March Madness 2012: What to Make of the Michigan Wolverines

PJ SapienzaContributor IIIMarch 7, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 20:  Evan Smotrycz #23 and Tim Hardaway Jr. #10 of the Michigan Wolverines react while taking on the Duke Blue Devils during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 20, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines are having a resurgent season.  After years of often dwelling in the bottom half of the Big Ten, they were able to grab a share of the Big Ten title.  They are 23-8 and 13-5 in the Big Ten.

Despite the success this season, they are still a bit of a puzzling team.  While they get wins their stats leave one wondering how.   They are ranked 201st in points per game and 311th in rebounding. 

Neither stat bodes much confidence in their NCAA tournament chances. 

They spent a large chuck of the season unable to win away from home yet finished with an 8-7 record in road/neutral site games.  At times there were games were they looked afraid to enter the paint to score.

On the positive side they only had one bad loss at Iowa to a team that finished 16-15 Iowa.  They have wins over Michigan State, Ohio State, Memphis, Indiana and Wisconsin.  They have an RPI of 13 and a strength of schedule ranked 14th.

The most important stat is that they win.  They do resemble the classic mid major Cinderella tourney team.  They have very good guard play, shoot three pointers like crazy and are full of hustle players.  Their hustle has them ranked 28th in the nation is team defense.

The team tends to rely on the three point shot a little too much.  Five player have MADE at least 35 three pointers this season.   When the players are hitting them it makes for an explosive team however when they are not going in the do not seem to have a plan b.

The team has over achieved this season.  While another tournament appearance was expected, not many thought they would see a Big Ten title and a ranking of 10th in the AP. 

They are poised to be a three seed and should make the second weekend.  However due to their style of play and lack of inside power there will likely show up on many people’s upset special list as well.

The Big Ten tourney will go a long way in showing what this team can be.  Their first matchup will be against either Northwestern or Minnesota. Both teams are fighting for their bubble life and will be desperate.  After that they will likely be facing Ohio State.

If they can get at least two wins in the Big Ten tourney it will bode well for the NCAA chances.   As is often the case with most teams, it will come down to macthups.  However if they can continue to out hustle opponents while hitting their three point shots, this is a team that could surprise.

Regardless it is a time of hope for the Michigan faithful.  After years of darkness this is a team that is on the rise.  While on the record books for this season they are at the top, as a program they are still behind the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State.  They made huge strides to close that gap this season.  Hopefully in the tournament that can continue their climb.

PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist for the Detroit Red Wings and a writer of many other sports. You can also follow him on Twitter.


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