Welcome to Playboy.com’s 2014 Bracket Challenge

The Michigan Wolverines returned to top NCAA college basketball form last season but is another trip to the March Madness finals in the cards in 2014

Team Preview: 2014 Michigan Wolverines

By: Nick Healey

2012-13 Record: 31-8 (12-6 in Big Ten)

Coach: John Beilein (129-89)

We all know nobody remembers second place, so we’re going to remind you. Michigan was second place at last year’s tournament. They had a very nice effort at the big dance, knocking off Kansas, Florida and Syracuse en route to the finals against Louisville. It was certainly the highlight of coach John Beilein’s tenure. After taking over the program in 2007, Beilein has managed four tournament appearances, in 2009, 2011, 2012 and the 2013 finals run (in which they were also conference champions). This season, the team lost key players in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA, which certainly isn’t ideal for a Wolverines team that is pretty young. Burke and Hardaway Jr. were key figures in the team’s run to the finals, and they leave big shoes for the young players to fill.

Strongside: Canadian Nik Stauskas turned heads last season and has followed up with an even better performance so far this year. The sophomore guard is leading the team, averaging just over 34 minutes and 17.7 points per game. Fellow sophomore Glenn Robinson III (whom we shall now refer to as GR3) is right behind him at 31 minutes and just under 14 points per game. This Wolverines team shoots the ball very well, thanks in large part to Stauskas and GR3, who boast .497 and .509 respective shooting percentages. Stauskas is also pretty reliable with the three-ball, shooting .451 from beyond the arc. As a team they do a good job of preventing turnovers and they sport one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the country. As of this writing, they are fifth best in the NCAA at 1.71 per game (or 236 assists to 138 turnovers), and they’re ranked just as highly in turnovers per game at a mere 9.2. Opponents’ trips to the line are also few and far between, because Michigan ranks third in fewest fouls in the league, with just over 15 per game. Conversely, they do a decent job once they get themselves to the line. They won’t be mistaken for world-beaters, but their team mark of 73.2 percent puts them just outside the top 50 in the league.

Weakside: As it stands, there are certainly some concerns for Michigan despite their 12-4 record. The team, which is on the smaller side, doesn’t rebound all that well. Poor rebounding is a natural byproduct of having most of your roster six feet six inches or smaller, and losing the six-foot-ten Mitch McGary to injury for an unknown duration is sure to make things worse. They are currently ranked 266th in the league with 33.7 rebounds per game. Their shooting defense also leaves a little to be desired: they rank 138th in field goal shooting against (42.4 percent per game), and their three-point defense is just about as bad. There they rank 133rd at 33.1 percent per game. So the odds are there won’t be much joy in Ann Arbor unless they can shore up some of those issues.

All Told: So far the Wolverines have been doing pretty well. A 12-4 record is solid, and they have gone 4-0 against their conference rivals in the Big Ten. Three of their wins were close—by three points or less—and one against Florida State came in overtime, which takes some of the shine off that record, as it could pretty easily have been 9-7. The team has been getting by on the fact that they shoot pretty well and don’t tend to give opponents too many free passes by getting into foul trouble. But things could be starting to trend the wrong way. Their schedule is set to get tougher, with Wisconsin and Michigan State on the horizon, and they’ve just lost their big man to injury. As a smaller team, they will have to get better defensively before we can expect them to make another deep run at the tournament this spring.

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