I don’t know about you, but I admire Jon Beilein quite a bit. He has led a successful Michigan program for many years and embodies many of the great aspects of college basketball. Michigan never has horrible years. Beilein recruits well but isn’t necessarily getting all the one-and-done five-star recruits. He builds a team the right way.
That being said, I also really like beating Michigan, especially after they embarrassed Illinois in the B1G Tournament last year.
Let’s take a look at how the Wolverines’ season has gone, so far:
So Far This Season
As always, Michigan has been pretty steady and consistent. Coming into Saturday’s game against Illinois, the Wolverines are 13-3. Notable non-conference teams they have beaten thus far include VCU (68-60 on Nov. 22), UCLA (78-69 in OT on Dec. 9) and Texas (59-52 on Dec. 12). They have started 2-1 in conference play, defeating Iowa and Indiana.
Their three losses have been interesting, though. The Wolverines lost pretty soundly to no. 13 North Carolina, the defending champions, which is certainly not anything to be upset about. The other two losses were to Ohio State (71-62 on Dec. 4) and LSU (77-75 on Nov. 20 at the Maui Invitational). In that loss to Ohio State, Michigan scored just 19 points in the second half while shooting 17.24% from the field. Ohio State is considered a bottom-feeder in the Big Ten this year.
Aside from that Ohio State loss, Michigan has been solid this year. As a team, they shoot 48.5% from the field and nearly 37% from three-point range. They have three players that score in double figures each game (Charles Matthews, Mo Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman). Defensively, they are excellent, too. They hold opponents to 61.1 points per game.
Key Losses and Additions
Beilein did lose a few important players, but also gained several more to move into those spots. DJ Wilson left the team to declare for the NBA draft and was just recently assigned to the Milwaukee Bucks’ G-League team. Wilson was fourth on the team in scoring, but Beilein also lost Derrick Walton, Jr., Zak Irvin and Mark Donnall to graduation. Walton and Irvin were first and second on the team with 15.5 and 13.0 points per game, respectively.
The additions are really huge here. Charles Matthews, the former Chicago-St.Rita star and Illini target, transferred over from Kentucky and is having a great year for the maize and blue through 16 games. He’s leading the team with 16 points and adds over five boards per game. The two biggest recruits out of high school Beilein got were Jordan Poole, a four-star guard from La Lumiere (originally from Milwaukee) and Mr. Basketball from the state of Michigan, Isaac Livers, a four-star power forward. Those young guys have already shown they can compete, too.
There’s plenty of guys that could make this list for Michigan. Although Matthews is a guard, his 6’6” frame puts him at an immediate advantage over nearly any team. But I believe the guy who will do the most damage is the 6’11”, 245 pound junior from Germany, Moritz Wagner.
Wagner is second on the team with 14.1 points per game and leads the team with 7.2 rebounds per game. He can hit outside shots and is taller than anyone Illinois can throw at him on defense. If he continues to improve this year, he will be getting plenty of looks at the next level. Black and Finke are going to have a difficult time containing him.
Michigan is one of the top teams in the Big Ten this year. Wagner brings a unique combination of height, shooting and athleticism, On the other hand, Adbur-Rahkman brings experience, and Matthews is a consistent scoring threat.
After the first half debacle at Minnesota, I can’t see this team winning many games this year if they continue their slow start. Wagner will be a particularly difficult matchup for Underwood to figure out as well. Unfortunately, it looks like the Illini will start the B1G season 0-4.
Michigan 81, Illinois 72