Michigan has a new coach this season, but the results seem very familiar.
The Wolverines hold nearly an identical record (10-17) and equally poor rankings in several key statistical categories. But Michigan tri-captain Chris Young feels that the Wolverines are “a lot better than last year’s team.”
What could make the senior center feel so positive about a team that is one loss shy of tying last year’s dismal 10-18 mark – its worst finish in nearly two decades?
“Guys are so much more into the game than last year,” said Young, who late last season admitted that he thought his Wolverines quit trying. “Last year, we wouldn’t bring that intensity at all in a 40-minute game. And now we’re playing it for 20-25 minutes, and even longer.”
Several Wolverines have pointed to the fact that there’s been much better leadership and trust this season. These are less tangible, but they’re signs that the program is going in the right direction.
“It was more separated last year, and some guys wanted to go out and do things on their own,” Michigan junior guard Gavin Groninger said.
Players said that practices have improved dramatically since the departure of former coach Brian Ellerbe, whom they said often did not have a plan for practice.
But energetic and spirited workouts haven’t translated into success during games this season.
Granted, Michigan does have one more Big Ten win this year, but the Wolverines still finished in 10th place in the conference and last in several important statistical categories.
For example, first-year coach Tommy Amaker claimed that a newly inspired effort on the defensive end would be one of the pillars to his program. While there has been improved effort and intensity, Michigan still finished in last place in the Big Ten in scoring defense, field-goal percentage defense, 3-point field goal percentage defense and steals.
But Young said that these numbers are deceiving, as he sees a lot of improvement on the defensive end.
Last year, “we had no sense of help-side,” Young said. “Now we have guys in the passing lanes, we got guys helping other guys. And it’s like, ‘dang we’re still not winning.’
“It’s just frustrating that we’ve made so many improvements – just on the defensive end alone from last year – and yet we’re still not able to put together a win.”
Offensively, the Wolverines have proved to be just as inept. Michigan finished last in assists, ninth in scoring offense, 10th in field goal percentage and last in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“We just need to put the damn ball in the basket,” Amaker said.
In the few categories Michigan improved upon from last season – scoring defense, scoring margin, steals and free throw shooting – the Wolverines finished last in the conference in all of them except for an impressive second-place performance from the charity stripe.
But Young said that each Wolverine is more “invested” in the team, spending more hours before practice to improve themselves than ever before.
“We played well against all the top teams in the league,” Young said. “Granted, the final scores haven’t really reflected it. But we showed a lot of effort and played pretty well for at least half the game.
“And that showed that we can play with pretty much anybody.”
But the Wolverines have a chance to turn things around and create a springboard for next season in the conference tournament, starting tomorrow at 4:30 p.m., when they take on Northwestern in what Amaker calls a “winnable game.”
“There’s new hope, new life,” Amaker said. “You never know when you can make your mark.”