By: Dan Leach
The Michigan Wolverines basketball team will wake up Tuesday with the #1 ranking in the AP poll for the first time since December of 1992, the second year of the Fab Five. Serendipitously the last time they held the number one spot they lost to Duke, this time a Duke loss was the reason they got it back. If you wanted to get technical though, the 92-93 season was vacated because of the Ed Martin scandal so this is the first legitimate time since the year I was born in 1977. That season they started number when and held it all the way through the regular season. Bottom line, it hasn’t happened often in Michigan basketball history so in my opinion this is a big deal.
Some will say that having a number one ranking in late January doesn’t really matter or with how tough the B10 is this year they likely won’t hold it long. The way I look at it thought is I have felt that Michigan has had all the ingredients to be the best team in the country from the start. It is just being recognized now in a poll, which doesn’t matter as much as the final result. What does matter is how this team is playing and how they have gotten better as the season has moved along. They recovered very well from their only loss and are have the belief that they can, they should, and they will beat anyone they play.
Here are the top five reasons why I think Michigan is the best team in the country:
5 – The Freshman are playing like veterans- These days in college basketball there are many top Freshman that come in for one year and dominate and then take their talents to the NBA a season later. Anthony Davis is a perfect example for last year’s National Champion Kentucky team. It is rare though when there are multiple freshman on the same team that not only are playing huge, but also are leaders on the team right away which is an important part of any team with title aspirations. Mitch McGary has become an emotional leader and is a presence in the post offensively and defensively. GR3 has fast become one of the most exciting players in college basketball and is becoming a true scoring threat. Nik Stauskas is not only the best three-point shooter in the B10, but is also top 20 nationally.
4 – The Wolverines are in the top thirty nationally in four very important categories - All of the past five National Champs were top thirty in at least three of these.
Scoring (12th-78.4 ppg)
Field Goal % (3rd- .510%)
3-point Field Goal % (7th – 408%)
Assists Per game (30th-15.6)
3 – John Beilein-Beilein has simply been successful everywhere he has coached and Michigan is no difference. The team has improved in each of his six seasons there and they truly have bought into his system. Beilein has managed the Freshman wonderfully this year and is getting the most out of his players whether they play most of the game like Burke or Hardaway Jr, or play important situational roles like Caris LeVert or Jon Horford. They players have undying belief in their coach and he has that same belief in his players which is key for a team to traverse through the tough NCAA basketball tournament.
2 - Best guard tandem in college basketball-Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr have been nothing short of dominant this year, they are ranked second and fifth, respectively, in points per game in the B10. They also rarely turn the ball over and have developed into two of the most reliable ball handlers in the country. One of the biggest parts of the formula for winning the National Title is having a guard that can take over a game in the tourney, the Wolverines have two.
1 – Michigan is the deepest team in the country-They have a legitimate big man in Jordan Morgan, which is vital to winning a title. They have some of the best scorers in the country in Burke, Hardaway Jr, and Stauskas. Glenn Robinson III is the kind of player that can be pivotal for a deep tournament run with his innate ability to create scoring opportunities. Mitch McGary seems to just be getting better and better as the season goes along and his post play will be vital during March. Levert, Horford, and Vogrich know their roles and when they come in don’t waste minutes.