When the Michigan Men’s Basketball team entered conference play at the beginning of January, this is far the situation they imagined they’d be in after the first 3 weeks. After earning a 10-3 record during non-conference play, with two tough losses on the road against current #8 UCLA and #23 South Carolina, the Wolverines now find themselves with a 13-7 record working their way out of the basement of the Big Ten Standings.
It’s not to say we expected the Wolverines to run the table in the Big Ten, but surely we thought they would be better than this. For a team that started with so much promise, winning the 2K Coaches Challenge with resounding wins against Marquette and SMU, the sub-par start to the Big Ten season has fans scratching their heads with what to expect from their Wolverines.
However, the season is far from over. Michigan is currently still on the bubble of making the NCAA Tournament, but time is running out for this team to find its stride. The Wolverines are about to start their most crucial stretch of the season, with their next seven games being Indiana, at Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan State, at Indiana, Wisconsin, and at Minnesota. Three rivalry games, two games against powerhouse Indiana, a game against ranked Wisconsin and a game at Minnesota, who has spent time in the top 25 this season.
For John Beilein’s squad, the time is now or never. If they can get hot and win five or six of the next seven games, they will add a significant amount of quality wins to their resume. And if they can continue that momentum through the rest of their Big Ten schedule and into the Big Ten Tournament, they will almost without a doubt be dancing in March. But it has to start now with a win against Indiana this Thursday at home. There is no more time for this team to find a leader or find their stride- they must find those things now. If they continue the inconsistency we have seen throughout the past two years, they will miss the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.
There is no doubt this team has the talent to be an NCAA Tournament team. In fact, one could make a strong argument that John Beilein has made the tournament with less talent, like in 2011 when the team was carried by the likes of Darius Morris, Zack Novak, and Stu Douglass. This team, in my opinion, has far more talent than that team who almost knocked off Duke in the second round, six years ago. They have one of the best guards in the league, Derrik Walton Jr., good shooters in Zak Irvin and Duncan Robinson, and two big men who can score 15 a game in DJ Wilson and Mo Wagner. There is no reason this team shouldn’t be able to get to the tournament.
Despite all the inconsistency this season, Michigan still has a chance to make something of their 2016-17 campaign. If they can scrap together two big wins against Indiana and Michigan State in the upcoming week, I like their chances. But if they drop both of them and fall to 3-6 in conference play, their season is likely over and Beilein will unfortunately be on the hot seat next season. I truly believe this is a tournament caliber team, but they have yet to show the rest of the country that. They have the opportunity to change their season around in the upcoming weeks, but for now all Michigan fans can do is pray that their team finally plays to its full potential.