2022-23 Michigan Basketball: A season to forget

2022-23 Michigan Basketball: A season to forget

Man has it been a season for the books in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines have been one of the most inconsistent teams that I can remember as of late. The team started the season 5-1 with a very disappointing loss to Arizona State and a nail-biting overtime win against lowly Ohio University out of the MAC. This was when I definitely felt that this team was different, for there was not that same flow you almost always were used to seeing out of a Michigan squad. The Wolverines then played a tough stretch against Virginia and Kentucky that at the time were both ranked in the top 10 in the Associated Press rankings. Currently, Virginia is ranked #13 and Kentucky–who also struggled early in the season– is at #26. Both of these games were very, very close and games that Michigan should have won. Virginia beat Michigan on a last second lay-up, and Kentucky just barely pulled out a win in London by four points. Michigan quickly dropped from being ranked #3 at the start of the season to being unranked. Many Michigan fans were starting to get fed up by the inconsistent play that would, little did they know, define the Wolverines this season.

Michigan continued to play shaky and inconsistent. The team did win the next two games against Lipscomb and in the Big Ten opener against Minnesota. After this sliver of hope that the Wolverines showed, many fans were settling in and quieting down, but little did they know Michigan would hit a solid brick wall in a few days. The next game was a big showcase against North Carolina, a growing rival as of the past few years. UNC, for most of the game, dominated. Michigan showed a great amount of fight, but in the end, UNC’s young talent proved better. The next game for Michigan was the real shocker and maybe the focal point of the season, and it was not positive. Central Michigan came into Crisler Center with absolutely nothing to lose. The Wolverines’ record sat at a disappointing 8-4 before their match-up with CMU, but when the final horn sounded, the maize and blue record fell to 8-5. Central Michigan stunned Michigan with their very fast and aggressive play that reflected on the entire game and eventually the final score. MAC Freshman of the Year Reggie Bass won the game for CMU with a clutch triple with 11.3 seconds left. The Wolverines came down and missed a three and multiple faulty tap-ins by Hunter Dickinson. Missed opportunities essentially reflected the Wolverines season in forty minutes of basketball. 

The Big Ten schedule was next for Michigan, and it went much like the start of the season with many close games but choking in the last few minutes. Prime examples of this were the games against Michigan State, Iowa, and Purdue. Michigan was showing its inability to win close games and beat quality opponents. Fans were calling for Juwan Howard’s head and fed up with Hunter Dickinson’s antics and mouth. The Wolverines went on to lose by 20 to a Penn State team they beat earlier in the year. This was when I stopped caring about the Wolverines, for they just were not playing the brand of basketball I was used to watching out of a Michigan team. The rollercoaster that was Michigan basketball was dipping at a ninety degree angle at this point. All of a sudden, some hope began to show on the horizon.

It started with a win against Northwestern, then a win against Ohio State, and then Nebraska. The team seemed to be talking and communicating on the court a little more, there was flow, and Michigan was in-sync for the first time in months. However, the next game against Indiana at home was a reminder of the past. The Wolverines played a great game that was hard fought with huge buckets and then a huge letdown. The Wolverines had not scored in four minutes, Indiana was cutting into the ten point lead after every possession, and eventually the Wolverines’ energy ran out. Michigan basically lost to two IU players who scored almost all of the points for the Hoosiers: Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino. The Hoosiers won in a heartbreaker by one point, 62-61. The bounce back for Michigan was quieted once again after the Indiana game with another close loss to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. 

After a few losses for Michigan, their March Madness hopes were in severe jeopardy. Michigan State was up next, but during game week, a tragedy occured in East Lansing. On Monday, February 13, an active shooter shot and killed three innocent students and injured many others. This sent the entire state of Michigan into a frenzy, and talks of canceling the rivalry game on Saturday were in the cards. The game did end up being played, with Michigan respectfully honoring the Michigan State community with somber tributes during pregame. Michigan played one of its best games of the year with sophomore Kobe Bufkin scoring seventeen points and knocking down a nail-in-the-coffin three pointer which led to Michigan winning the game by twelve.

The next few games proved essential for Michigan. The team played a tough opponent in Rutgers, they won by thirteen in the Trapezoid of Terror as they held the Scarlet Knights to one of their lowest point totals of their season. Michigan then took on Wisconsin on senior day at Crisler. It once again felt like Michigan had copied and pasted every game throughout the season into this one. The game was teetering back-and-forth with lead changes galore, somehow Michigan found itself down by three with seconds left. To summon the miracle, Terrence Williams barely inbounded to Hunter Dickinson who threw up a 28-foot prayer that somehow dropped at the buzzer. The shot sent fans into a frenzy and sent Michigan into overtime. The Wolverines ended up taking the win with one of the most dominant stretch of  game minutes that they had played up to this point. What really mattered though was that Michigan would be heading into its final two games on a win streak, in second place in the Big Ten, and an opportunity to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. 

Next up, games against Illinois and Indiana both on the road. What does that sound like to you? To me, it sounded like we were about to be buried alive underneath the Hoosiers and Illini. I was being proved wrong in both games for thirty-nine minutes until Michigan found a way to give the ballgame to the opposing side once again. Michigan had managed to reach overtime in both games, despite having the final shot of regulation in both that would have denied overtime in the first place. Michigan proved to be the same old team that they had been for a majority of the schedule with too many missed opportunities and too many costly turnovers. Michigan would go 0-2. What really irritates me though is that Michigan would probably have punched its ticket to the big dance with just one win in the two games. However, there was still a very faint gleam of hope heading into the Big Ten Tournament.

The upcoming game against Rutgers scared me, for they would be looking for revenge from the embarrassment that we had put on them in the previous game. Rutgers is just too scrappy of a team to feel comfortable with. That goes for a 10 point lead to even a 20 point lead, they’re just too aggressive of a team. In the first half I felt comfortable as we had a halftime lead, but I made a mistake in believing in the team that had let me down for the whole season. Rutgers beat up on Michigan in the second half and put the Wolverines in their rightful spot in the loss column. Michigan was out of the conference tournament and out of the NCAA Tournament. Certainly an NIT invitation is coming Michigan’s way, but I honestly would not be surprised if Michigan gets knocked out in the first round. That is just how the Wolverines have played this year. Fans have been left with the taste of disappointment and anger. Next season better show improvement in toughness and maturity, or I fear that I will be writing you another season recap that eerily similar to this one. The Michigan Wolverines should push this season behind them but should not forget it, for much can and should be learned from the season wasn’t in 2022-23.