INDIANAPOLIS — With its season on the line, the Michigan men’s basketball team turned to its freshmen.
As guard Frankie Collins’s name was announced alongside forwards Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houstan, the difference in age between the Wolverines’ starting lineup and Colorado State’s was staggering.
“(When the starters’ classes were announced) I’m like, ‘Woah,’ ” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Some people would say… it’s a very young team. True, it is. But did they grow up today? Yes.”
When it dawned on Howard that he was starting three freshmen and the Rams were starting nothing but juniors and seniors, he still wasn’t concerned. After all, as he put it, “Coach Fisher started five freshmen.”
In the NCAA Tournament, fanfare is so often made about the upperclassmen. But, for the Wolverines, even if just for one game, it was about the freshmen.
For Michigan, it’s a freshman class that it has a strained relationship with. Part of the reason the Wolverines were put on a pedestal in the preseason and held a ranking inside of the top five early on was due to the enormous expectations that were held for them. Four top-50 recruits, two five stars and a No. 3 national ranking according to 247sports, there was ample reason to be excited.
But those expectations have, for the most part, stayed unfilled, merely aspirational. Michigan has been an inconsistent and mediocre team this year, and the freshmen class has followed suit.
It’s been easy to forget just how much talent is on the Wolverines’ roster. But after their performance in their win against the Rams, it might be time to remember.
Stepping in for a concussed graduate guard DeVante’ Jones, Collins played the best game of his young career. He helped get Michigan back into the game when it was down 15 in the first half, playing confident, in complete control and beyond his years.
When asked whether or not anything about Collins’s performance surprised him, Howard answered as someone with tremendous confidence in his freshman.
“Well, you get back to the recruiting, when I had an opportunity to watch Frankie play, I’ve always been impressed with his skill set and I feel he fits our style of play,” he said. “His performance today does not surprise me.”
It wasn’t just Collins either. Diabate played a major role in the Wolverines’ superb defensive showing against one of the nation’s top offenses. And Houstan followed up a tough first half from beyond the arc with three 3-pointers in the second half that helped propel Michigan over the top.
Not to mention the fact that the Wolverines have one of the best big men in the country, sophomore Hunter Dickinson. There’s no shortage of talent on Michigan’s roster.
The Wolverines struggle with depth, consistency, defense, the list goes on. But if it can play as it did in the final 25 minutes against Colorado State, and its young players can match production with talent, Michigan has a chance to salvage something from this season.
I don’t know if they will, and if I was a betting man, I’d probably say they won’t, but the opportunity is there for the Wolverines. They still have the opportunity to salvage something from this season.
Michigan may be an 11 seed, but it’s as talented as most teams in the field; Against the Rams that was apparent. Speed, size, athleticism, the Wolverines had it in abundance compared to Colorado State. As the tournament progresses, they won’t be afforded the same advantages in talent, but they will be on par or at least close — they aren’t a ‘Cinderella.’
Michigan has the pieces, it has the talent, it has the ability to make a run in March, the question just becomes: