Monday, October 8, 2012

Michigan Basketball - National Title Contenders?

The hype and excitement continues to build for Michigan basketball.  Magazines, newspapers, websites, and blogs seem to constantly be updating fans with a new ranking system that puts Michigan basketball near the top of the nation.  Last week, I wrote about expectations for this season and about how this may be the highest preseason expectations since the Fab Five at Michigan.  I wanted to continue along similar lines and evaluate whether Michigan will be able to do what the Fab Five could not, win a national championship.

Winning a national championship is no easy task.  Of course, this is blatantly obvious, but it's important to note how tough the NCAA Tournament format makes winning a national championship.  Just look at a few of the nation's elite basketball programs; Kentucky, UCLA, MSU, and Indiana.  Virtually nobody would challenge these programs and their legacies towards college basketball.  However, before last year's championship by Kentucky, it had been over a decade since any of these teams won a national championship.  Yes, some of the powers like Duke, UNC, and UConn won championships during that period, but it's still significant.

Just take a look at MSU.  I highlight them not only because they are one of the nation's elite basketball programs, but also because of their impressive performance since Tom Izzo has become head coach.  They not only have a 15 year NCAA Tournament streak, but they also have 7 Big Ten championships, 3 Big Ten Tournament championships, 16 Sweet Sixteen appearances, 7 Elite Eight appearances, 6 Final Four appearances, and 2 National Championship game appearances during this time period.  However, even with all this massive success, Izzo and the Spartans have hoisted just one national championship.  That isn't something to knock on MSU, but is more of something to consider when evaluating Michigan's chances to win a title.  Winning a national title isn't easy for any team, even a powerhouse program like MSU.

This leads us back to Michigan's current scenario.  As I talked about in my expectations post, if Michigan is ranked in the preseason top five, which seems extremely likely, they have a very good chance of going deep in the NCAA Tournament.  But the tournament is always crazy, which is the main reason why the term March Madness was coined.  You can have the best team in the country, but if you have one off day, your year and chances at the national championship are done.  This is why winning the title, even for good teams, becomes so difficult.

So, what are the chances Michigan wins the national title?  They're certainly pretty good.  Not only is this the most talented and likely the best team Beilein has fielded in Ann Arbor, it should be one of the most talented in the entire country.  Add in the fact that Beilein has orchestrated some pretty good tournament performances in the past and there's plenty of reasons to buy into the Wolverines this year.  If they are able to secure a seeding similar to their preseason ranking, they should be a #1 or a #2 seed in the tournament, which means they should technically be favored in every game to at least the Elite Eight.

An important thing to remember here is that making it to the Elite Eight and beyond is a pretty successful season for any program.  Why?  Because the tournament is random and the best teams don't always make it to the Final Four or the national championship game.  Should the Final Four and national championship be the goals?  Of course, but there are just so many factors playing in that it's almost impossible to gauge fairly when comparing teams and programs.  The most likely measure of tournament success is the seeding, but those aren't even that accurate sometimes.

If Michigan performs near expectations, they should have a very high likelihood of making it to the Elite Eight at least.  If a team makes it there, they have a pretty good chance of making it to the next round, obviously depending on seeding and match-up, which means Michigan has a solid shot at the title game.  The odds for any team are always low to win a national championship, but I definitely think the odds have to be pretty good for Michigan in comparison to other teams.  Even if the Wolverines aren't able to get there, it should be a great year for the program and hopefully the start of an impressive run for Beilein.

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