The Wolverine

May 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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34 THE WOLVERINE MAY 2022 BY CLAYTON SAYFIE I t's hard to call a 19-win, 15-loss Michigan season a success, but deeming it a failure wouldn't be fair, either, considering the Wol- verines reached their fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. They ended with a loss and don't have a black-and- white answer as to what this year was, but that's typical in college basketball. If this campaign was any indication, expectations are fluid, and situations change suddenly. In the Associated Press' preseason rankings, the Maize and Blue stood No. 6 in the country and were picked to win the Big Ten for a second straight year in The Athletic's annual media poll, with no reporter choosing U-M to finish worse than third. Michigan — which finished eighth in the Big Ten regular-season standings — failed to live up to the preseason hype, sure, but it defied the odds at other points. The Wolverines lost four times in the non-conference slate and struggled out of the gate in the Big Ten season. Amidst a COVID-19 outbreak that saw sophomore center Hunter Dickinson and others miss time, they walked out of the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill., Jan. 14 with a 7-7 overall record and searching for an- swers. Down, "doomed," some said … but not completely out. U-M got healthy, regrouped and fin- ished the regular season by winning 10 of its final 16 contests and winding up 34th in the NCAA's NET Rankings with five Quadrant 1 wins. Turns out, it was enough to make the Big Dance for a sixth straight event, even after a disappointing loss to Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament. "These last four months have definitely not been the way people thought they were going to go from the start," Dick- inson noted after U-M was selected as a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. "But you can just see the growth from where we started to where we are now, the improvement that individuals have made and the improvement the team has made as a whole." Seven of the Maize and Blue's 14 schol- arship players were newcomers, and it took a while for the team to figure out how to play together and what it takes to win. Throughout the year, head coach Juwan Howard identified those two things as qualities that go beyond talent and take a lot of "sacrifice." He remained adamant that he was seeing positive signs and steps forward, that the work would pay off. The Wolverines did improve as the year went on. Much was made of their inability to win two straight games from Feb. 10 to March 10, a 10-game span. But the Maize and Blue didn't completely fall apart, either, instead doing enough to give themselves a chance in the postseason. And that's admirable, given the adver- sity they faced — including sophomore guard Zeb Jackson entering the transfer portal midseason, their head coach and two players serving suspensions, multiple injuries, illnesses and more. "I loved our team from Day 1. I loved our team from when there were some chal- lenges we faced," Howard said March 13. "Learning how to play together, learn- ing a new system, particularly [fifth-year senior Coastal Carolina transfer point guard] DeVante' Jones, [freshman wing] Caleb Houstan and [freshman forward] Moussa Diabate. Those are three guys in our starting lineup who have never played together. [But] Hunter Dickinson and [fifth-year senior guard] Eli Brooks, this is their second year together, so they're very familiar with one another. It took time for our team to learn how to win, develop the team chemistry and also understand what was asked of them." WITH CLEAN SLATE, U-M KEEPS SWEET 16 STREAK ALIVE The growth the Wolverines made was on display in their NCAA Tourna- ment run, when they — like clockwork — stepped up on the big stage again, be- coming the first-ever Big Ten team to reach five consecutive regional semifinals. U-M headed right back to Indianap- olis, the site of the previous week's Big Ten Tournament, for the first and second rounds of the Big Dance, and this sport proves time and time again that new life and a clean slate is typically right around the corner. "It's a new season now," Howard said on Selection Sunday, adding that he loved his team's postseason chances. "We're not the team everybody thought we were going to be at the start of the sea- son, but we still have that talent that ev- erybody saw from the beginning of the season — that raw, natural talent that really makes us a dangerous team in the tournament," Dickinson added. Fitting for the rollercoaster season, ad- versity struck just before the Maize and Blue were about to open the Big Dance. Jones, who was set to play in his first ca- reer NCAA Tournament game, suffered a concussion after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face in practice earlier in the week. He was ruled out for the first round. U-M had been inconsistent all season, and there was no better example than the team's first-round win over No. 6 seed Colorado State. In the first 15 minutes, SOME BITTER, SOME SWEET Rollercoaster Season Ends In Heartbreak After NCAA Tournament Run Fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks scored 23 points, including 15 in the last 13 minutes, in Michigan's 76-68 win over Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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