T he last time any of us sat through a lecture, the Michigan men’s basketball team was 0-6. Its record now stands at 7-6. Incredibly, the team that couldn’t handle Central Michigan or Western Michigan at home has won more games in the last 26 days then Duke, Arizona, Alabama or any other team in The Associated Press’ Top 25.
The last time Michigan won seven games in a row was in 1998, when it still had athletes on Ed Martin’s payroll.
The Wolverines’ run has included a few impressive victories. Michigan pounded Bowling Green 83-57 to end its six-game losing skid Dec. 11. After struggling mightily in the paint earlier in the season, the Wolverines dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Falcons 40-21. The Wolverines made good use of their time on national television on Dec. 28, jumping on UCLA early and never trailing en route to a 81-76 nonconference road victory – the first such win for anyone on the Michigan roster.
The Wolverines were left for dead by much of their fan base after self-imposed probation and a slew of disappointing losses. But somehow these players found a way to win games again, and they should be commended for that.
With a winning record and victories over semi-terrible teams like Vanderbilt, Charleston Southern and Eastern Michigan, one would expect there to be celebrations in Crisler Arena.
But the atmosphere there is anything but jovial, as Michigan’s last two wins have come despite lifeless performances against San Francisco and IUPUI.
“I think with the big picture there are some good things to comment on, but it’s hard to see that big picture right now,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.
The Big Ten season begins Wednesday, and Michigan is as unpredictable as ever. The Wolverines are talented enough to win more than half their games, but they are equally capable of relapsing into another fit of failure.
There was a stretch at the beginning of this winning streak when the Wolverines were playing as well as anyone ever hoped they could. They were controlling the paint, diving on loose balls and executing on both ends of the floor.
But despite the success Michigan has enjoyed, a myriad of questions still surround the program: How will a team centered on five freshmen handle the grind of the Big Ten season? What can be done to re-energize the team without the possibility of a postseason berth?
But the biggest question facing Amaker could be how to deal with his team’s lack of depth. Michigan has been thin in the post all season, but after the departures of Dommanic Ingerson (transferred) and Avery Queen (dismissed), Amaker’s options on the wing have become limited as well. Robinson’s injured knee, which he said could keep him out up to two weeks, and Abram’s propensity for picking up silly fouls are compounding that problem.
When Robinson was forced to sit out of the IUPUI game on Saturday, the Wolverines looked lost, proving how much damage one key injury can cause Michigan.
“You can’t replace a guy like Bernard,” Blanchard said. “He does so many things well. Just look at the stat sheets. We need him in the lineup.”
Robinson’s unique skill set may be difficult to duplicate, but because of Michigan’s depleted roster, the dropoff was especially costly.
Saturday, Amaker started senior Gavin Groninger and gave additional minutes to freshman walk-on Sherrod Harrell to fill in for Robinson.
Groninger can spread the floor and contribute on offense, but without a confident jumper he becomes a liability. Harrell, on the other hand, is following Mike Gotfredson’s footsteps as the gritty defensive walk-on point guard that often doesn’t even look at the basket on the offensive end.
Against IUPUI, this duo tallied as many air balls (two) as field goals. Sadly, the performances of these two hard-working, likable and one-dimensional players can’t be expected to improve dramatically against tough Big Ten competition.
But fortunately for Michigan, its conference schedule starts out relatively soft with games against Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State and Northwestern.
If Robinson returns soon and the Wolverines’ energy level rises again, then I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this magical Michigan basketball run continue.
Steve Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.