Even before the Jumpman Invitational, is Michigan men’s basketball season over?
Sitting at 7-3 with all three losses at the hands of ranked teams, basketball in Michigan looks fine on the surface. The team enters the inaugural Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte, North Carolina, looking to show it can beat North Carolina, which already got its analytical look. But fans and observers following closely may already feel the large cracks forming and ESPN Analytics’ BPI ranks the Wolverines just 84th with a measly 0.6% chance to make the NCAA tournament.
Flight 23 🛩️➡️ CLT pic.twitter.com/uYcIx6LJBE
— Michigan Men’s Basketball (@umichbball) December 19, 2022
Why are their chances so low?
First, Michigan’s roster was decimated by graduation and the draft. Going into the season, the team was projected to return just 50% of minutes played (see here for methodology), landing 329th in the metric. Due to this, BPI had the team as the 87th best in the country, a stark contrast to their No. 22 spot in the AP preseason poll.
The only player who returned and averaged more than 20 minutes a game from last season’s Sweet 16 run is Hunter Dickinson. Juwan Howard was able to come away with the 13th best recruiting class, but the lack of returning players was a huge blow to Michigan’s rating.
Since then, the team has largely performed as the model expected, with an average point differential less than two points away from BPI’s predictions and a Week 3 exit from the AP poll. So far, Michigan’s offensive efficiency hasn’t been the problem, where it ranks 46th, but its defense has been less than impressive. Three of its top four defenders from last season are gone and the new squad is allowing 0.87 points per possession, which is 208th in Division I.
The players have struggled on the glass and with turnovers. They’re only grabbing defensive rebounds on 72% of misses, 193 overall. As for turnover percentage? They rank dead last this season at 13%. Altogether, a defensive unit that is 129th in efficiency doesn’t leave BPI any optimism.
How can they beat the odds?
Among the 10,000 simulations of the season that are used to create BPI’s projections, just 60 have Michigan qualifying to play in the Big Dance. About half of those have it sneaking into the tourney because it wins the Big Ten tournament. In the other half, the team performs better than expected, pulling off an average of 19.7 wins and just 11.3 losses.
Dickinson and company have a habit this season of playing to their level of competition. They showed many of their weaknesses in four close wins that should’ve come easily. But during their losses to No. 19 Kentucky and No. 6 Virginia by a total of six points, the Wolverines displayed some of the talent that might enable them to outperform their projections.
Overall, BPI has the Wolverines averaging 15 wins and favored in only six more games this season. To avoid depending on a conference tournament win, they’ll need to win those six and pull off a minimum of four or five upsets.
Beating UNC would be a great place to start.