Ledes that play on A Tale of Two Cities are by now long since cliched. So I’m not going to write one (though I reserve the right to use it when I can’t come up with a title for my history paper later tonight). But we’re now six weeks into the season, and it’s still seeming like there are two possible Michigan teams that could show up on any given night.
There’s the team that convincingly silenced No. 6 North Carolina and No. 8 Gonzaga in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament on Thanksgiving weekend in the Bahamas. The team that scored 103 points Dec. 6th against a very capable Iowa team. The team that played hungry and confident for most of the second half and came back from being down by a seemingly-irreparable 16-point margin to lead the game on multiple occasions.
That Michigan team has earned its place in the top five.
Then there’s the team that almost a thirty-point lead to Appalachian State. The team that has continued to struggle on the road, shell-shocked in the chaos that was Louisville and unable to perform under pressure in Champaign. The team that was lifeless for much of the first half of Saturday’s contest, and that couldn’t get the job done in overtime despite getting the calls they needed and the looks they wanted.
That team might not even deserve a spot in the top 25 teams in college basketball.
“We need that energy. That’s when we are the best,” said freshman guard Franz Wagner. “We need that every game. Sometimes you have it – but you should have it every game.”
The wins in the Bahamas – those were statement wins. They said something – something pretty powerful – about what this team wants to be, and about what it maybe can be. But can you define a team’s personality based on performances it can’t seem to replicate on a consistent basis?
This is a team that has the potential and the pieces be one of the best in the NCAA. If Eli Brooks and Franz Wagner stay good from the arc, if the Wolverines can get off their ball screens cleanly, if Jon Teske remains as much of a commanding presence in the paint on both sides of the court – this is a team that can do some serious damage against some of the best college basketball programs in the country. We’ve seen that.
We just haven’t seen it reliably.
For every game Michigan has dominated, there’s been one they shouldn’t have lost, or one that was closer than it should’ve been. For every poster dunk, there’s been a sloppy pass that became a turnover. For every electrifying three-pointer, there’s been an open look that should’ve gone in.
“We missed some shots we usually make,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard. “This game is all about runs, and you’re playing against one of the best teams in the country, so there are going to be some possessions out there where someone may make a shot, someone may make a tough shot.
“They made some tough shots today.”
So I don’t think we can define this team just yet. The Wolverines get a bit of a breather, with a week off before they take on Presbyterian College at home on Dec. 21, and another week between that game and a matchup against University of Massachusetts – Lowell at Crisler on Dec. 29. But after that, they run a veritable gauntlet of conference teams, starting with Michigan State in East Lansing on Jan. 5.
The time for determining who this team is going to be is starting to run out. If the Wolverines want to stay in the rankings, they better figure it out – fast.