Just like so many rivers in America during the past week, the Michigan Basketball program hit its "high-water mark" in the season just past. That's the Men's program AND the Women's program.
The males of the species, as you well know, finished fourth in the regular season, split a pair of games in the conference tournament, then patched together a five-game win streak keyed by a circus shot with four seconds left against Kansas. They actually got to the Final Four for the first time in 24 years, but their fan-base discounted that "accomplishment" in previous years while ragging on Tom Izzo for "not winning the big one". They have now lost nearly half their roster, and approximately the same amount of games-started, points-scored, minutes-played, and just about every other relevant statistic on their team. They are due to backslide, despite the popular misconceptions.
The female Wolverines also peaked last season, and are getting ready for a swan-dive minus the wings. They compiled 20 wins, finished fifth in the league, and made the Big Dance. These are milestone achievements for the UM women, who have finished behind MSU in the conference standings for 11 consecutive years.
How did they do it? By reversing the formula of their Blue Brethren, they used a five-player senior class to actually play in the games. You may have noticed that the five seniors on the UM men's team were mostly cheerleaders and practice players. Not so with the ladies in yellow shoes! The five Wolverine women led their team in every conceivable category, and in so doing, finished strong in their college careers, even beating their arch-rival (MSU) with a 70-69 blowout at the Crisis Center. Of course, they lost to Michigan State earlier in the season by 15, and later in the conference tournament by 16, but what the heck, the one-point victory is memorable since it's the only time those seniors beat the Spartans. In their careers. Like, ever. Just the one time, by the one point.
So what happens next, as the world turns towards the next basketball season? To make a reasonable prediction, consider what the Women Wolverines have lost to graduation:
- 77% of their games started
- 73% of their minutes played
- 70% of their points scored
- 78% of their rebounds
- 84 % of their assists
- 75% of their blocks
- 82% of their steals
I guess it doesn't take an Einstein to figure out what's coming up for Lady Blue. Their backcourt is decimated, their frontcourt is empty but for one returning starter, and they've got a couple of highly-ranked freshmen coming in to go along with one other highly-ranked player who just missed her freshman season due to injury. Hmmm.
Somehow, I don't think that will cut the mustard against Sparty next year. One season does not a program make. (Note to Beilein: Two seasons doesn't make it, either.)
Well, what can you expect from a team that is only seven years removed from an 0-16 conference record (2006) and only three years removed from a losing conference record (2010) and only four years removed from a 10-20 regular season (2009)? If we went back to the future, we would have said there was nowhere to go but up, and up went the elevator, hitting the top floor this past season.
Going down? I believe so. Beginning next season. Watch for it.
The Michigan State Women's Basketball team has won 21 of its last 23 games against Michigan and it is 62-16 all-time against the Wolverines. After dropping the single game by the single point this past season (same as the Men's teams), look for a return to normalcy beginning early in 2014.