The Wolverine

March 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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MARCH 2021 THE WOLVERINE 89 T here is little dispute that Michigan cur- rently has the na- tion's third-best men's basketball team. As of Feb. 15, the Wol- verines were No. 3 in both the Associated Press (AP) and the USA Today Coaches' polls. They were also third according to and T-Rank, another algorithm that projects future perfor- mance similar to KenPom. In addition, they were third overall on the S- curve by Bracket Matrix, which is a composite of published mock NCAA Tournament brackets. Michigan continued to perform like the third-best team in the nation Feb. 14 when, after a 22-day layoff with minimal basketball activities, the Wolverines overcame a 14-point deficit to earn a tough, hard-fought win on the road at Wisconsin, where talented visiting teams tend to wilt. After that win, Michigan had a plus-29.40 adjusted efficiency margin on KenPom. This metric measures how a team is projected to perform against an average D-I basketball team per 100 possessions. And this is the best mark by a Michigan team in the history of KenPom's algorithm (since 2000-01). KenPom projects that this team is better than the 2012-13 and 2017-18 editions, both of which played for the national title. In fact, KenPom projects that, in certain years, Michigan would have the best team in the entire country. In 2002-03, the highest adjusted effi- ciency margin on KenPom was plus- 29.18 by Kentucky, and in 2005-06, the highest was only plus-28.28 by eventual champion Florida. However, KenPom does not project that Michigan is even in the highest tier of schools this season. Rather, U-M may be unlucky to have as exceptional of a team as it has this season because the two unbeaten schools ranked ahead of them are some of the best teams this century. Since the inception of the season, Gonzaga and Baylor have been clas- sified as the kings of college basket- ball. Gonzaga has been the No. 1 team in the AP poll wire to wire, and Baylor has been the No. 2 team in each weekly update of the AP poll. That is because the Bulldogs and Bears are the only two remaining un- defeated teams, and they have been demolishing any and all challengers. In the first month, Gonzaga knocked off Kansas (24th on Ken- Pom), West Virginia (17th), Iowa (fourth) and Virginia (ninth) on a neutral floor, and only West Virginia could stay within single digits. Then since West Coast Conference play began, the Bulldogs have annihi- lated their opponents, even the ones in the KenPom top 100. The Bull- dogs are 11-0 in league play with an average margin of victory of 24.6 points per game, and they have won all of them by at least 14 points. Baylor had only one legitimate test in its early non-conference slate, but the Bears beat Illinois (fifth per KenPom) by 13 on a neutral site and routed all of the cupcakes on their schedule. In a fierce Big 12 slate, Baylor has only been gaining steam with impressive home wins against Oklahoma (21st) and Kansas (24th), and road victories at Texas Tech (18th) and Texas (19th). Accordingly, Gonzaga and Baylor have seen their respective adjusted efficiency margins skyrocket. As of Feb. 15, Gonzaga owned a plus-37.67 adjusted effi- ciency margin. That is the best in the history of Ken- Pom's database. Baylor is not far behind either. As of Feb. 15, Baylor's plus- 34.96 adjusted efficiency margin is the fourth best on KenPom all time. So KenPom projects that the two schools ahead of Michigan this season are two of the four best col- lege basketball teams that we have seen in the last 20 years, including the best of the bunch. According to KenPom, the gap between Gonzaga and Michigan is so large that the Bulldogs would be favored by dou- ble digits against the Wolverines on Gonzaga's home court. Remarkably, the gap between Gonzaga at first and Michigan at third on KenPom (8.24) is greater than the gap be- tween Michigan at third and Florida State at 20th (8.12). Gonzaga and Baylor, particularly the former, are in their own class in college basketball, regardless of how impressive Michigan has been in arguably the toughest league in 20 years, and unless those two schools suddenly stumble, it is hard to imag- ine any other program joining them. However, the beauty (or terror depending on one's perspective) of college basketball is the format of the NCAA Tournament. It is single elimination, and there is no shortage of surprises come March. Michigan is heading towards a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, so the earli- est that the Wolverines would face either Gonzaga or Baylor would be in the national semifinals. Either, or both, of them could fall victim be- fore facing Michigan in the bracket. If they do not, Michigan, as the nation's third-best team, still has the best chance to upset them. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT U-M Is Playing Like A Title Contender Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Juwan Howard's squad was ranked third nationally in the Feb. 15 update of the Associated Press poll, behind No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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