The Wolverine

April 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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APRIL 2019 THE WOLVERINE 73 U nlike 2012 and 2014, Michi- gan isn't entering the NCAA Tournament as a Big Ten reg- ular-season champion this season. Unlike 2017 and 2018, Michigan isn't beginning the NCAA Tourna- ment as the Big Ten Tournament champion this season. Three second- half collapses to in-state rival Michi- gan State in the span of 22 days are the main reasons why that is the case. Yet no prior Michigan team under John Beilein — Big Ten champion or not — better fits the profile of becoming the Wolverines' next na- tional championship winner than this season's squad. As of March 18, Michigan ranked No. 5 in adjusted efficiency margin on, a website that — among other things — uses an algorithm to project the number of points a team would score against an average D-I school over 100 pos- sessions on a neutral site.'s database begins with the 2002 season, and of the 17 national champions crowned since then, 14 (82.4 percent) have been no worse than No. 6 in adjusted ef- ficiency margin when the NCAA Tournament started. The only exceptions have been 2003 Syracuse (No. 20), 2011 Con- necticut (No. 15) and 2014 Connecti- cut (No. 25). Each team relied on an offensive star that found his rhythm at the perfect time before declaring for the NBA (Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse, and Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier for Connecticut), and the Huskies were fortunate to face a No. 8 seed in the national championship game both times. Michigan was not so fortunate when it had its best chances to be the exception under Beilein. The Wolverines opened the NCAA Tour- nament No. 9 in adjusted efficiency margin in 2013 and No. 10 in 2018, and proceeded to go on magical runs to the national championship game both seasons. Michigan benefited from Trey Burke and Jordan Poole drilling last-second threes that will be part of NCAA Tournament highlight packages for years to come, and from U-M's half of the bracket self- destructing in 2018. However, both runs ended unhap- pily because the team ranked No. 2 in adjusted efficiency margin prior to each respective NCAA Tourna- ment outlasted Michigan in the final (Louisville in 2013 and Villanova in 2018). The rule won out. The Wolverines hope that the rule wins out this postseason, too. If it does, the Wolverines are one of six schools that should be consid- ered the best contenders for the na- tional championship. The others are Virginia (No. 1), Gonzaga (No. 2), Duke (No. 3), Michigan State (No. 4) and North Carolina (No. 6), all of whom are either one seeds or two seeds in the bracket. These also are the best six con- tenders because they all are bal- anced offensively and defensively. Sixteen of the past 17 national cham- pions were in the top 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament (94.1 per- cent), and 13 of the past 17 national champions were in the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency before the NCAA Tournament (76.5 per- cent). Furthermore, 12 of the past 17 national champions were in the top 25 in both metrics (70.6 percent). Each of the top six teams accord- ing to — in addition to three others (Kentucky, Virginia Tech and Houston) — are in the top 25 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Michigan is No. 18 in the first cat- egory and No. 2 in the second, and only Virginia (No. 2 and No. 5), Duke (No. 6 in both), Michigan State (No. 4 and No. 8) and North Carolina (No. 7 and No. 10) are in the top 10 in both. This is the most balanced squad the Wolverines have fielded since 2011 when they finished No. 39 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 37 in adjusted defensive effi- ciency. For the next several seasons thereafter, Michigan swung from being an offensive juggernaut with a sieve defense to a defensive demon with an inconsistent offense. In 2013, the Wolverines started the NCAA Tournament No. 2 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 66 in adjusted defensive efficiency. In 2018, they began No. 5 in adjusted defen- sive efficiency and No. 29 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Though Michigan's offense has been criticized for being inconsistent in key moments, it actually has been better this year. That added consis- tency from the offense has propelled U-M to more comfortable wins and left it less exposed to being upset by inferior foes, which is critical when it comes to a single-elimination tournament. A strong but unbalanced team can see its season come to a rapid end if its strength falters for just one game. The Wolverines' defense has been one of the stingiest in the country, but if an opponent has success U- M's offense likely can keep pace. That and a favorable draw in the West region, where its passionate, expansive fan base would turn the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., into Crisler West if Michigan reaches the Sweet 16, may set up U-M for its best NCAA Tournament run under Beilein. The pieces are there. The numbers are in its favor. Big Ten title or not, the profile to be a national champion fits. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT U-M Fits Profile Of A National Champ Entering the NCAA Tournament, — a website that uses statistical analysis to evaluate college basketball teams — ranked Michigan fifth in adjusted efficiency margin (the number of points a team would score against an average D-I school over 100 pos- sessions on a neutral site). PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett.

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