Here's What I'm Thinking...Michigan Basketball Right Now
I made my prediction for the Michigan vs. Rutgers game earlier today — a 70-65 Michigan win. Then I found out that Isaiah Livers was going to miss the game due to an ankle injury and I instantly changed my prediction in my head.
"There's no way Michigan can go into Piscataway and win without Livers," I thought to myself.
The game was already going to be tough enough with Livers. Rutgers is a very confident team and with good reason. The Scarlet Knights were 17-0 at home heading into tonight's game and with Livers out, most saw that mark improving to 18-0. I was ready to write about how much this team needs Livers and cite the numbers that say U-M can't win anything of significance without him. With Livers, Michigan could make it to the Sweet 16. Without him, a first-round exit could be in the cards.
Not so fast.
Zavier Simpson knocked down two three pointers early and finished with a game high 16 points. He also dished out five assists and grabbed six rebounds despite spending more time than normal on the bench in foul trouble.
When Simpson was out, sophomore David DeJulius stepped in nicely and contributed 10 points of his own, including a clutch three pointer from the corner. That shot actually came on an assist from Simpson, but it was still a massive momentum play.
Sophomore Colin Castleton was thrust into action with sophomore Brandon Johns Jr. in foul trouble and he played a great game. He scored five big points, including an and-one on a very nice drive and finish for a 6-11 post player, grabbed three rebounds and really did a great job on defense with his length and athleticism. Castleton had only played 10 minutes over the last five games but when his number was called, he was ready.
Freshman Franz Wagner contributed 12 points and junior Eli Brooks added nine to give Michigan enough for the 60-52 win.
What does it all mean? That Michigan really is peaking at the right time.
Not many people picked U-M to win without Livers but they found a way. Juwan Howard has instilled so much confidence in guys like Brandon Johns Jr., Austin Davis, David DeJulius and, apparently Colin Castleton, that they're ready to go in and contribute in big games. Livers being out really shakes up the rotation and causes Howard to piecemeal it together, and while there is a drop off, it's not an insurmountable one.
Michigan is a dangerous team. If they continue to win, they could potentially earn a five or six seed in the NCAA tournament. Right now most experts have them slotted in the seven spot, which still would give U-M a favorable matchup in the first round and a winnable game in the second round.
Honestly though, it doesn't even matter. No one would want to play Michigan at full strength. Howard has his guys believing and playing with confidence late in the season. Dangerous NCAA teams almost always have a terrific player at guard, which U-M does in Simpson. With seven other players able to step up in big moments, the Wolverines could really get rolling and might've just done that with a massive win against Rutgers at The RAC.
What does the win at Rutgers mean to you? How good is this team? Comment below!!!