Michigan Basketball: Highs and Lows of Wolverines' Season so Far
With the toughest stretch of the Michigan basketball team's season now upon us, it is a perfect time to take a look back at a few highs and lows of the 2013-14 campaign. Over the course of the next month, the Wolverines have a chance to stake their claim as a contender in the Big Ten Conference.
Marquee games against the conference's best teams litter the schedule, with only a pair of matchups Michigan should be assured to win in the next 10 contests.
There have been plenty of minor highs and lows, but six moments in particular stand out from the rest. Those are the ones you will be reading about.
High: Comeback Win over Florida State
Trailing by 16 points with 17:16 remaining in the second half and without any momentum on its side, Michigan found a way to battle back and defeat Florida State, 82-80, in overtime.
Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary led the Wolverines' second-half surge. The trio combined for 29 points in the closing 16:43, which was enough to knot the game up at 69-69 once time expired. Stauskas and Robinson also scored the first 11 points in overtime to give Michigan a three-point lead. Derrick Walton Jr. sunk a pair of freebies to extend the lead and close out the Seminoles.
The win sent the Wolverines to the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and gave them a solid, quality victory for their NCAA tournament resume.
Without this victory, Michigan would not have a single win over a team ranked inside the Top 25 of the RPI rankings. Essentially, the Wolverines would most likely be a double-digit seed rather than a No. 7 seed in Joe Lunardi's latest edition of Bracketology on ESPN.com had it failed to top Florida State.
Low: Losing to Charlotte
The only bad loss on Michigan's current NCAA tournament resume came against Charlotte back on Nov. 24. The Wolverines were likely physically drained from an overtime clash with Florida State in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and had recently traveled to Iowa State. Still, there are no excuses on game day.
Michigan shot an abysmal 31.1 percent from the field and were just 5-of-23 from distance. Making matters worse, the 49ers only shot 39.4 percent themselves, so the game was there for the taking.
The Wolverines appeared destined for overtime once again when Mitch McGary tied the score at 61-61 with nine seconds left. However, Charlotte had other ideas. Terrance Williams collected his own miss and tipped it back in as time expired to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title.
This is the only game Michigan has lost this season to a team ranked outside the Top 25 of the RPI. The 49ers are ranked No. 124 in the latest RPI rankings.
Low: Getting Blown out by Duke
The final score may have been 79-69, but Michigan took a beating at the hands of Duke earlier this season. The Wolverines trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half and never truly threatened the Blue Devils at any point after the opening eight minutes of action.
It is hard to say the loss was a surprise, which is why it may shock some that this was a low for Michigan. However, not winning and not even challenging are two completely different things.
Nik Stauskas was completely ineffective with Duke defenders simply face-guarding him and making the Wolverines play four-on-four. He finished with four points and missed his only two shots.
This young and relatively inexperienced Michigan squad looked completely out of its depth and overwhelmed by the environment in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Wolverines have since grown up a bit, but there is no doubt this was a low point early in the campaign.
High: Glenn Robinson III's First Half Against Arizona
In the games leading up to Michigan's clash with top-ranked Arizona, Glenn Robinson III did not even resemble the player NBA scouts were drooling over last summer. Well, the Wildcats brought out the best in the 6'6", 220-pounder.
Robinson scored 16 points and went 7-of-8 from the field in the first half, which allowed the Wolverines to take a nine-point lead after the opening 20 minutes. He went on to record his first 20-point game of the season and has been on fire ever since.
Over the past seven games, including the Arizona contest, Robinson has shot better than 50 percent five times. The only time during that stretch he was held under 12 points came at Minnesota, though he left the game early with an ankle injury.
The biggest difference has been in his style of play. Rather than sitting back and settling for jumpers like he did early in the campaign, Robinson is taking the ball to the rim and finishing at a 91.3 percent clip, per Hoop-Math.
Thanks to this high moment, the Wolverines are a far better team today. Without production from Robinson, Michigan is dead in the water.
Low: Mitch McGary Elects to Have Back Surgery
Perhaps nothing stung Michigan more than losing sophomore forward Mitch McGary indefinitely due to a back injury. On Dec. 27, McGary announced he would undergo back surgery.
"My back problems have been a daily challenge ever since late August," McGary said in a statement released by the school, according to ESPN's Jeff Goodman. "We have worked hard rehabbing the injury, and I thought that everything was proceeding in the right direction until the last two weeks."
"I have consulted with my family, my coaches and our doctors and decided the best option now is to have surgery," he added.
Even before the decision to have surgery, McGary did not look like the same player he was during Michigan's NCAA tournament run last season. His 8.3 rebounds were relatively impressive, but the 9.5 points per game left something to be desired.
Flashes of his greatness and athleticism would show up from time to time, however, it was clear he had not been at 100 percent for some time.
McGary will now have to decide whether or not to return to Ann Arbor for a third season. It is anyone's guess what his choice will be at this point.
High: Winning Four Straight Games to Open Big Ten Play
Two of the victories may not have been very pretty, but nevertheless, Michigan is one of two teams without a loss in Big Ten play. The Wolverines eked out a road win over Nebraska and routed Penn State and Northwestern at home. A three-point win at Minnesota also looks significantly better now given the fact Ohio State stumbled in Minneapolis on Thursday night.
Yes, Michigan remains relatively untested in Big Ten action. The easy victories are all out of the way. For a team with 13 underclassmen on its roster, though, getting off to a 4-0 start is a huge confidence booster.
Many of the questions that still remain about the Wolverines will be answered in the coming weeks. Road trips to Wisconsin and Michigan State, in addition to a home bout with Iowa, within the next seven days are going to show everyone where Michigan stacks up with the Big Ten's best.
Realistically, defending home court and dropping both road games seems like the best possible outcome for the Wolverines. Two losses will not doom Michigan's Big Ten title hopes. It will, however, place a greater importance on winning marquee games at home down the stretch of conference play.
The nation will know what these Wolverines are really made of by the end of next week.