2017: The best Michigan Basketball team of the decade?

Pierson VanGorp

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After the disappointing loss in the sweet sixteen to Oregon in 2017, the Wolverines lost some key seniors like F Zak Irvin and G Derrick Walton Jr and lost DJ Wilson to the NBA Draft. Their 2016-17 campaign was looked at as one of the best chances for head coach John Beilein to return to the Final Four. Michigan ran their offense heavily around Derrick Walton Jr and Zak Irvin, who two were Michigan’s best scorers. After they were trounced by the Oregon Ducks in March Madness, Michigan fans lost hope for the next season. There were a few bright spots headed into the 2017-18 season. One was the return of Moe Wagner. The German center had a great sophomore season and almost left for the draft but decided to stay at Michigan.

Another high note was Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews. He did not see much playing time in Lexington but was a highly recruited prospect. With a few starters returning and an average recruiting class, the Wolverines looked to be a solid Big Ten team while scraping at the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they piled up a good regular season and a historic postseason run. The Wolverines exceeded everyone’s expectations and almost ended the season with a cherry on top by winning a National Championship. Although the 2013 Michigan team was more talented than the 2017-18 Michigan team, the 2017-18 Michigan team was the better team because they had more depth on their team, had a much better schedule than the 2013 team, and paved a way for foreign players at Michigan. Therefore, the 2017 team was the better team of the decade. 

The first reason why I believe that the 2017 -18 was better is that they had more depth than the 2013 team. Sure, the 2013 had a loaded starting lineup, but outside of that, it was very thin. Off the bench, they had two freshmen: G Caris Levert and G Spike Albrecht along with big men sophomore Jon Horford and senior Jordan Morgan. These young guys were talented but unproven and it showed during the season. If you combined these four players’ points per game it would give you a total of 11.8 ppg. This shows how reliant Michigan was on their starters and their scoring. The 2017-18 Michigan team was not reliant on their starting lineup. They had some studs coming off the bench like senior F Duncan Robinson, freshmen G Jordan Poole, and sophomore C Jon Teske.

If you combined these three ppg, it would add to 18.7. That is 6.9 ppg more than the top players from the 2013 bench and they had one more player in those ppg stats. Another crazy stat from the 2017-18 Michigan team was when Duncan Robinson scored 6 points or more, they were 29-1 with the only loss coming in the National Championship against one of the best teams ever in Villanova. That shows how big of a role Duncan had coming off the bench. No one on the 2013 team could compare to the role Robinson had coming off the bench in 2017. Although the 2013 team had more firepower in the starting lineup, they could not compare to what the 2017-18 Michigan team had. 

The second and biggest reason why 2017-18 Michigan was better than 2013 Michigan was they had a more notable and emotional journey through the postseason. Heading into the Big Ten tournament the 2017-18 team was 24-7 while the 2013 team was 25-6. The 2013 team had a slight edge in the regular season, but it was not close when it came to the postseason. Going into the 2017 Big Ten Tourney, the Wolverines were ranked 4th in the Big Ten, so they faced off against the Iowa Hawkeyes. They barely escaped Iowa, winning in OT. They faced Nebraska the next day and blew them out. Then came their rivals and Big Ten Champs, the Michigan State Spartans. A heated battle between these teams turned into a Michigan win after a late run by the Wolverines. Michigan had their fourth game in four days as they faced Purdue.

The 2013 Michigan team faced nothing like this as they were trounced in the semifinals against Wisconsin. After the Wolverines blew by the Boilermakers, it marked their 4th win in 4 days. These guys were physically and mentally exhausted. To play in 4 games in a matter of 4 days is unheard of, but the Wolverines made it look like nothing after a Big Ten Tournament Championship. The schedule already looked better for the 2017-18 team as they had a championship that the 2013 team did not. Heading into march madness, the 2017-18 Michigan team was the hottest team in college basketball. They had won 9 straight games before the tournament and were placed as a 3 seed. A sneaky Montana team played the Wolverines in the first round and Michigan slipped by winning by 14. The Wolverines then matched up a Houston team that was led by Rob Gray. He was dominating teams dropping 30 points in multiple games that year. The Wolverines struggled throughout the game and found themselves down 2 with under 2 seconds left. Then, true freshman Jordan Poole got a full-court pass and knocked down a 30+ foot jump shot to give the Wolverines the win. This shot is the greatest shot in Michigan history as the team’s confidence skyrocketed after this game.

They took on Texas A&M next and made them look like a JV team. The Wolverines won by 27 and knocked down 14 threes and shot 61% from the field. The streaky Michigan team had won 12 in a row before they faced the best team yet. The 9 seeded Florida State team coached by Leonard Hamilton was sneaky good. The talented team included Terrance Man, Phillip Cofer, CJ Walker, Trent Forrest, and Mfiondu Kabengele. Unlike the other tournament games, this one was a defensive battle. After a Duncan Robinson three-ball, Florida State decided not to foul which led to their 58-54 loss. The Wolverines were headed to the final four to take on the Cinderella story Loyola Chicago. Two very similar teams went head to head in San Antonio. Loyola Chicago and Michigan battled it out in the first half with the Ramblers leading 29-22 at half. The Ramblers expanded on their lead and all of a sudden, it looked like Michigan’s season was over. Then Moe Wagner took over on the glass and seemed unstoppable in the post and behind the arc. Out of nowhere, the Wolverines took the lead and it seemed inevitable that Michigan was headed to the National Championship.

Michigan would face the best team they would play all year and one of the best teams of the decade. The Villanova Wildcats were up there with Michigan as one of the hottest teams in the country. This Villanova team set a record for most 3’s in a season in college basketball. They had 6 players on their team that could go for 20, and the most unlikely one of those 6 went for 31 points: his name is Donte DiVincenzo. Villanova dominated most of this game and left Michigan speechless. The Wolverines lost this game by 18 and went home empty-handed, but they accomplished a lot more than the 2013 team. First, they won a Big Ten Tourney, unlike the 2013 team. Second, they won 14 straight before ultimately losing in the championship while the 2013 team only had a 5 game winning streak to end the season. Lastly, the 2017-18 Michigan team will be more known because of Jordan Poole’s unbelievable buzzer-beater to beat Houston

Lastly, the 2017-18 Michigan team was better than the 2012-13 Michigan team because they paved the way for foreign recruits to come to Michigan. When Moe Wagner committed to Michigan in April 2015, he was one of the first foreign players to commit to the Wolverines. Wagner passed up the opportunity of playing pro in Germany to play under Beilein. He came out of Berlin, Germany as a low recruit. As he got onto campus he joined studs like Caris Levert, Derrick Walton, and Zak Irvin. He was not expected to do much in his freshman season. This became true as he averaged 9 minutes a game along with 2.9 ppg. Heading into his sophomore season, his role grew exponentially as he became a full-time starter. Moe increased his mpg by 15 as he played 23 mpg. Moe had one of his best games as a Wolverine in the NCAA tournament vs 3 seed Louisville. He put up 26 points a team-high in the 4 point win.

Wagner tested the NBA waters after the season but smartly came back for his junior year. It paid off as he had one of the best single seasons as a Michigan Wolverine this century. Moe averaged around 15 a game while getting 7 boards a game and shooting over 50% from the field. He led the Michigan Wolverines to a 33-8 record and a National Championship appearance. Wagner also had some important memories and instances for his family and country. In the only game his mother ever attended, Wagner had a big-time performance in the Big Ten Championship against Purdue. They shared a very emotional conversation after the game before they celebrated. 

Another instance was after Michigan’s impressive Final Four. After a dominant performance from Wagner, his idol Dirk Nowitzki approached him and congratulated him. Wagner said later how much this meant to him and how much he appreciated it. Wagner ended his career at Michigan as a legend and one of the best Michigan players in the 2000’s. But how did Wagner pave the way for other foreign players? Well, after Wagner left, a new stud out of Lithuania named Ignas Brazdeikis, took the Michigan team by storm. In his only year, Brazdeikis averaged 15 PPG, 5 RPG, and shot 46% from the field. Ignas even took on Moe’s former number, 13. Ignas declared for the draft after his phenomenal freshman season. Continuing the foreign trend, Michigan brought in Moe’s brother, Franz Wagner in the 2019 class. Franz, a shorter more athletic version of Moe, had his ups and downs in his freshman year. He injured his wrist at the start of the year and was never able to find a consistent rhythm until the last few games before covid hit. Franz returns as a sophomore and looks to be one of the best players on the team and the main leader. The last foreign player Michigan is bringing in is 2021 5 star Moussa Diabte. The center from France recently came to the Americas to work on his basketball skills and prepare to be the best NBA prospect he can be. Playing at powerhouse IMG Academy, Moussa looks to be one of the best freshmen in Michigan history in 2021. Ever since Moe Wagner became a Wolverine and strived under John Beilein, many foreign players have followed in his footsteps. They have succeeded at an elite level and became solid NBA prospects. Moe’s legacy at Michigan should not be known as just a great basketball player, but also a trailblazer for foreign basketball players to play at Michigan. 

The 2017-18 Michigan basketball team was better than the 2013 team because they had more depth and had more contributors while also having a better resume than the 2013 team and created a path for foreign players to succeed at Michigan. Although the 2013 team had more talent, the 2017-18 had better chemistry and better heart. The 2017-18 Michigan team is the best team in the past 20 years and better than the 2013 Michigan team.

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2013: The best Michigan Basketball team of the decade?