Michigan Basketball: Season Analysis and Simulated 2014 NCAA Tournament Run

M.F. DiBella@@MFDiBellaCorrespondent IMarch 2, 2014

The Michigan Wolverines 2013-2014 season has been something of a page-turner.

Case in point, falling behind by as many as 19 to a subpar Purdue team before Big Dog Junior (Glenn Robinson III) hits a buzzer-beater in overtime. 

Already with a share of the Big Ten banner, the team needs to win just one of its last two to clinch the title outright—no small feat in a winter of much discontent in the Midwest.

Michigan (13-3 Big Ten, 21-7 overall) lost four games in November and December including a bad defeat to a mediocre UNC-Charlotte team in the Puerto Rico Tipoff. (The other three losses were to tough opposition: on the road to No. 15 Iowa State and No. 6 Duke and a nail-biter to then-No. 1 Arizona at home.)

The Arizona game was a key storyline development. Michigan led by as many as 11 in the second half and led by one with under a minute to go, but found a way to lose.

The kicker was likely losing preseason AP All-American Mitch McGary for the season to nagging back problems—the sophomore has not appeared in a game since.

The team responded with a 10-game tear, polishing off three consecutive top-ranked opponents: a 77-70 road win at Wisconsin (who were lame-duck No. 3 at the time having lost on the road to unranked Indiana that week), a 75-67 home victory over then-No. 10 Iowa followed by a season-changing 80-75 win over then-No. 3 Michigan State in East Lansing.

After the MSU upset, the plot officially became thick.

Things got dicey in February as the team plunged into a polar vortex of its own. Michigan lost three of five, including a disinterested road performance against a young Indiana team and bad blowout losses to Iowa and Wisconsin.

But on Sunday Feb. 23, 2014, Michigan swept the season series with the rival Spartans after a 79-70 win in Ann Arbor.

For historical perspective, from Feb. 17, 1998 to March 7, 2010, Michigan went 3-18 against Michigan State. From 2011 on, Michigan has exacted a bit of revenge, winning six of eight.


Post(Season) Production

With two regular-season games left against unranked opponents and a Big Ten tournament in the way, Michigan has a bit of work to do to lock up a primo seed for the Big Dance. ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently sees them as a No. 3 in the Midwest bracket, with Kansas as a No. 2 and Wichita State as the No. 1.

CBS' crack bracketology staff has the Wolverines on the four line, again with Wichita State as the top seed but with Cincinnati as the two and Duke as the three.

Our prognosticating gut tells us Michigan will win out and capture the regular-season B1G title outright but fall to Wisconsin or MSU in the Big Ten Tournament; that same stomach says Bo Ryan will have John Beilein's number again in Indianapolis.


Beilein's teams are traditionally built for March, but a lack of depth in the frontcourt could be exposed.

Senior Jordan Morgan could have packed it in after Mitch McGary took his starting spot last season, but he has met the challenge (5.2 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game) and does most of the dirty work for Big Blue.

The only other big man option for Beilein is lanky 6'10" senior forward Jon Horford. On a roster without a true center, Horford overachieves his skill set (4.6 points per game) in limited minutes (14.7) and is the team's active leader in rebounds (4.5 per game) and blocks (0.9 per game), per ESPN.

Clairvoyance in college sports is often scoffed at, but guys like Lunardi are fairly methodical about their craft. So we'll use the ESPN model as the framework for Michigan's March-April run—bracketology changes daily, so remember this is all hypothetical and hopefully good clean fun.

As for the foretelling, we'll rely on the simulating capabilities of NCAAGameSim.com for a bit of intrigue. The site claims to have predicted the winners of both the 2013 NIT and Big Dance. We'll go with all chalk to see how Michigan matches up with some of the better teams in the field.


The Sims

Michigan will handle a No. 14 seed, whether it be Middle Tennessee or any other directional squad. Using NCAAGameSim.com, we see Michigan easing past the Blue Raiders in 15 straight simulations; the average final score being 82-66, Michigan.

A second-round matchup with a balanced UMass squad could present a few problems, but according to the aforementioned simulator, Michigan prevails 80 percent of the time (12 wins in 15 simulations with an average score of Michigan 75, UMass 68).

If Lunardi's bracket holds to form, Michigan will face Kansas in a Sweet 16 matchup, a rematch of last March's thrilling contest that saw the Wolverines erase a 14-point lead with less than seven minutes remaining and beat the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks in overtime.

For ensuing simulations, we chose a larger sample size (100 games). Though the site does not explain the significance of the home and away tabs, there is a "home-court advantage" feature that we removed for each simulation. We alternated the home and away tabs (50 each) and the results came back with Michigan winning 52 and Kansas 48 for a cumulative final score of 73-71, Michigan.

While something tells me Wichita State is something of a paper tiger (only two wins over teams with an RPI of 50 or below, as per ESPN), we'll give the Shockers some props and place them in the Elite 8 game against the Wolverines.

According to the simulator, the Wolverines should make travel arrangements for Arlington in early April. The results were definitively in Michigan's favor, with Michigan winning 65 and the Shockers 35. The scoreline was fairly resounding as well, with Michigan winning by 20 or more points 19 times. (The final score average was Michigan 75, Wichita State 69.)

While we haven't seen more than one No. 1 seed advance to the Final Four since 2009, per CBS Sports, it's hard to see anyone but Arizona coming out of the West bracket. (Plus it makes for good theatre, a rematch and all that.)

Sadly for Wolverines fans, the storybook ending won't happen if our simulator is to be believed. The Wildcats prevailed in 55 out of 100 simulations by a score of 70-67.

We might get meta with this and re-run the simulations on the eve of the Big Dance, but, as always, don't drink and troll.


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