Michigan Basketball Has to Upgrade Its Talent Level

With just weeks before March Madness, the Michigan basketball team is not living up to its potential.

Most of the headlines about Michigan Basketball (4-6 Big Ten, 14-9 overall) have not been encouraging of late. “On the bubble” seems to be the most-used phrase to describe the team’s chances of reaching the NCAA tournament this year.

How could this have happened?

For a team that made it to the NCAA championship game as recently as 2013 and then won the Big Ten championship a year later, to be “mired in mediocrity” (another phrase that’s getting used a lot) seems unthinkable.

Does an assistant coach really have to write the words “street fight” on the locker room bulletin board to get the team fired up to play defense against Illinois?

Just a few years ago, all the signs were pointing in the right direction. Michigan basketball was once again on the rise. It had a smart, new head coach in John Beilein (now in his tenth year at Michigan), new facilities, including a $52 million renovation of Crisler Arena, and UM was close to being an elite basketball program.

And today? Not so much. Michigan Basketball is nowhere close to being a top 25 team.

Of course a few unfortunate injuries have dogged the team since the 2013 championship game. There’s no denying that, but what about the “next man up” attitude? Instead, the injuries (and a couple of transfers) seem to have changed the trajectory of the program.

No one, except maybe the most die-hard fan, thinks that Michigan Basketball is just a year or two away from making a deep run in the tournament.

One clue to the state of the program is in the recruiting. Michigan hasn’t had a top recruiting class in – well, how long has it been? Back in the 2012-2013 season when Michigan reached a number one ranking in the polls, you might have expected some interest from top recruits. After that exciting championship game, Michigan Basketball might have caught the attention of a few outstanding high school players.

Unfortunately, the record doesn’t show it.

Here’s a brief breakdown of where we’ve been:

  • 2013 – four players signed – 1 five-star (Zak Irvin), 2 four-stars (including Derrick Walton), and 1 one-star
  • 2014 – six players signed – 1 four-star, 3 three-stars, 1 two-star, and 1 one-star
  • 2015 – Moritz Wagner, Berlin
  • 2016 – four players signed – 2 four-stars, 2 three-stars

Beilein said on a sports radio show in October that “we’re always trying” to land elite players. “We’ve been involved,” he said. “We’ve gotten a couple – Zak Irvin is a former five-star guy. We’ve got a ton of four-star guys. Mitch McGary was a five-star guy. So we’ve been able to get those guys. We’ve finished second (with some).”

Maybe comparisons with Michigan Football are not really fair. Maybe big signing day celebrations in Crisler Arena are not the future of Division I college basketball teams. But something is not adding up.

The elite programs that wind up in late stages of the NCAA tournament every year have some of the best high school basketball players in the country – Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville, and others. (Not sure what to say at this point about Gonzaga!)

Michigan Basketball may not want to recruit the “one and done” kid who’s merely punching his ticket on the way to the NBA, but the thing is, they’re not even looking at Michigan. And to get the program heading in the right direction again, that’s got to change.

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