Michigan Basketball: Tim Hardaway Jr. Key to Wolverines Victory

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IApril 10, 2017

Mar 23, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (10) reacts to a play in the first half against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the third round of the NCAA basketball tournament at The Palace. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines are in a prime position to end their NCAA tournament as the last team standing, but that all depends on star shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr.

The son of former NBA legend Tim Hardaway, Hardaway Jr. has averaged 14.9 points per game in his junior season, shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 39 percent from long range. In Michigan's two tournament games, he has posted 17.5 points and shot 54 percent from the field, plus an eye-popping 66 percent from long range.

Clearly, he is establishing himself as the main go-to guy.

It is thus vitally important that Hardaway be at the top of his game against top-seeded Kansas tomorrow night. They have a great young shooting guard in Ben McLemore, who, despite barely being a factor in this tournament, has the talent to just go off and control the Jayhawks' offensive game.

This means that whatever McLemore does, Hardaway Jr. has to be better, and that's where the uncertainty comes in.

As solid as Hardaway Jr. has been this season, he has been incredibly streaky. From shooting just 9 of 33 from the field over a three-game stretch in December to a 1-of-11 performance against Michigan State on Feb. 12, it's completely unpredictable as to which player will show up in any given game: the lights-out scorer or the man who can't buy a basket.

Yes, Hardaway Jr. has been solid in the tourney as of late, but there's no telling when the hot streak will end. He was there to carry the team against South Dakota State in the round of 64, when teammate and star point man Trey Burke went cold, and combined with Glenn Robinson III for 42 points.

But Wolverines fans cannot rely on Burke to carry them against Kansas should Hardaway Jr. go cold. As good as he is, he is not as dynamic and explosive as his teammate.

This means that from start to finish, Hardaway Jr. needs to be in top form. If his shots aren't falling, he can't just shoot his way out of his funk. He must adjust his game accordingly.

Moreover, he needs to work in tandem with Burke to play some deadly offense. Be it driving the lane and rising up for a dunk or spotting up for a jumper, Hardaway Jr. needs to be a force.

If he can do that, Michigan can easily upset the Jayhawks and advance to the Elite Eight. Otherwise, should Hardaway be the one to go cold, the Wolverines will be going home early.