It’s a little late to make bold, sweeping statements about what a Michigan men’s basketball team might be.
Just as I’m not going to tell you to sell all your shares in Wolverines, I also won’t say they’ve turned the corner and finally live up to their sky-high pre-season expectations.
At this point, they are what they are.
Michigan is a team good enough to beat those who are worse than it is, talented enough to – usually – beat those who are at the same level, and serial enough to win a win or two against a team better than it. No more, no less.
This is a bubble command.
That’s not to say that Wolverines can’t get into an NCAA tournament or even win a couple of games there. Michigan just isn’t a contender – it’s too inconsistent, too flawed.
No games have proven it to be better than last weekend’s home games against then-no. 3 Purdue and then-No. 16 Ohio. At first the Wolverines clicked; they played their best game of the season and kicked out of the gym one of the best teams in the country, beating the Boilermakers with a score of 24. Fans stormed the court and reveled in what seemed like a new beginning for their mysterious Michigan team.
After a season full of disappointment and overshadowed by unfulfilled expectations, local interests have finally strengthened again. Saturday’s game against the Buckeyes sold out Crisler Center for only the second time this season – and for the first time since the game began. But you probably know what happened next.
And not only lost – lost without much struggle. Never leading in the second half, the Wolverines failed to come out with more than six points and they endured another horrible day from behind the arc, shooting 4 to 17.
The post-game press conference was grim. The team seemed tired after four games in eight days, but she was still acutely aware of the opportunity that had just slipped away.
“I’m just sorry we didn’t win,” Michigan coach Juvan Howard complained. “Because it was nice to see the support that came out today.”
Fifth-year guard Eli Brooks expressed a similar tone when trying to describe what went wrong:
“We have carried out a recovery, we have taken all the necessary steps to come out and fulfill our capabilities,” he said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t fall to you, and not tonight.”
The sentiments expressed by Brooks are indeed a simple truth. Brooks talked about it over and over again. As captain of Raamahi, he almost always plays for the team after a loss, and given that Michigan often shoots as badly as on Saturday, Brooks repeats quite often:
“We just didn’t take advantage of the shots. We know we can hit the ball. … We just need to get up and throw, ”Brooks said after losing to Rutgers on Jan. 4, a game in which Wolverine threw a 3-on-15 of three.
“If we look good, we have to make punches,” he said after losing to Minnesota on Dec. 11, another game where Michigan broke out of the arc, 6-on-18.
“I think it was just one of those nights when the ball didn’t hit,” he said after Raamaha’s first defeat of the season against Sitan Hall on November 16. They were still in the top five and had the first of many bad shooting figures, going just 3-on-15 from depth.
It is now clear that the defeat by the Pirates was not just “one of those nights”. In fact it was a premonition of the next 20 games, the bright red flag of who Michigan was destined to become.
The poor shooting that plagued Wolverine for a year is not their only problem, but it is a manifestation of a bigger problem: Michigan is too volatile to be one of the best in the country. No number of sporadic speeches other than light will fix this.
Over the last seven games, Raamahi will certainly need a few more nights of hot shooting if they want to spend a significant postseason. They’re good enough to do it, and talented enough to expect it. They still have a chance to save something from this season.
Although at the moment it’s almost certainly not deep in March. It’s an honor, it’s a tournament application, heck, maybe even a tournament or two.
But if Michigan doesn’t win the NIT, it’s probably not a banner.