Opinion Roundtable: Discussing Michigan's Tournament Life With/Without Isaiah Livers
Junior forward Isaiah Livers has now missed 10 games this year with groin and ankle injuries and Michigan is a very different team with him out of the line up. Granted, the Wolverines just went into Piscataway without Livers two nights ago and handed Rutgers its first home loss of the season. Still, Juwan Howard and the rest of the Wolverines would much rather have Livers ready to go.
The Wolverines are now 12-4 with Livers and 5-5 without him. They've shown the ability to win without him, but life is much, much easier when he's on the floor. We all know that tournament time is a different level of basketball and one off night means you're going home for good. It doesn't seem like Livers is going to miss a ton of time with his ankle injury, but he's been dinged for more than a month now. If he were to miss some of the NCAA tournament, that would obviously be less than ideal. How different is Michigan’s tournament life with Isaiah Livers vs. without? We discuss...
I think Livers being in or out of the lineup determines whether or not Michigan plays one weekend of tourney basketball or two. As of right now, it looks like the Wolverines will be a 7 seed. They could end up higher, but let's start at seven for argument's sake. That means U-M would face a 10 seed in the first round and likely the 2 seed in the second round. Without Livers, a round-one win seems possible but full-strength 7 seeds lose to 10 seeds quite often. In total, 10 seeds hold a 52-84 record against 7 seeds since the NCAA tournament field expanded in 1985. Whether it's right away or after a win, I don't see U-M making it out of the first weekend without Livers regardless of the specific opponent. With Livers, however, I think Michigan is good enough to make it to the Final Four and beyond. They've shown that they can dominate with him in the lineup and Juwan Howard's eight-man rotation can run and compete with anyone in the country, especially this year. As of right now, Joe Lunardi's 2-seeds are Dayton, Maryland, Duke and Florida State. I don't look at any of those teams and say, "There's no way Michigan can beat that team." Michigan fans and the Wolverines themselves need Livers to remain healthy. If he does, watch out.
The presence of Isaiah Livers determines Michigan’s MOE — margin of error. In a wide open relay for college basketball, you can have one shining moment in a one-and-done tournament, especially with an outstanding senior point guard like Zavier Simpson. However, with Livers this is a team, that with the right draw, can make it all the way to that final Monday night in April. I’d stack Michigan’s eight-man rotation up against almost any team in the country when it includes Livers. And don’t forget Simpson and Jon Teske are the winningest players in school history. That kind of success goes a long way in March.
With Livers, I think they could make it to the Elite Eight, possibly further depending on seeding and who they run into. Without him, they exit the opening weekend, potentially the first game. Certainly Michigan showed it can win without Livers Wednesday night at Rutgers but it did so with defense and an uncharacteristically poor shooting performance from Rutgers in its own gym. We've seen Michigan win with defense in the NCAA tournament before - the Wolverines have won four of their last seven NCAA games scoring 64 points or less - but at some point, you run into a high-powered offense you can't shut down and you need the horses to run. Without Livers, they can't win that type of game, which is why I would put a ceiling on their postseason. If he's healthy, though, come March Madness, the Maize and Blue could be one of the toughest outs in the tournament. They don't shoot it well enough to win the whole thing, but a Final Four trip? Anything is possible with Livers and the way he makes this team complete.
What do you think about Michigan's chances with or without Livers? How important is he? Comment below!!!