Michigan basketball is the new number 1 in the country. This is the first time Michigan has been ranked #1 since 1992, the sophomore season of the Fab Five. To put it in perspective, last time Michigan was ranked #1, Trey Burke was less than 1 month old. The Wolverines are now 20-1 and off to their best start in school history.
Is Michigan the best team in the country? Michigan State coach Tom Izzo thinks so, but who knows right now. Arguments could be made for Michigan and Kansas, or even Florida, Duke, or Indiana. What is known right now is that Michigan definitely belongs in the conversation of being the best and has definitely earned the number 1 ranking.
Chances are Michigan won’t hold onto the top spot as the number 1 team has seemingly changed every week. Michigan has a tough schedule in front of them with an away game against Indiana, 2 games against MSU still, and 1 more game with Ohio St. So enjoy being the best team in the country right now. It is fun for the fans and something Michigan followers haven’t got to enjoy in over 20 years, but it doesn’t really matter where the team is ranked in January as long as you get that #1 seed in the NCAA Tourney.
Being ranked in the top 5 all season and now being the top ranked team in the country, expectations are high this season. This is a banner year for the Wolverines [editor's note: not a lot of banners in Crisler]. Anything short of a Big 10 title would be considered a disappointment now. On top of that, Michigan should now be looking to make a long run in the tourney. Michigan should be playing for a #1 seed and with that, Michigan should be expected to make a Final 4 appearance and be considered as a national championship contender.
How has this team done it so far? It starts with the backcourt of Burke and Hardaway Jr., possibly the best backcourt in the country right now. Burke is one of the best point guards in the NCAA and a serious candidate for player of the year. He is averaging over 17 points and 7 assists per game. Last player to put up those numbers in the Big 10 was Magic Johnson (no, I’m not saying Burke is even close to Magic status). On top of that, Burke only averages 1.9 turnovers per game. He has 1 turnover or less in 12 out of 21 games played. He can score and take over games when he needs to, but also knows when to distribute and get his teammates involved. He has complete control of the offense this year.
Hardaway has returned to form after his sophomore slump. He is a reliable option on offense and can score in every way. He no longer is relying on the jump shot and 3-pointer. He is now attacking the rim when his shot isn’t there. Hardaway has also stepped up on D becoming Michigan’s best defensive player. Hardaway is now relied upon to defend the opposing team’s best offensive weapon.
Michigan has 2 freshman starting on the wings with Robinson III and Stauskas. Both are dangerous weapons on offense and are playing at a much higher level than you would expect from freshman. Michigan even has a strong presence inside at the 5 spot. The Wolverines can go at least 3 deep a the position with Morgan, freshman McGary and Horford.
Michigan’s offense is exciting and fun to watch since they have so many weapons and can score any way possible. They can score from deep, pound the ball inside, drive into the lane and create shots, and their transition offense has been outstanding. Michigan’s offense is one of the most efficient in college basketball when it comes to points per possession.
Michigan’s defense has even become a strength for the team. They are good enough defensively where they rarely switch into the 1-3-1 zone, which has been a Beilein staple in the past. Michigan is actually out rebounding their opponents this year which shows their size and depth inside. Michigan also doesn’t commit many fouls which keeps their opponents from getting to the foul line and getting free points.
It’s hard to find any weakness on this team. If anything, one might point to the youth and inexperience, but that hasn’t hurt the Wolverines except for their lone loss to Ohio St. Michigan has depth, they can play 10 deep. All 5 freshman have gotten into the rotation and are contributing. Robinson III and Stauskas are starters. Both are athletic, a threat from deep, and can create their own shot. McGary is the first off the bench playing significant minutes and brings high energy every time he’s on the court. Levert comes in to rest Hardaway and is a strength on defense with his length. Even little known recruit, Spike Albrecht gets into the game when Burke needs a rest and can run the offense without missing a beat.
This team is good and is deserving of the number 1 ranking. Michigan appears to have rebuilt the program and with the success they are having this season, Michigan should remain as a top team in the Big 10. The Wolverines are now bringing in top ranked recruiting classes and top tier, nationally ranked players. It has taken some time, but it looks like Beilein has built a program again in Ann Arbor.