This isn’t the season the Michigan men’s basketball team was supposed to have.
Before the start of the year, The Daily’s beat predicted the Wolverines would finish second in the Big Ten and end the year with a Big Ten Tournament win and exit the NCAA Tournament by the Elite Eight at the earliest, seeing Michigan reach as far as the National Championship game.
And they weren’t alone. After clinching last year’s regular season Big Ten title and bringing in the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, there was no reason to think Michigan’s momentum wouldn’t carry over. Between the return of sophomore center Hunter Dickinson and the additions of two five-star freshmen in wing Caleb Houstan and big man Moussa Diabate, it was widely accepted that Michigan was among the best in the Big Ten.
But the team that took the floor for the first game — and almost every one since — hasn’t looked like one that could make it to March, let alone April. The roster that, on paper, should be one of best in the nation has failed to come alive. Houstan, thrust into the starting lineup from the first game, struggled to live up to the hype. The defense faltered. Overall, the Wolverines failed to live up to their lofty expectations.
But, facing Indiana on the road, Michigan came away with an 80-62 win, by far it’s most impressive of the season.
When asked whether the team is playing up to its potential or if there’s room left to grow, Michigan coach Juwan Howard cited effort as the most important factor.
“I’m just proud of how hard the team competed today,” Howard said. “… We’ll continue to go back in the gym each and every practice and see how we can grow. It was beautiful to see all the contribution coming from everyone that touched that ball.”
The Wolverines finally exhibited the skilled roster that’s been touted all year with Dickinson, Diabate and Houstan all scoring in double digits.
“This team has a chance to get better and better each and every game,” Howard said. “And with how the roster is designed with a mixture of juniors and seniors and sophomores. … They’re getting better and better every game.”
Michigan started the game 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. The Wolverines have hardly been known for their 3-point shooting this season, going a total of 12-for-45 across their three most recent games. But, on Sunday, Michigan got hot, shooting a total of 11-for-17.
The Wolverines fell into a rhythm on all parts of the court, the defense boxing out the Hoosiers and allowing for frequent Michigan runs. They displayed the type of energy expected of the conference leader the Wolverines were supposed to be.
“Defense is really getting the job done for us,” Howard said. “Defense sometimes creates the offense. It’s great when you see the ball go through the net, it definitely builds confidence in players.”
Added Dickinson: “I think guys are just playing to their abilities. The hard work in the gym is finally paying off. I’m really proud of my team out there.”
More than just playing to their abilities, they’re filling the holes — both offensive and defensive — that emerged from the Wolverines’ blind spots early in the season.
So what do you get when you add strong defense to long-range shooting and contributions from up and down the roster? A well-rounded team that could have a shot at a post-season run, the team that the Wolverines were supposed to be.
The question then becomes, is this a fluke or is it the new normal?