With this in mind, I wanted to take a look at how Michigan stacked up in returners against the rest of the Big Ten. Michigan has received a lot of hype as well, not as much as teams like Indiana, but most of the experts at least think they're going to be one of the elite teams in both the Big Ten and the country next season. I agree, primarily because of the immense amount of talent that is going to be in Ann Arbor in both returners and recruits. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Jordan Morgan will all be back next season. These three players constitute the majority of Michigan's scoring and assists and also the team's leading rebounder.
Returning three starters, even if they were probably the team's best players, doesn't guarantee that Michigan will be as good or better than last season, but it should be interpreted as at least a positive. Let's compare these returns to the rest of the Big Ten. As of now, only four teams in the Big Ten will be returning their top two scorers, leader in assists, and leader in rebounds for next season (Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois). However, let's dig a little deeper. I wanted to quickly compare what each of these teams were actually bringing back. For instance, Illinois. They return five starters, but they finished 10th in the Big Ten. What they're bringing back probably isn't as good as what teams like Michigan or Indiana are returning (1st and 5th in the Big Ten).
Big Ten Record
Big Ten Finish
Returning All-Big Ten Players
Obviously, this chart has a lot of information, but the important thing is to separate the measures of team success and the returning aspects. A quick glance at Big Ten record, finish, and final rankings clearly show that Michigan and Indiana had much better seasons than Minnesota and Illinois. To most fans, this will be no surprise, but it's important to state before looking at returning rosters. Returning successful teams and good players is much more valuable than returning players on bad teams. This may seem obvious, but like I said, it's important to note.
So, that leaves us with Michigan and Indiana. I would go through Minnesota and Illinois' returning rosters, but let's be honest. They are returning pretty weak squads. The one note that should be made is that Minnesota had some early seasons troubles including an injury to Trevor Mbakwe, which probably skewed their results somewhat. Regardless, I think it's safe to assume that even with Mbakwe, Michigan and Indiana probably would have finished a good chunk ahead of Minnesota.
Indiana had a better NCAA Tournament finish than Michigan, but I think one can make a strong argument that Michigan actually had the better season. Not only winning the conference championship, but also being more consistent than Indiana over the season. I will give the edge in success to Michigan, even though Indiana's season had some very exciting moments.
However, Indiana returns all of its starters, which is pretty impressive. Michigan returns most of its starters, but Indiana will be returning more from this standpoint. To most, this is the reason why Indiana will likely be ranked #1 to start next season. This is certainly a logical argument, but I think it skips over the connection that I described above. Not only do I believe that Michigan had a better team last season, evidenced by their conference championship and better record, but I think if you take a look at the returning players, one can make a strong case for Michigan over Indiana.
For instance, look at the two teams' returning All-Big Ten players. Michigan actually has more than Indiana with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. Indiana will have just Cody Zeller back. Along with this, one can make a case that Burke will be the best returning Big Ten player next year. However, just looking at these awards, you can at least strongly point to Zeller and Burke as about even. Indiana's only other player that received love from the media and coaches' awards was Christian Watford, but I don't think many would argue that he is better than Hardaway.
Indiana may have two more returning starters, but I think Michigan's returners are better than Indiana's returners. This is certainly something that is debatable, but I don't think you can argue that Indiana will have three returners that are better than the three Michigan is returning. Some might ask why this matters when comparing returners. It comes down to the basic argument; quality vs. quantity. Indiana's returners are certainly talented, but I truly believe that Michigan's are better. However, as noted, Indiana will have more coming back. Maybe less talented on average than Michigan's starters, but they will have more.
There's obviously no way to prove who has the best returners, but I think using the arguments I've made above, one can certainly make a strong case that Michigan will have the best returning roster in the Big Ten. This does not mean Michigan will have the best roster for next season, but it is exciting to see that Michigan should at least be in the top of the league in returners, recruits, and overall roster for next season. It is sure to be an exciting season for Michigan basketball.
Photo Credit: UMHoops