Michigan Basketball: Report Card for Wolverines' 2013-14 Season
The 2013-14 Michigan basketball team managed to overcome numerous doubters and silence all of its critics en route to a second Big Ten Conference title in the past three seasons. The Wolverines ran through conference play with a 15-3 record and finished three games ahead of the second-place finisher.
Michigan's season may not be over quite yet, but its body of work is complete enough to dole out some grades for the year.
The following categories will be based on national statistical rankings, postseason awards and a slight comparison to last year's team.
This statement may be hard to believe at first, but the numbers certainly back it up: Michigan's offense is better this season than it was a year ago.
Yes, the Wolverines did lose the best player in college basketball, Trey Burke, and a first-team All-Big Ten shooting guard, Tim Hardaway Jr., to the NBA draft. Yes, they have been without preseason All-American big man Mitch McGary for nearly the entire 2013-14 campaign. And yes, this group starts a true freshman point guard, whose primary reserve is a former 1-star prospect.
What a difference an offseason makes, though.
Over the summer, Nik Stauskas worked tirelessly to get stronger and more consistent. He got tougher mentally as well, thanks to some help from Greg Harden, which helped transform him into the Big Ten Player of the Year. The sophomore has averaged 17.4 points in 29 games and eclipsed 20 points 13 times this year. Additionally, he led Michigan with 3.4 assists per game and shot 48.9 percent from the field.
The rise of Caris LeVert has been a major reason why the Wolverines have been ridiculously efficient at the offensive end. The Pickerington, Ohio native is shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc and 44 percent overall. Going from 2.3 points a night to 13.4 points has also been an unexpected leap forward.
Add Glenn Robinson III's big-play potential, which is increasing with each passing game in his old role, and Derrick Walton Jr. and Spike Albrecht's efficiency at the point, and the result is one of the nation's top offenses.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Michigan ranks No. 3 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency with a rating of 122.9. Only Creighton and Duke are better in this category.
By comparison, last year's team finished No. 1 in the country, but only had a rating of 120.3.
Nothing other than an A will suffice for a report card grade of the Wolverines' offense.
If there is one thing that could end Michigan's season earlier than expected, it is a porous defense. The Wolverines rank No. 100 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy.
In the past 11 years, no team has won the Big Ten with that low of a defensive rating.
This has not been much of a secret this season. Thankfully, Michigan's offense has been dynamic enough to overlook its struggles at the opposite end of the floor.
There were several games this season in which the Wolverines defense earned a failing grade. One in particular stood out early in Big Ten play. Michigan allowed Nebraska to shoot 53 percent from the field. In their first loss of the conference slate, Indiana torched the Maize and Blue to the tune of 53.5 percent overall and went 8-of-13 from three-point range.
Even in victories, Michigan's defense often struggled to slow down opposing offenses. Had it not been for 13 turnovers, several of which were unforced, Michigan State likely would have beaten the Wolverines, seeing as it knocked down attempts at a 54.2 percent clip.
In today's win over Illinois, Michigan proved to be completely inept when it came time to contain the dribble drive. This led to the Fighting Illini going 24-of-53 (45.3 percent) and coming within one point of upsetting the Wolverines in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
Unless Michigan can find a way to elevate its play on defense, a run at a second straight Final Four will be completely dependent on knocking down jump shots.
As previously mentioned, head coach John Beilein lost his two best players from last year's national runner-up team, essentially three counting Mitch McGary, and still won the Big Ten by three games. In terms of development, no coach has done a better job this season than Beilein.
The media's Big Ten Coach of the Year took a group that entered league play with an 8-4 record and no marquee wins and guided them to a 15-3 mark in conference games.
This makes it three banners—two Big Ten titles and a Final Four—in the past three years. Seeing as the Wolverines are still alive in the Big Ten tournament and a serious threat to make a national title run, there could be five freshly hung banners in the rafters of the Crisler Center.
The leaps and bounds made by Caris LeVert, Nik Stauskas and Derrick Walton Jr. have made Michigan one of the most dangerous teams in all of college basketball. Beilin and his staff deserve all of the credit for that.
Every time the Wolverines took the floor, they improved. This is the biggest indicator of a great coaching job. Nothing less than an A+ should be bestowed upon Beilein and co. for their work this season.
It is impossible to give Michigan a grade for its entire season with the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments still remaining on its to-do list.
Failing to win the conference tournament would not be a big deal. The Wolverines proved their supremacy in the league over the course of 18 regular-season games. There is no need for them to validate their crown in Indianapolis.
Sure, winning would be a nice bonus, but regardless of how it finishes, Michigan's Big Ten season will be viewed as a major success. Nothing that happens this weekend will change that.
As for the NCAA tournament, an early exit would be disappointing and fall short of expectations. However, it would not nullify what the Wolverines were able to accomplish this season. A Big Ten title is nothing to scoff at.
Advancing to the Final Four would be the cherry on top of another great season for the Michigan basketball program. It certainly has the potential to get there. In two weeks' time, everyone will have a better idea of what grade the Wolverines should receive for their 2013-14 campaign.