Michigan Championship Game Preview and Prediction

March has come and gone and, in the blink of an eye, we’re now in April. The NCAA Men’s championship game is here and the matchup is set.

The game features a 1-seed in Villanova that many picked to get here and many chose to win it all. Their opponent is the 3-seeded Michigan Wolverines, who once sat at 19-7 after a loss to Northwestern in early February.

But that was their most recent loss, U of M is arguably the hottest team in college hoops at the moment. They are on a 14 game winning streak and that has led them to a Big 10 tournament championship and their spot in the championship game tonight. But it will be a mighty tough task if they want to keep that streak alive.

While Michigan might be the hottest team in the country, the team they are facing just may be the best squad in the nation. Villanova is on a ten game winning streak of their own and have annihilated their competition in the tournament. They’ve won every game of the tourney by double-digits, with their smallest margin of victory being 12 against West Virginia and Texas Tech and their biggest margin being 26 against Radford.

Oh, and the Wildcats just might have the best player in college basketball in Jalen Brunson. The AP Player of the Year and Wooden Award finalist has averaged 17.6 points per game in the five game of the tournament. That is slightly under his season average of 19.2, but he is still a fantastic player who is tough to stop.

He also has a teammate, Mikal Bridges, who is most likely a lottery pick in this years NBA draft. He has averaged 14.8 PPG during the tournament, which is also under his season average of 17.6, but these two are a dynamic duo who are tough to contain.

But the Wolverines have a dynamite combination of their own. Moritz Wagner and Charles Matthews have played great during Michigan’s tourney run and are going to be huge keys in this game. Wagner has averaged 14.8 PPG game during the tournament, a little above his 14.6 season average. He also went off in U of M’s Final Four matchup against Loyola-Chicago, and scored 24 points and had 15 rebounds.

But Matthews has been the key cog in the Maize and Blue’s offense all tournament long. He has averaged 16.6 PPG in the five games, which is well above his 13.1 season average. He has played more aggressively and been the spark this offense needs when its leading scorer, Wagner, hasn’t played up to par.

This game is a clash of two teams who are polar opposites. Villanova has been an offensive juggernaut all year and deadly from deep. They’ve averaged 84.8 points per game and they’ve shot 42% from behind the 3-point line during the tournament. That percentage from deep is actually a little better than their already great 40% on the year.

Michigan, on the other hand, has shot poorly from beyond the arc during the tournament. They are shooting an abysmal 31.7% from 3 and that is largely bolstered by a 14-24 showing against Texas A&M. They are also only averaging 70.2 PPG in their five games, which is also inflated thanks to the 99 they scored against A&M.

But John Beilein’s team has prided itself on its defense all year, and that has been the biggest reason they’ve made it this far. Michigan, during its five games in the tourney, has held their opponents to 58.6 PPG and a measly 24% from downtown. They will need to continue this stellar defensive play if they want to stay in this game.

There are also two players, besides Wagner and Matthews, for U of M who need to come up big if they want to come out victorious. Those two guys are Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.

Simpson is the floor general for Michigan’s offense and will need to play better than he did against Loyola. He was scoreless and only had three assists in Saturday’s game. He will need to score, at least a few points, for his team to win this one. Simpson is also the leader of this defense, but he will have a tough task in guarding Brunson. He is used to hounding the opposing point guard and had played great all year on that end, but Brunson will be his hardest matchup by far. Slowing him down may be the key to a U of M victory.

As for MAAR, he will need to be a spark for this offense. He went 2-11 from the field for 7 points against the Ramblers on Saturday. He will need to be a lot more effective against Villanova if he wants to end his Michigan career as a champion.

Now for my prediction. While the betting line in Vegas currently sits anywhere between Nova being favored by 6 and 7, I think this game will be closer than most think. Both teams are talented and can be dangerous from deep. But I think Jay Wright ultimately gets his second championship and the Wildcats win 84-79.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wolverines got hot like they did against Texas A&M and get U of M’s second championship in school history. After all, I predicted this team to get to the Final Four before the tournament started and they exceeded that by reaching the title game.

This team definitely has the talent to leave San Antonio as NCAA champions. Only time will if they will.

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Prediction for Michigan’s NCAA Tournament Journey

Selection Sunday has come and gone. The brackets are made up and teams are either happy, upset, or content with where they were/were not seeded and placed.

The Michigan Wolverines coming off a strong 28-7 record and a Big Ten tournament championship were rewarded with the 3 seed in the West Region. While some may have thought they deserved a 2 seed after reaching number 7 in the AP and Coaches Poll, a 3 seed seems pretty fitting to me.

Their first game will be Thursday night at 9:50 p.m. ET against the Grizzlies of Montana. The Griz received a 14 seed after a 26-7 record and winning the Big Sky tournament.

I’ll go through each round for Michigan and predict whether they will win and advance or lose and head back to Ann Arbor. For the sake of making too many predictions, I will just assume the higher seed will win in Michigan’s potential games.

First Round: Michigan’s first round game, as mentioned earlier, will be against the Montana Grizzlies. While the Grizzlies had a nice season and won the Big Sky, I believe the Wolverines will be a tough matchup and handle them rather easily. Their two leading scorers, Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine, make up the backcourt. Michigan has a dynamic defensive duo in their backcourt, Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, that I think will more than hold their own. Michigan advances with a 76-59 win.

Second Round: Michigan’s second round match-up would come against the Houston Cougars. Houston had a pretty solid season with a 26-6 record and 14-4 in the AAC. They rely heavily on the play of senior guard Rob Gray who averages over 18 points a game. However I think Duncan Robinson and Charles Matthews will carry this squad to a close victory in this one and a second consecutive Sweet 16 berth. Michigan wins 71-65.

Sweet 16: Michigan’s Sweet 16 match-up may be their toughest match-up throughout the entire tournament. They would face the North Carolina Tar Heels, who defeated U of M 86-71 earlier in the season. Michigan was a struggling team back then and hadn’t quite found themselves yet. I think this time around things can and will be different. Zavier Simpson has grown and his battle with Joel Berry II will be a fierce one. I believe Michigan will come out victorious in this one 68-66 and advance to the Elite 8.

Elite 8: The Xavier Musketeers would be the team Michigan would face in the Elite 8 if the seeding held true. They have a high scoring offense and average over 84 points a contest. Senior Trevon Bluiett leads the offensive attack by scoring over 19 points a game. He is a fantastic talent and Michigan will have to work as team to slow this young man down. But I believe the Maize and Blue will come out ready to rock and roll in this one and Moe Wagner will show up and produce a double-double and lead his team to the victory. U of M advances to the Final Four in San Antonio with a 81-74 win.

Because predicting the Final Four match-ups would lead to too much of a guessing game (and picking the highest seed doesn’t seem right as the odds of all the number 1 seeds making it there are highly unlikely) I will just finish up my prediction this way.

I honestly believe this is one of John Beilein’s best teams he’s ever coached and has the potential talent to reach the Final Four. I think when they are on offensively, they can hang with and beat anyone in the country because of the way this team plays on the defensive end. They play as a team and take care of the ball. They also don’t commit many fouls, which will bode well in a one and done style format as well.

Michigan has a legitimate star in Moe Wagner. The others who contribute are no slouches either and they all do their part to lead this team. Simpson, Matthews, Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman have all carried their own weight and had their moments this season. And that also goes without mentioning players such as Isaiah Livers, Jordan Poole and Jon Teske, who have also contributed greatly to this team.

I’ll end with making a final prediction for this squad. I truly believe they will make the Final Four, but will ultimately end up losing to either Virginia or Arizona in their match-up with the South Region winner. Just because I don’t have them winning it all or making it to the championship game, I wouldn’t be shocked if this team did cut the nets down April 2nd.

This team can do it, but will they?

That’s the fun part of March Madness. Everyone thinks they know who will advance, but upsets are awaiting unsuspecting teams and Cinderella’s are waiting to be born.

Let the madness begin.

Back-to-Back

The Michigan Wolverines basketball team won their second consecutive Big Ten tournament. Their journey to this title was a little less dramatic and eventful than just a season ago (plane incident), but still just as sweet and satisfying for fans nonetheless.

They started off by playing Iowa on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. They defeated the Hawkeyes 77-71 in an ugly, overtime thriller. While U of M didn’t play the greatest in their opening game at MSG, their next three games showed what this team is capable when rolling on all cylinders.

Their next game took place on Friday against Nebraska, and the Wolverines routed the Cornhuskers 77-58. This match-up allowed the Maize and Blue to exact some revenge after their 72-52 loss back in mid-January.

The Wolverines then entered the semifinals with a much-anticipated rematch against Michigan State. Michigan had beaten the Spartans 82-72 earlier this season, ultimately came out victorious yet again with a 75-64 score on Saturday. A 2-0 record against your in-state rival is always nice and had to be extra sweet because people strongly believe that this is one of, if not the most, talented teams Tom Izzo has had in East Lansing.

John Beilein’s squad advanced to the finals to battle with the Purdue Boilermakers. The Wolverines played tough against them both times this season but came up empty-handed with an 0-2 record against Matt Painter’s crew. The result was not similar Sunday night when U of M controlled much of the game and came away winners of the game and the Big Ten tournament as well.

This year’s Big Ten Tournament run proved this team can potentially be very dangerous in the NCAA tournament. They saw good games from their stars and upperclassmen like Moe Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. But they also saw solid production from lesser used players and unsung heroes like sophomore Jon Teske.

These red-hot Wolverines also proved they can overcome bad games or foul trouble from their star player, Wagner, who fouled out against Iowa and shot 4-14 (0-7 in the first half) against MSU.

This team moved up to no. 7 in the latest AP and Coaches Poll after their four tournament wins. I believe this proves that their ceiling could be a possible no. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, given that everything goes right and some of the big dogs go down early in their respective conference tournaments. Realistically, I think this team ends up being a three-seed come Selection Sunday.

Whatever seeding they receive, they’re primed to be a tough out against whoever they play and will be a dark horse Final Four candidate in my mind. John Beilein is an underrated, amazing coach, and leading this team to back-to-back Big Ten Tournament titles proves just that. After all, Drake said it best when he sang “Back to Back.”…

 

What does this recruiting class mean for Harbaugh, Michigan?

The 2018 Michigan Football recruiting class was ranked as low as it’s been since the Rich Rodriguez/Brady Hoke transitional period.

This class was ranked at the no. 21 spot nationally according to 247Sports. Third in the Big Ten conference, behind both Ohio State and Penn State.

Four star LB Otis Reese jumped ship on his prior commitment to Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, signed with Georgia instead. The Wolverines were also unable to land primary target five-star OT Nicholas Petit-Frere, as he signed with Ohio State. Missing out on Petit-Frere wasn’t exactly a surprise given recent events leading up to this week.

Ultimately, Michigan wasn’t victorious on national signing day. Harbaugh and his staff were unable to land a third consecutive top ten recruiting class.

If the 8-5 season wasn’t enough of a reality check (which it should be), then look no further. How long can a program continuously fail to win important games, be nationally irrelevant, and still land major recruits?

For years, Michigan has been one of the nation’s easiest recruiting jobs. National exposure, biggest stadium in football, the hype, the tradition, the brand. Kids wanted to come be apart of this rebuild that fans have been waiting on for well over a decade.

Add first year head coach Jim Harbaugh to the equation, runner-up head coach in Super Bowl 47. He’s a celebrity, he dabs, he hangs out with the Migos, he climbs trees, and he’ll even come sleep over at your house.

Appealing for recruits, right? Absolutely, but do you know when that stops being cute? When he goes 1-5 against his chief rivals for his first three seasons, doesn’t finish better than third in his own division, and goes 1-2 in bowl games. Did I mention that Michigan pays Harbaugh $9 million per year?

Look, this post wasn’t intended for Harbaugh criticisms, we can cover that another day. The point I’m getting at: recruits aren’t buying into Harbaugh and Michigan anymore.

Why aren’t they buying into it? Quite simple. They’re realizing that Michigan has been all bark and no bite for quite some time now.

You can sell hope to these kids for so long, but when it becomes a trend to sell hope, obviously results are scarce. Recruits don’t want the preseason top ten ranking, they want a trip to Indy and to win something of national relevance.

I won’t act as if this class was a total failure because Michigan most definitely signed some kids who will contribute significantly. They just lack the heavy hitters, the five stars, the kids you expect to sign with a big name like Michigan. There was not one recruit ranked in the top 100 for this class.

This has been Harbaugh’s quietest offseason yet regarding headlines for Michigan, and I believe that speaks volumes. He’s been humbled by the 8-5 season and understands that he needs to attend to his program.

To regain an upper-edge on the recruiting trail yet again, the formula is easier than you think. It’s not about hiring better recruiters, it’s not about cool uniforms, it’s not about going to France for Spring Break, and it’s not about sleepovers. Sure, those things are fun and can help in certain scenarios. But it’s about winning.

Recruiting is fun to evaluate and analyze. It makes the college football offseason worthwhile, good way to compare programs off the field. However, at the end of the day, stars are stars and players make plays. The coaches put those players in the position to make said plays; here’s an unpopular example most Michigan fans will cringe at:

Mark Dantonio consistently recruits classes with a slightly similar talent caliber to Michigan’s 2018 class on a good year. The results are there, the program is in good hands.

Dantonio has beaten Harbaugh two out of three times, won a Big Ten Championship, appeared in the playoffs,  and beaten Ohio State. They’re doing okay for themselves outside of their recent 3-9 season.

Michigan State landed just 21 four/five-star recruits combined in the 2015, 16, 17, and 18 classes. Michigan, on the other hand, has landed 47 four/five-star recruits combined in the same time period.

The bottom line is that Harbaugh has a roster with raw talent and he’s not developing them, thus far at least. I used Dantonio as an example because he clearly gets the most out of what he gets.

It’s a luxury to have a top 25 ranked class in the nation and refer to it as a disappointment. While it currently is trending downward, Michigan is still an easy recruiting job. It will continuously plummet if results remain to be nonexistent.

Michigan should not expect kids to keep coming to their school when they evidently see that talent leaves un-accomplished. Jabrill Peppers? Rashan Gary? What do these two five-star recruits have under their belts? Good individual performances, of course. But zero wins against the Buckeyes (so far, Gary has 1-2 more seasons).

Four senior classes at Michigan have went all four seasons winless against Ohio State since the turn of the century. That is an unappealing stat for recruits to look at.

This class shows that Michigan is hurting, something we already knew, but no one should be surprised by the outcome. This is a direct product of the 2017-18 season. It’s going on year four now, and Harbaugh has quite the job ahead of him. Win big games, and you can win big recruits again.

Grading Michigan’s Roster Halfway Through Conference Play

Michigan has played nine Big Ten games so far and have nine more to go. Their record in these nine conference contests is 6-3, which is currently good for fourth in the Big Ten behind Ohio State (9-0), Purdue (8-0), and Michigan State (6-2). The Wolverines have also played 22 games overall and sit at 17-5.

I would like to go through U of M’s roster and grade each player so far based on their expectations heading into the season and their performance so far now that conference play if halfway over. While the roster is composed of 17 players, I am only going to grade players who have played in at least half of the teams games so far (my apologies to C.J. Baird, Austin Davis, Brent Hibbitts, Naji Ozeir, Rico Ozuna-Harrison, and Luke Wilson).

I am going to list the remaining players alphabetically and talk about how each player has performed so far and what they can improve on moving forward. I will then give each player a grade.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman– The senior is currently third on the team in both points per game (10.5) and rebounds per game (4.0). He also is one of the best in the nation with a 5.82 assist-to-turnover ratio. The one improvement I was hoping to see from MAAR this year was in his scoring. He has improved on his 9.1 PPG from last year but his shooting percentages overall and from beyond the three-point line have dropped. He needs to attack the basket more and get to the free throw line more often as he is shooting a crisp 87% from the charity stripe. Abdur-Rahkman needs to show a little more senior leadership as this season moves forward as well.

Mid-Season Grade: B-

Eli Brooks– The freshman point guard has been a solid option off the bench for coach John Beilein. He provides a spark in his limited action and has held his own while giving starter Zavier Simpson a breather. His biggest knock so far on the season has got to be his shooting. He is shooting an abysmal 29% from the field and an even worse 25% from 3. Brooks needs to improve on his shooting if he wants to be a consistent contributor to the team.

Mid-Season Grade: B-

Isaiah Livers– The freshman from Kalamazoo has had a great season so far. He is averaging 4.6 PPG while shooting a fantastic 52% from the field and 41% from downtown. He has also taken his new starting role in stride. He came in for the struggling senior Duncan Robinson and has held his own against other teams starters. The one knock I have for Livers is his rebounding. He is 6’7″ but is only averaging 2.6 RPG. I think this can, and will, improve as he learns how to play with the big boys.

Mid-Season Grade: A-

Charles Matthews– The transfer from Kentucky is having a fine season so far, leading the Wolverines with 14.6 PPG and is second on the squad with 5.2 RPG. He is fearless when attacking the rim and is shooting over 52% from the field. His one weakness is shooting from beyond the arc. His 33% from 3-point range needs to improve as the season progresses and if this team wants to be successful come postseason play.

Mid-Season Grade: B

Jordan Poole– The freshman from Milwaukee has been a revelation off the bench for Coach Beilein so far. He is fifth on the team with 6.3 PPG in only ten minutes per contest. He is shooting over 41% from deep and 49% from the field overall. The biggest struggle for Poole so far has been his court vision. His assist-to-turnover ratio is an awful 1:2 as he has only seven assists on the season to 14 turnovers. That needs to improve if this young buck wants to see more minutes off the bench.

Mid-Season Grade: A-

Duncan Robinson– Even though Robinson, a fifth year player, was demoted from the starting lineup and replaced by a freshman, he is still contributing nicely. He is fourth on the team in PPG (9.0) and has the best free-throw percentage (minimum 10 attempts) with a sparkling 92%. His area of weakness is on the defensive end and is usually a lot slower or undersized compared to many of the players he is defending.

Mid-Season Grade: B

Jaaron Simmons– The graduate transfer from Ohio has provided this team with some solid play in a backup point guard role with a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But I was expecting more from the 2017 first-team All-MAC selection, especially on the offensive end. He averaged 15.9 PPG last year while shooting 43% from the field, 34% from beyond the arc and 72% from the FT line. I know his role has diminished since his days as a Bobcat and the Mid-American Conference is a far cry from the Big Ten, but his dip in shooting percentages is alarming. This year he is shooting 26% overall, 20% from 3-point range and 62% from the charity stripe. Maybe I was just expecting a little too much.

Mid-Season Grade: C

Zavier Simpson– The sophomore, who dropped the “X” from his name and took on a “Z”, has played outstanding so far this season. He is leading the Wolverines with 3.5 assists per game and 1.2 steals per game. Simpson has taken on the role of starting point guard for this team and has led them admirably after learning under the U of M great Derrick Walton, Jr. last year. His biggest area of improvement has got to be at the free-throw line. He is only shooting 51% from the line and some teams have gone with the “Hack-A-Shaq” approach with him late in games.

Mid-Season Grade: A-

Jon Teske– The sophomore has played pretty well when he has had to fill in for Moe Wagner, whether it be for injury or foul trouble, this season. He is fourth on team with 3.6 RPG, which is nice, but I also think this is the area where Teske can improve. He is 7’1″ and is usually one of the biggest guys on the court. He needs to use that big body of his to accrue even more rebounds in his time on the court.

Mid-Season Grade: B

Moritz Wagner– The big man from Germany has had an excellent junior campaign so far. He is second on the team in scoring with 14.3 PPG and is first with 7.1 RPG. He has also produced four double-doubles. Wagner’s biggest area of improvement though has got to do with his consistency. He’s had some monster games (21 points, 10 rebounds against UC Riverside, 27 and 4 against Michigan State, 18 and 11 vs. Maryland) but he has also produced some duds (4 points and 6 boards at Iowa and 2 points with 7 rebounds at Nebraska). Wagner is a tremendous talent and just needs to play like he is every game.

Mid-Season Grade: B+

Ibi Watson– The sophomore has provided a nice option off the bench for the Maize and Blue. He is only averaging 2.8 PPG, albeit in only 6 minutes per game, and is shooting a nice 37.5% from downtown. Watson’s biggest knock is his size (6’5″ but only 200 pounds) and is generally undersized when Beilein uses him in small forward role. But he is still young and will continue to grow and get stronger as the year moves on.

Mid-Season Grade: B-

 

 

 

Good Week for Michigan Hoops (Which Could’ve Been Even Better)

This past week the Michigan Wolverines basketball team played three games. Two of them came against top five ranked programs. They took on the Purdue Boilermakers at home in the Crisler Center and traveled to East Lansing to take on MSU. U of M then came back home to take on Maryland. They went 2-1 in those games and had a great chance to have gone 3-0.

The Purdue game was a good test for this Wolverine squad as they were hosting the number five ranked team in the country and their fantastic big man Isaac Haas. It was also their second game against a ranked opponent this season after losing to the North Carolina Tar Heels in late November.

It was a hard-fought game with Purdue leading throughout the night and by as many as 14 points early in the first half. But U of M clawed their way back and took a 64-61 lead with just under five minutes to go in the second half. Ultimately, they ended up losing 70-69 and fell to 3-2 in Big Ten play.

Michigan then traveled to the Breslin Center to take on the fourth-ranked Spartans. Michigan State, which was coming off a blowout loss to Ohio State and a close overtime win over Rutgers, had to be fired up to play their arch rivals, especially after losing to them 86-57 the last time they met.

But that was not the case. Michigan State held a slim 37-34 lead at the break but it was Michigan who came out to play in the second half and arrived back home in Ann Arbor with a 82-72 win over their in-state rival and a 4-2 record in conference play.

The Maryland game was also a hard-fought battle with the Terps leading by as many as 14 in the first half but the Wolverines coming out victorious 68-67. They also ran their Big Ten record to 5-2, good for third in the conference. It probably shouldn’t have come down to that as Michigan led by ten with just under six minutes to go, but a win is a win regardless of how you get it.

Over the course of these three games, the Wolverines showed plenty of things to be happy about moving forward, but there was also some signs for concern as well.

The biggest positive over this past week was the play of junior big man Moritz Wagner. While his game against Purdue wasn’t his best (11 points on 5-11 shooting and 6 rebounds), he showed up against the Spartans.

He scored a career high 27 points and grabbed four boards. He also shot 8-8 from the free throw line which is a good sign as he came into the game shooting just 65% from the charity stripe.

He also came to play against Maryland. He racked up a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds and was a big spark for his team in the second half. And while many will still say he is inconsistent, which is fairly true, he showed he has tremendous talent and can show up in the biggest of games.

Another positive for this team over the past three games was the play of their underclassmen. Zavier Simpson set a career high in points scored with 15 against Purdue and bested himself again with 16 against MSU. And while his game against the Terrapins wasn’t anything to write home about with five points, he still dished out five assists too.

Isaiah Livers scored 10, 6 and 7 points respectively in the three games and has provided John Beilein a nice option over the struggling senior Duncan Robinson. He even made the beautiful half-court pass to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman that set up the game winning free throws against the Terps.

Even lesser used young bucks like Jordan Poole, Eli Brooks and Jon Teske have held their own. Those three have come in and answered the call when they give starters like Wagner and Simpson a break.

Poole may have even forced his way into more playing time with his performance against Maryland. He scored 11 points on 4-5 shooting in 13 minutes and was the only other Wolverine besides Wagner to score in double figures. He also went 3-3 from beyond the arc in a two-minute stretch which saw Michigan go from being down seven to up by four.

The biggest negative takeaway from this past week of games has been the play of the two seniors who see playing time in Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson. MAAR shot 8-29 from the field and 3-10 from the 3-point line for a combined 28 points over the three games.

Robinson shot 4-11 from the field and 3-7 from beyond the arc for a total of 13 points. He was also replaced by Livers in the starting lineup for the MSU game.

And while Abdur-Rahkman hit the two clutch free throws to beat Maryland and became the 52nd Wolverine to score 1,000 points in his career (which is an awesome feat), he still needs to play better as the most tested veteran on this budding team.

Another negative from these past three games has been the free-throw shooting. They haven’t been good all year as their team percentage has hovered in the low to mid 60s all year and the Purdue game was no different. They shot 7-11 (63%) and lost by a point. Against Michigan State they actually shot 80% (28-35), but started off 20-20, and went 8-15 down the final stretch of the game when they mattered the most which gave MSU life. The Maryland game wasn’t good either with the team shooting 7-12 (58%) and Zavier Simpson missing two near the end of the game, which almost cost his team a win.

But even with those negatives, this Michigan team proved they can play with anybody in the country. Purdue is no joke and is currently ranked behind only Villanova and Virginia in the latest AP poll. Michigan State is still a good team with the talent to make some noise come March. Maryland is no slouch either and should end up in the top half of the conference.

U of M also entered the AP Top-25 for the first time this season with a number 23 ranking after their victory against MSU. And while they almost lost it right after they earned it with the nail-biter against Maryland, they should be a mainstay in the rankings for the rest of the season.

Coach Beilein always has his teams prepared as the season goes on and this team is no different. Michigan fans should be excited for the rest of this season, especially after this past week.

The Wolverines are a very young team as they rely on five underclassmen to perform and contribute. So while that could be a negative, I think it will be a positive, as they are only getting better. This past week clearly proved that.

A 2-1 record in your past three games may not be what many teams would want to write home about but, with the three teams they played and how they played, Michigan should be excited for what is yet to come.

Jim Harbaugh: From God to National Punching Bag

The 2017-18 season was nothing short of a nightmare scenario for the Michigan Football program. In Jim Harbaugh’s third season with the program, the Wolverines went an unexpected 8-5 after a preseason top ten ranking, losing to both rivals. Michigan’s best win of the season was a 28-10 win against a 7-win Purdue team. Three different starting quarterbacks for Michigan strung together just 9 passing touchdowns on the season for an offense that struggled all season long.

Sitting at a 28-11 overall record, 1-5 in rivalry games, and 1-2 in bowl games, is Jim Harbaugh’s tenure going how anyone expected it to? Under Harbaugh, Michigan has finished 3rd, 3rd, and 4th in the Big Ten East Division. Looking at a big picture, the first three seasons of the Harbaugh era have been a disappointment.

When Jim Harbaugh arrived to Ann Arbor, one could compare it to the welcoming of the messiah. The Michigan fan base was kissing the ground that the former 49ers head coach had walked on, expectation for success was affirmative. This was considerably the home-run hire of the off-season in all of sports. It was a very popular opinion that Michigan would be back in the conversation for the playoffs very shortly because of Jim Harbaugh’s reputation to turnaround programs quickly much like he did at Stanford and in San Francisco.

Year One:

2015 came along, the first season under the “prodigal son” of Michigan Football, Jim Harbaugh’s, leadership. Expectations were high, but somewhat realistic in knowing that this was previously a 5-win ball club just a season prior.

The season started off with a disappointing Thursday night prime-time loss to Utah on the road. The tides took a turn several weeks later once Utah started emerging into a national contender, and it just so happened that Michigan was playing their best brand of football with three straight shutouts against BYU, Maryland, and Northwestern. To this day, that was arguably the best three-week stretch Harbaugh has had at Michigan.

After the trifecta of shutouts, Mark Dantonio and the Spartans come to the Big House on a two-game win streak over their in-state rival. Most of you know where this is going; Blake O’Neil happened, he fumbled the snap and yes the ball was free. Jalen Watts-Jackson was in the right place, at the right time for an MSU fluke, heart-breaker win in Ann Arbor.

Michigan still sat comfortably in the top 25 following the loss with a lot of hope for the remainder of the season going into the bye week. The Wolverines went on a four-game win streak and felt pretty good about their chances going into the rivalry matchup in Ann Arbor against the Buckeyes, who were coming off a loss to MSU. Let’s go ahead and say that the first meeting between Harbaugh and Urban Meyer was a lopsided one, OSU wins 42-13.

The Citrus Bowl had a different tale of the tape for Michigan, going up against Jim McElwain’s Florida Gators in a favorable matchup with a banged up Florida offense. Jake Rudock made his case for NFL teams on why he should be drafted; 20 for 31, 64.5 completion percentage, 278 yards, and 3 touchdowns against a top SEC secondary. Michigan won 41-7, finished 10-3 for the 2015-16 season.

Harbaugh’s first season was good not great, didn’t win the big games, the majority being content given it was his first season with the program. A lot returning talent coming back in 2016, Michigan was the favorite to win the Big Ten title, primed for a playoff run with the only question mark being the quarterback position. Another off-season of hype at the midst no doubt. The fan-base still praising Jim Harbaugh as if he were divine.

Year Two:

Through the first nine games, just two road games, Michigan looked like the playoff contender that the hype insisted on them being. At this point, Jim Harbaugh was being looked at like a Nick Saban, or an Urban Meyer. The resume was a pretty one, three wins over what were top ten teams, sitting at no. 2 in the nation.

November 12th featured a prime-time game against a non-ranked, below average Iowa Hawkeyes team in Iowa City at Kinnick Stadium, which in my opinion is one of the most underrated environments in college football. The 9-0 Michigan Wolverines were having the worst night of the season, nothing was going right for them offensively. In the final seconds, a late field-goal stunned Michigan and shattered perfection, 9-1.

The upset in Iowa City was a reality check for Michigan, but didn’t change the playoff picture much as Harbaugh still controlled his team’s own destiny by winning out. Two teams in front of them for the program’s first berth to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game for what would’ve been a rematch against Wisconsin, whom they bested at home 14-7 earlier in the season.

After handling Indiana at home, Michigan would move on to the big one in Columbus. This game lived up the its hype, and went down to two overtimes. 4th & 1 in 2 OT, Michigan up 27-24 after kicking a field goal, Ohio State will go for it.

J.T. got the first down, at least that’s what the call on the field was initially and even after further reviewing the spot, the Buckeyes converted. It was a close call, some are calling it a controversial one to this day. A play later, Curtis Samuel took it 15 yards to the house six, Ohio State wins it at home 30-27. Jim Harbaugh was fined about his rant regarding incompetent officiating following the overtime loss.

Finishing the regular season inside the top ten with a 10-2 record earned Michigan and Harbaugh a major bowl game bid in the Orange Bowl to take on Florida State. What was almost a comeback classic, ended up being a disappointment of a finish for Michigan. 33-32 Florida State win.

The biggest end of the season letdown for Michigan since 2006, from 9-0 just to finish the season 1-3. This team was talented, and experienced, had 11 players selected in the NFL draft. What did they have to show for the talent? Zero wins against the Buckeyes, zero divisional nor conference titles, this is an absolutely frustrating dose of reality if you’re a Michigan fan.

How do the fans feel about Harbaugh at this point? Some were calling for his head, but he still has the majority on his side insisting that we need to give him time. There were critics who said he was overrated and overpaid, people were really divided on their stance of the former Michigan quarterback.

Year Three:

A lot of fans, critics, and outside observers seemed to agree on that this was going to be a transitional season for Michigan. The program lost over 40 seniors to graduation, not to mention 11 drafted to the NFL. The Wolverines returned enough starters on offense and defense combined to count on just two hands, barely. There were people who expected a similar coaching job to what Urban Meyer did in 2016 after losing a similar amount of talent and taking his team to the playoffs.

The offense never established an identity in 2017 and struggled to score in the red-zone. Wilton Speight and John O’Korn were both put ahead of redshirt freshman Brandon Peters on the depth chart, and people questioned it from day one.

Michigan ended the regular season with an 8-4 record. Play-calling was a big criticism, and incompetent quarterback play seemed to be a trend despite Jim Harbaugh supposedly being a “quarterback guru”.

In Jim Harbaugh’s offense, quarterbacks aren’t asked to win games on their own, but in this team’s case, the quarterback play was so bad that it lost three out of the four regular season games. Youthful, inexperienced receivers struggled to create any separation and emerge into reliable targets. The tight ends were rarely utilized in the pass game. There was an evident switch-up in the passing game’s scheme when Jedd Fisch left Harbaugh’s staff and then added Pep Hamilton to the staff.

The run-game was inconsistent and didn’t have any noticeable presence against quality opponents, but Karan Higdon had a solid season for Michigan falling just short of a thousand yard season (164 attempts, 994 yards, 6.1 YPC, and 11 TDs).

Prior to the Outback Bowl, I was one of the people who thought that the missing piece for Michigan was simply a quarterback, considering that three out of the four regular season losses could have potentially been avoided with better quarterback play. I even thought Brandon Peters was about to make his case for the starting job in 2018.

People expected a similar result to the 2015-16 beat down over Florida in what felt like an easy match-up against a weak South Carolina team, Michigan was more than a touchdown favorite on New Year’s Day. This was arguably the worst performance for a Jim Harbaugh team at Michigan. Blowing a third quarter 19-3 lead, just to fall apart and lose 26-19 says it all. Three turnovers (two INTs, one fumble) from Brandon Peters on what was the furthest thing from an audition for the starting job for next season and another two fumbles from Karan Higdon and Donovan Peoples-Jones.

In what was supposed to be a statement bowl game, turned out to be an embarrassment game that has made Michigan a national joke with a perceived overrated head coach. I wouldn’t say Jim Harbaugh is on the hot seat just yet, but it’s definitely getting warm at the very least.

How do the fans feel about Jim Harbaugh now? They now, hopefully, realize that he’s human and has a lot to prove regarding if he’s anything special like people say he is. There’s no excuse for how the program was showcased in 2017-18. In year three, how do you not have one quarterback ready to perform? There was absolutely no reason for why a redshirt freshman like Brandon Peters wasn’t better prepared and ready to start in week one. There needs to be an immediate change in the coaching staff, both Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton’s jobs should not be safe.

What’s Next for Michigan, Harbaugh?

Right now, a majority of fans are demanding results in 2018 or declaring it a bust for Harbaugh’s tenure. A losing record against rivals (Notre Dame, MSU, OSU) will not be stomached well in Ann Arbor. If Michigan goes 0-3 against rivals, and fails to win his division yet gain, Harbaugh’s seat will undoubtedly be hot, if not on fire.

Michigan is paying Harbaugh $9 million per year to win big games, rivalry games, conference and national championships. So far, he’s only beaten one rival (3-9 MSU), has an 0-3 against Ohio State, an 0-2 against Michigan State at home, hasn’t been able to finish better than 3rd place in his own division, and has gone 1-2 in bowl games.

2018 will be a big season for Jim Harbaugh because we’ll get to find out what he’s made of 100 percent. Year four is the golden opportunity to showcase how you’ve built your program, the recruiting has been great, the talent is there, transfer quarterback from Ole Miss Shea Patterson might be eligible to play immediately, inexperience is no longer a factor, it’s time for results and if Harbaugh can’t produce said results, then he’s just not a great coach. That’s about all there is to it, the results just aren’t there and if they aren’t there one year from now, then Jim Harbaugh is a fraud.