State of the Michigan Basketball Program

Take a closer look at what's wrong with the Michigan basketball team, the outlook the rest of this season, and the Wolverines ace in the hole that everyone seems to forget about.

R-E-L-A-X -- five letters that equal one word.

A word Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers used to tell angry fans their beloved football team would be just fine and bounce back from a 1-2 start to the 2014 season.

Since that time, the Packers are 9-2 and Rodgers has routinely played like the best player in the entire NFL.

Now, to the topic everyone wants to hear about.

Michigan is not Green Bay, nor are the Wolverines fortunate enough to possess the single best player in college basketball this season, but John Beilein and his coaching staff haven’t all of the sudden forgotten what to do or how to get the most out of their players.

Reality check

The Wolverines (6-4) have lost three straight games, three straight in the non-conference for the first time since the 2009-10 season actually, following Saturday’s 80-53 blowout at No. 3 Arizona.

It certainly can’t be assumed Michigan wins their final two non-conference games, one a match-up against SMU and another against Coppin State, both at Crisler Center.

But if the Wolverines can regroup, that would put the team at 8-4 heading into an 18 game conference schedule in a wide-open Big Ten.

Ordinarily a 10-8 finish in the conference to go with a couple of victories in the conference tournament at the end of the season would be enough to propel Michigan into NCAA tournament play. In recent years it’s been more about seeding for the Wolverines.

This year though?

Currently possessing just one quality win, a home victory over Syracuse, a 10-8 conference finish might not be enough, unless some of the wins are of impressive nature like on the road again in East Lansing or in Columbus against a young but very talented Ohio State team.

Greener pastures?

As John Beilein recently said following a significant home upset against NJIT, it’s only December so the bracketology and projections can wait. There’s no doubt Michigan needs to rebound; literally and figuratively.

So where do the Wolverines turn?

As everyone out there knows Trey Burke isn’t walking through the door, and accompanying him outside of the William Davidson Player Development Center is Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan and the oft forgotten Jon Horford.

By the way, on Horford, the senior transfer has started all 10 games at center for Florida this season averaging 9.9 points to go with 6.5 rebounds. Michigan centers Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle and Max Bielfeldt combine to average 15.2 points per game and 7.2 rebounds.

At 6-foot-10, 245-pounds, Horford would also provide another formidable and physical body inside on the defensive end.

Moving on.

The road is ugly, the journey arduous for this Michigan team, forced to grow up on the fly, but grow up they must.

Six first year players are currently seeing time for the Wolverines this season, still unclear whether or not D.J. Wilson will return or be in line for a redshirt after spraining his knee.

Prior to the season at the Big Ten media day gatherings in Chicago, I said the 2014-15 season is more about next year and the years to come, the need to refurbish the program’s foundation again and plug in some elite talent moving forward.

Well, that’s been the case, and then some, but this season isn’t over, nor is it lost already.

Michigan simply needs to find some depth. Relying on Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr. and Spike Albrecht to play as many minutes as possible with no suitable replacement off the bench is a recipe fit for disaster, especially come conference play.

At the five spot Doyle has shown flashes of consistency inside the paint and is flat out Michigan’s best option at center. The Wolverines would be wise to continue feeding the freshman as many minutes as he can handle.

When it comes to the reserve wings, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins clearly have talent, the duo wouldn’t be in Ann Arbor if they didn’t. Despite that though, it’s clear both are still coming along picking up the offensive system and the complicated rotations defensively.

Expect to see a heavy dose of both over the next two games to prep the freshmen for Big Ten play.

Mostly though, there needs to be a belief in Beilein, one that took a few seasons for Michigan fans to fully grasp, and one that now shouldn’t be thrown out the window because of a challenging stretch.

Beilein and his staff have been through this. The Wolverines need a spark, the type of spark that came from Zack Novak in a 61-57 road win over 25th ranked Michigan State back in 2011.

Michigan was off to a 1-6 start in the Big Ten that season, turning things around to finish 9-9 by the end of the year.

That group was different, the vocal leadership strong, especially on the floor. At the end of the day though, it takes elite coaching to go with the players looking to fit in and make plays.

And regardless of who steps up for the Wolverines moving forward, Michigan still has an ace on their bench in Beilein.

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