John Beilein has spent this decade at Michigan proving he’s one of the best coaches in the country. He’s reached the national title game twice and has also taken the Wolverines to an Elite Eight and a Sweet 16 since the turn of the decade. The only thing missing on Beilein’s resume at this point is a national championship.
Most expected Michigan to take a step back this season after losing star big man Moe Wagner from last year’s national runner-up, but it hasn’t happened. Instead, Michigan has been one of the top teams in America from the moment the season began, starting 17-0 and remaining near the top of the polls ever since. The Wolverines have done it by doubling down on their newfound defensive identity while developing capable scorers in young wings Ignas Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole.
Beilein might not be the most famous college basketball coach in his own state, but it’s hard to argue with his performance in the NCAA tournament. He has a team with no apparent weaknesses if it plays its best game. This year, Michigan isn’t sneaking up on anyone.
Three reasons Michigan can win the national championship
Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske lead an elite defense
Beilein teams were always defined by their offense throughout his illustrious coaching career before he hired Luke Yaklich as an assistant ahead of last season. Suddenly, Michigan turned into a defensive powerhouse, No. 3 in the country in defensive efficiency last season and entering the Big Ten tournament at No. 2 in the same category this season.
Michigan has a great defense again because it has great defensive talent. Zavier Simpson — the hook shot king of college basketball — is a ferocious on-ball defender and the emotional leader of the team. Jon Teske is a 7’ junior center who is more nimble than he has any right to be. He’s spent this season stonewalling the rim and swallowing up pick-and-rolls. There’s also Charles Matthews, who has a case to be the country’s best defensive wing.
Michigan runs teams off the three-point line, contests every shot, and doesn’t foul. The safest bet in this tournament might be the Wolverines playing lockdown defense.
Michigan has scoring on the wings
The emergence of freshman wing Ignas Brazdeikis has soften the blow of losing Wagner, last season’s star. Brazdeikis led Michigan in scoring with a relentless offensive game predicated on knocking down threes and fearless drives the basket. If he’s cooking, Michigan’s offense has a primary option.
It doesn’t have to be Brazdeikis carrying the offense, though. Poole has also drawn the attention of NBA scouts for his one-on-one scoring ability and pull-up shooting. Poole’s numbers slipped a bit in conference play, but he’s still capable of getting hot and changing the complexion of a game.
Matthews would be the primary offensive option on most teams, but he can pick his spots with this supporting cast. He’s a skilled cutter with a developing post game and some mid-range pull-up shooting ability. Michigan’s offense has a tendency to run hot-and-cold, but the talent is there is everyone is playing up to their ability.
John Beilein is a great coach with a balanced roster
Beliein seems to have the right amount of March magic lately. He enters the tournament this year with a veteran starting five that complements each other well on both sides of the ball. Add in Isiah Livers off the bench — arguably the country’s best sixth man — and Michigan has enough talent for another Final Four run.
As he’s proven so many times, betting against Beilein in March is a fool’s errand. Could this finally be the team that has the ultimate breakthrough?
The path for Michigan to win it all
Michigan is fighting out the West region, which looks like the toughest on the bracket. The Wolverines could have to play Nevada in the second round, Buffalo or Texas Tech in the Sweet 16, and Gonzaga in the Elite Eight just to get out of the bracket.
In the Final Four, it’s probably going to be Duke. That’s a tough road to the title game, but Michigan did it last year. This team is every bit as good.