You might remember the 2013 Michigan men’s basketball team. It was an extremely talented group headed by a veteran coach and filled with NBA talent. The Wolverines reached the top of the polls and were for a time considered serious championship contenders, but a slow finish to the season caused their NCAA Tournament stock to plummet.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Both that team and the 2016 Maryland Terrapins ascended to their highest ranking in years (Michigan reached No. 1, Maryland No. 2) in early January. But the Wolverines and Terps stumbled to a 12-6 finish in Big Ten play. They both ended the regular season with a Sunday loss to first-place Indiana on CBS.
Of course, Michigan silenced any and all critics that year by storming through the NCAAs and reaching the national championship game. So while the Terps appear to be trending in the wrong direction, it’s nice to know that there is precedent for a team in their situation righting the ship. (There are other comparisons to make for Maryland, too.)
Aside from the conference record, the parallels between the teams are striking. The 2013 season was John Beilein’s sixth in Ann Arbor and 21st in Division I; this is Mark Turgeon’s fifth campaign at Maryland and 18th overall. Both offenses centered on sophomore point guards (Trey Burke and Melo Trimble) with NBA futures.
And the rest of the starting lineups are pretty similar, too. Maryland rolls out Trimble-Sulaimon-Layman-Carter-Stone, while that Wolverine team started Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson and Mitch McGary. The Terps have Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovksy on the bench; Michigan had Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan. On the wing, Maryland can turn to Jared Nickens; Michigan turned to a freshman named Caris LeVert. And each team had a young backup point guard (Jaylen Brantley and Spike Albrecht).
And the kicker: both programs were in their first year post-Evan Smotrycz.
However, it’s important to remember that although Trimble and Burke are similarly talented, their seasons didn’t exactly unfold in the same manner. Trimble was the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year but entered a shooting slump so severe it inspired two columns on this website alone (from Matt Ellentuck and yours truly). Burke was a preseason all-conference selection that exceeded all expectations. He averaged 18.6 points and 6.7 assists per game and swept the major National Player of the Year awards. (Granted, 2013 wasn’t exactly a banner year for individual talent, seeing as Anthony Bennett went first in the NBA Draft). Trimble, meanwhile, was named to the Big Ten’s second team Monday. Like Burke, he’s the central focus come crunch time, but he hasn’t delivered with the same consistency.
In a similar story, Maryland struggles far more with turnovers. The Terps average 13.1 per game, compared to Michigan’s 9.4. The Wolverines were also a slightly better three-point shooting squad (38.5 percent to Maryland’s 36.7 percent). However, the Terps are roughly 6 percent more efficient at the foul line.
Overall, Maryland has an offensive rating of 112.2 and a defensive rating of 97.2; Michigan finished the tournament at 116.1 and 97.7 (I can’t find where they stood before their run, but I’m guessing both figures were a little lower).
The 2013 Wolverines fell in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament and were a No. 4 seed in the big dance. They were one of the most popular picks to get upset in the first round, because they came in cold and were playing a South Dakota State team headed by NBA prospect Nate Wolters. But Michigan won that game, and then four more over a span of two weeks.
And here’s perhaps the main reason why: Mitch McGary picked the perfect time to break out. The freshman put up 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game in the tournament, far surpassing his season averages. As a result, the Wolverines, who were a poor rebounding team all season, turned a minus-2.2 margin on the glass into plus-3 during the tourney (although most of that comes from a plus-17 annihilation of a teeny-tiny VCU team; it was only plus-0.4 in the other games). It’s not unreasonable to hope for a similar breakthrough for Diamond Stone, who has been productive this year but still hasn’t strung multiple dominant games together.
Obviously, for every 2013 Michigan there are heaps of teams that limped into the dance and left the floor quickly. But that’s how the tournament works. Only 25 percent of the teams make it out of the first weekend. Even prohibitive championship favorites aren’t safe (see: 2010 Kansas). The correlation between regular-season and tournament success isn’t as high as one would think.
This tournament in particular could be memorably hectic, and given Maryland’s recent level of play, it’s perfectly reasonable to write them off. For the record, I’d be pleasantly surprised if they won more than one game. But if you want a reason to hope, just remember Trey Burke, Mitch McGary and the 2013 Wolverines.