2018 Michigan Wolverines Basketball Predictions with Odds and Expert Picks
In one sense it was a familiar Michigan team under John Beilein last year. They started out slowly and didn't have a lineup of superstar types on paper, but they found their stride when it mattered, won the Big Ten, and then made it all the way to the NCAA Championship Game for the second time in six years. Beilein has essentially patented overachievement and getting the most out of players. But what was different about last year's team from the ones that came before, and from that last run to the finals, was that this squad actually played defense. He made changes to his assistant coaching staff, and a team that was long driven by their offense became a top three team nationally in defensive efficiency.
As has become the norm for Beilein, he again has lost some players to the NBA - guys who didn't necessarily scream NBA player when they arrived at Michigan. And so again he is forced to do a bit of a reinvention. But if we have learned anything by now it is that we shouldn't bet against the coach - especially not in March.
Michigan Wolverines Additions/Losses
Mo Wagner was the star of this team, and the German forward was a first-round pick of the Lakers. Duncan Robinson, a guard who started his career in Division III, somewhat unexpectedly is playing for the Heat. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman graduated and is in the G-League. The loss of those three means that Michigan is replacing three of their top four scorers from last season. They also lost grad transfer Jaaron Simmons to graduation and combo guard Ibi Watson to transfer, but neither will have a big impact.
To fill the cabinets again, the team added a five-man recruiting class. The headliner is Canadian sharpshooter Iggy Brazdeikis. He's a Canadian who has known Nik Stauskas for a long time, so Michigan is hoping to strike gold again on that front - though Brazdeikis is far from the three-pointer shooter that Stauskas was. There is a good chance he will start - if not right away then soon. Power forward Brandon Johns, signed right out of their rival's backyard in East Lansing, can play any of the forward positions and will see time. Point guard David DeJulius, shooting guard Adrien Nunez, and big man Colin Castleton will all have the opportunity to prove their worth. Beilein doesn't use the redshirt as much as some coaches, so they should all get some opportunities.
Michigan Wolverines Outlook
Michigan has long had a "next-man-up" mentality to replace the big star on the team, and with Wagner gone it is time for someone else to take over. The most likely candidate is Charles Matthews, the former five-star recruit at Kentucky who was the second-leading scorer last year and flirted with the draft after a strong tournament season. Other possibilities include point guard Zavier Simpson, who needs to work on his offense but is a world-class trash talker and strong leader, or sophomore Jordan Poole, who showed enough flashes last year to make a breakout season seem likely. Wagner's role will be covered by big men Jon Teske and Austin Davis, with some Castleton and Johns perhaps mixed in. They will lose some offense in that switch, but Wagner wasn't great defensively - though he improved noticeably last year - so they should see that aspect improve. And at the four we should see a mix of Brazdeikis and sophomore Isaiah Livers.
While this team should be at least as good as they were last year defensively, with Matthews leading the way, the offense is a concern here. Brazdeikis is probably the team's best pure scorer, but relying on a freshman has its own issues. Poole has room to grow for sure, and Simpson likely does as well. But this is not the offensive team of last year, never mind the ones that Beilein has had in the past. And more than scoring it's shooting. The team toured to Spain this summer and couldn't hit a thing from beyond the arc. Winning is harder in this game if you can't hit from deep these days, so Michigan is a concern on that front.
Michigan Wolverines Schedule
The nonconference schedule, while mostly very manageable, has two huge tests. In the third game of the season they get a rematch with Villanova, the team that thrashed them in the national final in early April. And in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge they host a very good North Carolina team. Those will be measuring-stick games, though assuming that what a Beilein team looks like in November means anything in February is a very dangerous thing to do. Interestingly, Michigan could see South Carolina twice. They host them on Dec. 8 and could also see them in the final of the Hall of Fame Tip Off tournament. In that tournament they will also see Holy Cross and George Washington and could see Providence.
The Big Ten schedule, which is expanded to 20 games for the first time, is reasonably well spaced out with no more than two games in a row at home or on the road at any time. What stands out most is that two of the final four games of the season are against hated rival Michigan State. Those could be huge, emotional games.
Michigan Wolverines Futures Odds
Ranked 19th in the AP poll, Michigan sits tied with Michigan State and Oregon as the 10th-most-likely national champion at Bovada at +3300. Oddsmakers believe in Michigan - or at least know that the public likes them.
Michigan Wolverines Predictions
I Beilein I trust. He's as good as it gets right now. And he has some pieces here. He is going to have to figure out lineups, and find some scoring, but they will defend hard, and they are going to be confident after last year. They are a tournament team, and if things can come together and Matthews can emerge then they could be a highly seeded one. The futures price is not attractive, but I am bullish about the team.
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