Despite an abysmal first half where Michigan was held to just 20 points, the Wolverines were able to find their offense when they needed to against Maryland. Cold from beyond the arc, Michigan would find their range, sinking eleven three-point baskets, with nine of those coming in the second half. Down one point with four seconds to go, Michigan would get the ball to their senior, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, whose drive to the basket would earn him two shots. Make those, and he would have 1,000 points for his Michigan career, and more importantly a win. Sinking both, Abdur-Rahkman put the finishing touches on a 68-67 comeback win.
With a win against the Terrapins, Michigan went 2-1 in a critical six-day stretch. First, Michigan lost a one-point heartbreaker against a Purdue squad that should contend for a National Title. Then, the Wolverines would take down their bitter rival, Michigan State, on the road. Just two days later, Michigan would host Maryland in what could have been a trap game after coming off of their best win of the season. Despite it looking like a loss early, Michigan battled back; something they have done time and again this season after slow starts. The win raises the Wolverines’ record to 16-4 and 5-2 in the Big Ten Conference. It also bodes well for Michigan as the rest of this season unfolds.
Michigan can play with anyone
The UCLA victory and Texas road wins are nice for Michigan’s resume, but neither team is a National Title contender. Last week, Michigan went toe-to-toe with two title contenders and was one shot away from coming away with a 2-0 record. In their first game, Purdue was shooting lights out from beyond the arc, yet Michigan scrapped their way back into that game late, nearly pulling off the upset. Against Michigan State, the Wolverines were focused from the get go – a must on the road against such a formidable rival. A ten-point road win against a top five team stamps the Wolverines as Big Ten contenders. Even when Michigan is not shooting especially well, they can still find ways to score. And when they are stringing shots together, they can pile up points in a hurry.
The Wolverines look like a second weekend tournament team
The reasoning behind this is two-fold. First, Michigan just completed a three-game stretch which boosted their national profile. Just two weeks ago, Michigan didn’t have even a single vote in the AP poll, and now they debuted in the top 25 – at 23 – for the first time this season. Michigan already has two quality road wins (Michigan State and Texas) and can check off wins against other NCAA Tournament contenders: UCLA and Maryland. With the Big Ten suffering a down year, Michigan has just a handful of quality teams left to play. However, they still have more road opportunities which will boost their resume. As long as Michigan doesn’t play down to their competition, they have a great opportunity to reach 25 wins before the Big Dance even begins. Sitting as an 8 or 9 seed in most brackets not long ago, Michigan has risen to a 6 after last week’s games. If the Wolverines take care of business as they have been doing, a high seed is there for the taking.
Secondly, with the quick turn around from the Michigan State to Maryland game, Michigan has shown they can win games under similar pressure with just a day in between to prepare. Of course, this is exactly the type of challenge the Wolverines will face one they are in the NCAA Tournament. And they will be challenged of winning games in consecutive days during the Big Ten Tournament as well. Michigan, and Coach Beilein especially, have shown they can game plan in this type of setting and come away with multiple wins.
Michigan has scoring depth and stars
With the departures of Derrick Walton Jr, Zak Irvin, and DJ Wilson, a lot of Michigan’s scoring was lost. However, the Wolverines have seven players who can put up points for them on any given night. Moe Wagner, Charles Matthews, Duncan Robinson, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman were all going to get their opportunities to score, but there have been three key members who have been key to Michigan’s success this season: Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole, and Isaiah Livers.
Walton’s graduation was going to be the hardest on the Wolverines, as Beilein has always had a strong point guard leading his team. Despite a slow start to the season, Simpson has been a revelation for the team. In his four games before Maryland, Simpson was averaging 12.5 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Tremendous improvement for someone who scored 1.6 points, and had 0.6 rebounds and 1 assist per game in spot duty. And that’s not to mention how great a defender he is. Freshmen, Poole and Livers, have made strides throughout the season. Livers is now in the starting lineup, and Poole has been an assassin off the bench. Both have been deadly from three, shooting just under 50% on the season.
The scoring depth is great, but the Wolverines also have stars and senior leadership to get crucial points when they have to have them. Wagner and Matthews are each scoring 14.9 points per game. Wagner had 27 points on the road against Michigan State. Those two and Abdur-Rahkman can all be go-to scorers or take over games when called upon. Case in point, Abdur-Rahkman had just two points with just over a minute to go against Maryland. His three-pointer, and game winning free throws are the type of clutch plays we may come to expect from Michigan later in this season.
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