Michigan basketball is another example of how much can change in a year. A year ago, the Juwan Howard-led team finished as Big 10 regular-season champions, and a one seed in the tournament. They were many analysts’ picks for cutting down the nets as the last team remaining in March Madness.
Today, Michigan is eighth in the conference standings and fighting to make it into the NCAA tournament. They are currently on a three-game skid, all against ranked Big 10 opponents.
To cap it all off, in Michigan’s most recent loss to 13th ranked Wisconsin, Juwan Howard became the talk of news outlets all over the country after getting into a physical altercation with Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard. Howard was hit with a five-game suspension, which will sideline the coach for the rest of the regular season.
With five games to go and Michigan’s basketball team in jeopardy of missing March Madness altogether, how does the team rally together and improve upon their success from a year ago?
In Juwan Howard’s absence, Michigan will need to rely on leadership from its star players, especially their upperclassmen. Senior guard Eli Brooks is the second-leading scorer on the team and will be expected to be a voice the team now lacks without Howard on the sideline.
Michigan features a rotation that includes many first- and second-year college players, including the leading scorer of the team, sophomore Hunter Dickinson. Dickinson has averaged 18 points per game at the center position and leads the team in rebounds and blocks. Although he is young, Dickinson will have to mature quickly if Michigan wants a shot at making a conference championship run.
In the future, Michigan’s schedule concludes with five straight games against some of the best teams in the Big 10, with all five firmly in the race to make the tournament. If Michigan wants to make it themselves, they will have to win at least three of the five.
Rutgers has been sneakily one of the best teams in the Big 10, beating teams such as Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin in recent games. Despite a low NET rating, the Scarlet Knights are no pushover.
Illinois and Iowa are two AP top 25 teams Michigan will face leading up to the conference tournament. Illinois won the BIG 10 championship against Michigan a year ago, so a bit of revenge may be in store this time around.
Lastly, to close the regular season, who else but Ohio State. It is no secret that these two schools do not get along, and Juwan Howard’s absence will be felt most in this intense rivalry game. Nevertheless, a win is still essential for the Wolverines.
BIG 10 Tournament and Beyond
The BIG 10 tournament is Michigan’s best opportunity not only to secure seed in March but a high, top five seed with a tournament win. Odds are not in Michigan’s favor, but stranger things have occurred in the past.
Michigan is currently +1000 to win the BIG 10, the seventh-highest odds in the conference. Juwan Howard will be back to coach the team up at this point, and he sure will have to for the team to make a run.
Michigan already will not repeat its one-seed designation from a year ago, but everyone is 0-0 come tournament time. If they can make the necessary adjustments down the home stretch without their head coach, it remains possible that the team makes a title run when it matters most.
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