The Wolverine

April 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 64 of 67

APRIL 2021 THE WOLVERINE 65 F or the first time since 1992‑93, Michigan is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. The last time it happened, Juwan Howard was in his sophomore season as a U‑M player. This time, Howard is in his sophomore season as the Wolverines' head coach. This should have given Michigan fans reason to cel‑ ebrate. The Wolverines were one of the three best teams for most of the season. After initially being classified a tier below Gonzaga and Baylor, U‑M found its rhythm in the second half of February and entered the conversation for the top team in America and one of the favorites to win the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Michigan is still second in adjusted effi‑ ciency margin on, behind only Gonzaga. However, U‑M fans are more concerned than cheerful because the Wolverines have not been play‑ ing like the second‑best team in the country. After opening with an 18‑1 record, they went 2‑3 since the start of March, prior to the NCAA Tournament. An Ayo Dosunmu‑ less Illinois team hammered them at home by 23 points. A hungry Michigan State squad fighting for its bubble life and seeking revenge for a blowout loss three days ear‑ lier outlasted them 70‑64 in East Lansing. Then they ran out of gas versus Ohio State, finishing shy of a late comeback to fall 68‑67 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. According to T‑Rank, Michigan has performed like the 38th‑best team during this span. Additionally, Michigan is not en‑ tering the NCAA Tournament at 100 percent. U‑M thought it avoided the injury bug when senior guard Eli Brooks participated in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals against Maryland after severely rolling his ankle in the regular‑season finale at Michigan State. However, the injury bug bit when, prior to the loss to the Buckeyes, the Wolverines an‑ nounced that senior wing Isaiah Liv‑ ers would be out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot. Livers — an All‑Big Ten second‑team pick — was averaging 13.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, so losing him is a huge blow, and his absence means Howard must tinker with new rota‑ tions at the most critical time. Suddenly slumping and hobbled, Michigan has gone from looking like one of the favorites to cut down the nets in April to looking like a very vulnerable No. 1 seed with lots of question marks. There are not many recent No. 1 seeds who have faced similar turmoil while March Madness was about to begin. Generally, if a school projected to be a No. 1 seed started to leak oil in the final stretch, they would be bumped off the top‑seed line and shifted down to a No. 2 or No. 3. However, there are three examples of No. 1 seeds who were struggling going into the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in the last 20 years, and their results in the Big Dance are mixed. In 2008‑09, UConn started the season 24‑1, then lost three of its last six games before the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies' losses were nothing to complain about. Two were against Pitt (third on KenPom), and the third was a six‑over‑ time marathon versus Syracuse (16th on KenPom). The losses did not derail them though as they paraded their way to a Fi‑ nal Four appearance. The same cannot be said for the other two examples, how‑ ever. 2010‑11 Pitt and 2012‑13 Indiana were each considered top‑five teams by KenPom. However, they both suffered three defeats in their final six contests prior to the tourney. The Panthers lost all three of theirs by no more than three points, and the Hoosiers were defeated by a trio of teams ranked in the top 20 by Ken‑ Pom. It did not stop there for either. Pitt was the victim of a one‑ point upset to No. 8 seed Butler in the second round, while Indiana went cold versus Syracuse's (ninth on KenPom) 2‑3 zone in the Sweet 16. It is difficult to know what this means for Michigan, a No. 1 seed that has dropped three of its last five games. Will the Wolverines march to the Final Four? Or will they be the first No. 1 seed out of the NCAA Tournament? Presuming U‑M does not become the second No. 1 seed to exit in the first round, most of it will ride on whether Michigan can beat No. 8 seed LSU (29th on KenPom) or No. 9 seed St. Bonaventure (25th on KenPom) in the second round and if Livers will be healthy enough to re‑ turn for the Sweet 16 after about two weeks of rest and recovery. If Michigan advances to the Sweet 16 and Livers is ready, that concern Michigan fans have will revert back to cheer, and this slump will be out of their minds faster than one can raise a banner. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT The Case Of A Slumping No. 1 Seed Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Michigan dropped three of its last five games prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament, but the more costly loss may prove to be injured senior captain Isaiah Livers. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - April 2021