The Wolverine

February 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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FEBRUARY 2021 THE WOLVERINE 65 C an Michigan's men's basket- ball team pick up right where it left off? That is a question many U-M fans and college basketball pundits be- gan pondering after the Wolverines were forced to pause their season. On Jan. 23, Michigan announced it was suspending all athletics for at least two weeks to mitigate a poten- tial outbreak of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant among its student-athletes, coaches and staff members. This meant that four contests would be taken off the calendar for now and that the Wolverines might go nearly three weeks without a game. This also meant Michigan would go at least two weeks without being on the hardwood together, since all team and individual training ses- sions were put on hold, too. Although completely understand- able considering the circumstances, and that the safety and health of the student-athletes should be the top priority, a shutdown of this magni- tude likely would impact any team and its rhythm. This is especially the case for the Big Ten leader. But it is more than just that. This Wolverines team is more than just in first place. U-M had been putting together one of the most dominant conference campaigns in recent his- tory, dispatching its Big Ten foes with both precision and punishment. Seven of the Wolverines' eight conference wins had been by double digits, and five had been by at least 17 points. They became the first team in college basketball history to win three straight games against ranked teams by at least 19 points, and in those contests, they led Northwest- ern by as many 29, Minnesota by as many as 37 and Wisconsin by as much as 40. Even in their one confer- ence win that was by single digits, they led by 15 points early. Other than the letdown loss by 18 points at Minnesota without senior guard Eli Brooks, Michigan had been much better in Big Ten com- petition than the final scores have suggested. That makes this next stat even more remarkable. Through nine games, even with a loss by 18 points on its resume, Michigan had a conference-only efficiency margin of plus-18.8 points per 100 possessions. It is the third-best conference-only efficiency margin in the Big Ten since the 2006-07 season, trailing only 2014-15 Wisconsin (+21.0) and 2015-16 Michigan State (+20.1). Imagine if Michigan had not permitted many of its vast leads to dwindle once the game clearly had entered garbage time and the Wolverines' walk-ons took the floor. Imagine that Michigan finished off Minnesota and Wisconsin at home by at least 30 points rather than 25 and 23, respectively. Michigan most likely would currently have the best efficiency margin in that span. The Wolverines had not been do- ing this to a downtrodden Big Ten either. Not only has the Big Ten been the best conference in college basket- ball this season, the league has been one of the strongest conferences in college basketball in this same span (since 2006-07). ranks conferences based on the adjusted efficiency margin for a team ex- pected to go .500 in conference play. This season, the Big Ten's rating is a plus-19.08. The only other confer- ence since 2006-07 to hold a rating above plus-17.68 was the Big 12 in 2016-17 (+19.81). For comparison's sake, the Big Ten's rating in 2014-15 when Wis- consin had a plus-21.0 efficiency margin was only plus-13.12, which was fourth in the nation that season. The Big Ten's rating in 2015-16 when MSU had a plus-20.1 efficiency mar- gin was even worse (+12.89). So not only should Michigan have the best raw efficiency margin in Big Ten-only play since 2006-07, but the Wolverines should also have it against arguably the toughest league in the same span. To say that what Juwan Howard had accomplished thus far in just his second season as a head coach is impressive would be an under- statement. This has been nearly beyond belief for a team predicted during the preseason to be sixth in the conference. Freshman Hunter Dickinson has been a National Player of the Year candidate and somehow an upgrade at center over Jon Teske. Thanks to his sweet stroke, there has been little drop-off from Zavier Simpson to Mike Smith. Senior Isaiah Livers and sophomore Franz Wagner have been stars on the wing. Eli Brooks has been a solid and steady senior, which was not easily foreseen two years ago. Wake Forest wing trans- fer Chaundee Brown has brought attitude, hustle and sharpshooting off of the bench. U-M was humming at an elite level. Only Gonzaga and Baylor were in that stratosphere. Michigan was playing like a team ready to hang some banners. But that dominance has come to an abrupt stop. Not due to a loss on the court. But due to a pandemic pause outside of its control. And the Wolverines may not return to that height again. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT U-M Trending Toward Dominant Season Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Head coach Juwan Howard guided his team to seven double-digit wins, including five by at least 17 points, in U-M's first nine confer- ence games this season. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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