As the month of February ticks along, we inch ever closer to college basketball fans favorite time of year: March Madness. Sunday’s win for Michigan over the #8 Buckeyes sealed their tournament hopes for yet another season. It is no secret that Michigan is playing for seeding as opposed to fighting for their tournament lives at this point in the season due to the evolution of many under the radar pieces:
Steady Point Guard play:
From Darius Morris to Trey Burke to Derrick Walton, all of Michigan’s most successful teams have had a point guard playing at a high level. This year started out with major question marks at that spot and early on it was more of a point guard by committee. Since the start of Big Ten play, Zavier Simpson grabbed hold of the starting job and hasn’t looked back.
Simpson has provided a steady hand with a near 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and has even provided a surprising scoring punch with double-digits in 8 of 16 big ten outings. You can’t sugar coat Simpson’s less than stellar free-throw shooting nearly costing the Wolverines a couple games. Without him though, Michigan wouldn’t be in the position they are.
Even to the untrained eye, it was apparent pretty early on Isaiah Livers belongs in the starting lineup. From day-one, Livers was always a plus defender compared to his counterpart in Duncan Robinson, but it took longer for him to develop offensively. In a year where Michigan’s identity is surprisingly more about winning with defense, Livers fits the mold nicely. Having him in the starting rotation also allows for Duncan Robinson to come in hot off the pine with fresh shooting legs.
Robinson made 11 of 17 threes in his previous two games prior to Ohio State and is shooting at an effective 38% overall from deep. Spark plug Jordan Poole is also shooting the three ball at 38%, but has the chance to fill the scorer’s sheet every time he enters the game. Look no further than Sundays contest where he gave Michigan a much needed shot in the arm with 5 threes off the bench. It is tough for teams to contain two elite three-point gunners — Beilein relishes in the luxury of bringing both off the bench which makes Michigan as tough an out as anybody come March.
Moe Wagner may be less than a god, but more than a man — even he can’t play 40 minutes and has an off game once and a while. Big John certainly isn’t the flashiest of players, but he has transitioned from looking like a fish out of water to a steady contributor averaging 4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 12 minutes played per game. Although improved, Wagner has never been the best defender or rebounder. Depending on the matchup and game flow, Teske is a nice weapon off the bench and a huge reason why Michigan is primed for a run in the Big Dance.