Michigan Wolverines: Overrated Hype Machine, or National Champion Favorite?
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The 2012 Michigan Wolverines basketball team has left behind a charred scorch-mark after blazing through their first fifteen games this year.
At 15-0, and currently the No. 2 team in the nation, many people are wondering: Can Michigan win the national championship this year? Is this Michigan team the best basketball team since the 1990 UNLV Runnin' Rebels? Can anybody slow Michigan down, much less stop them?
If you really want to know how good Michigan looks, look no further than the comment sections of various sports websites: Even Michigan State Spartan and Ohio State Buckeye fans are pegging the Wolverines as the Big Ten favorites.
With future NBA lottery pick Trey Burke running the show, accompanied by sons of two former NBA All-Stars and a Canadian version of Larry Bird, this All-Star team is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, they've won their first two Big Ten games by 28 points, and both games could have been much more gruesome had not head coach John Beilein started yanking leashes in the second half of each contest.
So, does Michigan have any weaknesses? To be honest, it doesn't appear so.
At first glance, one might conclude that Michigan's big men—Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary and the undersized Glenn Robinson III—are not the rebounding threats that Michigan needs to make a deep run in March. Yet, Michigan is the seventh-best rebounding team in the entire nation, pulling in 57.1 percent of all available rebounds per game.
Others still might argue that Michigan's defense is lacking. Yet, according to KenPom.com, they're still in the top forty in adjusted defense, and honestly, with the nation's number one adjusted offense, a top-forty defense is sufficient, especially when you consider that last year's Michigan team won a share of the Big Ten title with an adjusted defense of 60th in the nation.
If you're still not convinced, check this out: Average scoring margin has been the single best predictor for Final Four teams over the past ten years. Michigan's average scoring margin? Third in the nation at plus-21.4 points per game. That's right, Michigan typically beats whomever they happen to play by more than twenty points.
Are you buying into Michigan's hype, yet? If not, then I applaud you for seeing the forest through the trees.
Anybody remember when Michigan was ranked eighth in the nation going into this football season, with many expecting them to make a run at the national championship? Well, we all know how that worked out, and I'm not afraid to predict that this basketball season will end up with a similar disappointment.
But don't worry, there is reason to my madness. There is a glaring reason as to why Michigan is an Overrated Hype Machine rather than a national championship favorite.
Ridiculously Soft Schedule
KenPom currently has Michigan's strength of schedule (SOS) pegged at 180th in the nation. No team in last year's Sweet Sixteen had an SOS lower than 43. Well, that's not exactly true. One team was below that mark and, ironically, it was the team that knocked Michigan out of last year's NCAA Tournament.
Ohio had an SOS of 157, which still doesn't touch Michigan's 180. In 2011, no team in the NCAA Tournament had an SOS lower than 100. (Even Richmond and VCU's SOS was top 100.) In 2010, the only team lower than 100 was Cornell (165), and they (predictably) got blown out in the Sweet Sixteen.
Get where I'm going with this? No team with a schedule as weak as Michigan's has made the Sweet Sixteen in a very, very long time, much less made a run for the national championship.
If you're sitting there wondering whether I've forgotten about North Carolina State, Pittsburgh and Kansas State—all arguably very tough teams—let me reassure you that I haven't. Lest we all forget that Pittsburgh finished fourteenth in their conference last year? Never mind the fact that they lost team leader and top scorer Ashton Gibbs, or leading rebounder Nasir Robinson.
Pittsburgh's recent losses to Rutgers and No. 17 Cincinnati don't help their case, nor Michigan's.
North Carolina State is in the same boat as Pittsburgh. After having an underwhelming 9-7 season in a below average ACC last year, NC State loses C.J. Williams, DeShawn Painter, Alex Johnson, and Tyler Harris from their nine-man rotation. Forget about being a top-10 team, as Michigan fans would hope, NC State needs to worry about finishing above .500 in the conference season, something they nearly failed to do before losing half of their roster last year.
Now, Kansas State, on the other hand, has shown some promise to be a quality win. With a shocking six-point upset against No. 8 Florida, many people are questioning whether Kansas State is a threat to finish second in the Big Twelve. Of course, this is the same Kansas State team that people felt might threaten the top dogs in the Big Twelve last year after jumping to a 12-2 start with a sixteen-point upset of then-No. 6 Missouri. This, of course, was before they lost six of their next eleven games.
All that aside, Michigan's schedule has clearly been incomparably soft. Nevertheless, the three teams that could even be considered opponents of quality (opponents with an average KenPom rank of No. 28), Michigan has an average scoring margin of plus-8.5 points per game.
Let's also note that two of these games were on neutral courts; the other was in Ann Arbor. Moreover, each of these teams have also been blessed with soft schedules: NC State (111th-ranked SOS), Kansas State (146th) and Pittsburgh (299th).
Thus, Michigan's soft schedule is cause for inflated numbers, inflated egos and above all, inflated expectations. There's nothing wrong with getting excited, but there's also nothing wrong with being realistic. And realistically speaking, Michigan hasn't been anywhere near as good as we have all been led on to believe.
Twenty eight-point wins against unranked Northwestern and Iowa have people buzzing, but an eight-point win over Bradley is quickly dismissed.
Michigan might yet be a national championship contender—and it's hard to disagree considering the Wolverines offensive prowess—but it certainly hasn't shown such dominance against competitive opponents.
Michigan has an exceptional opportunity to make it to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1994, but the ten toughest games they will have to play this year are still ahead of them.
One thing is for certain, though, the magnifying glass will be on Wooden Award contender Trey Burke and the Michigan Wolverines throughout the rest of this season as they strive to prove that they are a national championship favorite rather than an Overrated Hype Machine.
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