 vs. Minnesota: 16.7% (3 of 18)
- Jan. 4 vs. Rutgers: 20% (3 of 15)
- Jan. 14 vs. Illinois: 10% (1 of 10)
The lone loss that doesn’t fit the pattern is a stunning Dec. 30 defeat at Central Florida. Michigan matched its season-high with 11 3s in that game, but allowed the Golden Knights to hit 60% of their 3-pointers. UCF remains the only team to hit more than half of its treys against Michigan’s defense.
Can mercurial Michigan find consistency?
We are approaching the stage of the season where there isn’t much new to learn about a team’s identity. You are who you are.
There might be a bit of wiggle room for Michigan, though.
COVID disrupted the Wolverines’ schedule for 10 days, so they’re essentially a couple weeks behind everyone else in the B1G in terms of forming that identity. Maybe Juwan Howard can find something else that clicks, though considering this team pretty much goes 8-deep there’s probably only so much adjustment that can be done.
And if what we see is what we get with the Wolverines, matchups could go a long way in determining how successfully they will be.
Of the 12 games currently on Michigan’s schedule, 8 are against teams allowing opponents to shoot 34% or better from 3-point range. If the Michigan State and Purdue games are rescheduled as previously announced, that will increase to 9 such matchups in the final 14 games.
Put simply, it feels impossible to determine how the remainder of this season is going to play out for Michigan. The Wolverines seem poised to puzzle us to the very end.