Michigan’s hopes of madness are gone. What is Juwan Howard doing now?

With the loss to Rutgers in Big Ten action, the Wolverines fell out of contention for the NCAA Tournament and will likely miss it for the first time in eight years.

Michigan entered the Big Ten Tournament likely needing two wins to make a last-second push into the NCAA Tournament. He left without even getting one.

The Wolverines dropped what amounted to a must-win game against Rutgers on Thursday, getting overwhelmed by the Big Ten’s bluest schedule and in the process sealing their fate as an NIT team. Rutgers outscored Michigan by seven, won far more than its share of 50-50 possessions and had far more energy in its bench throughout the game. The frustration was really felt midway through the second half, when the Wolverines looked shell-shocked that they were nearing elimination, and with it, the reality of missing out on the NCAA Tournament.

“Our young people [are] they were able to see it, read it and understand the magnitude of this game,” coach Juwan Howard said after the game. “They’ve heard it so many times from the media or social media how important every game is, what’s in it.”

After scoring the game’s first seven points, Michigan trailed by 19 the rest of the way, never making a real push in the second half when Rutgers took control. It’s easy to blame a long-term shooting slump (Michigan didn’t score for more than 14 minutes at one point), but the Wolverines did little to make Rutgers uncomfortable defensively or try to break up the game.

And the game that changed the game? An offensive rebound off a missed free throw by the shooter (Rutgers freshman Derek Simpson) turned into a layup and sparked an 11-0 run.

“The [was] a little deflated,” Hunter Dickinson said. “Just miscommunication between us guys out there. This is something we practice a lot. Inadmissible.”

Michigan just snuck into the NCAA Tournament a season ago. His surprise run to the Sweet 16 made it easy to forget just how mediocre the Wolverines really were, with a 17-14 mark in the 2021-22 regular season and a first-round exit from the Big Ten Tournament that forced some nerves on Selection Sunday.

Howard was named the 2021 Associated Press National Coach of the Year after Michigan went to the Elite Eight that season.

Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports

This year, the Wolverines won’t be as lucky. Not only will Michigan miss out on the NCAA Tournament, but it may not make it anywhere near the cut line. Michigan will finish the season below .500 against opponents in the top three quarters of the NCAA team slate. Add in a loss to an in-state directional school in Central Michigan that finished the year No. 328 in the NET, and it’s hard to describe this season as anything less than an abject disaster in Ann Arbor. The drop from just two years ago, when the Wolverines were the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (and one of the favorites to win it all until star man Isaiah Livers went down with a season-ending injury), is rather jarring. Howard, anointed the sport’s next coaching star after that monster sophomore season, suddenly enters this offseason with a lot to prove.

Perhaps scarier: The path to righting the ship isn’t necessarily clear. Howard highlighted the team’s youth postgame, noting that Michigan started three freshmen and a sophomore in the game. But the Wolverines could very well lose their three best players this spring. Sophomore Kobe Bufkin and freshman Jett Howard are projected first-round picks (Bufkin’s draft rise has been meteoric in recent years), and first-round picks tend not to return for another year these days. Dickinson’s career path is much less clear, but it’s also unclear what else he has to prove in the college game. Like Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn a year ago, Dickinson could easily move on and start his professional career. And while Howard was a solid head-coaching recruit, his 2023 class is on paper the worst Michigan signing and doesn’t include a single top-75. Michigan would be an understatement, and Howard’s additions there have been haphazard over the last three seasons.

The good news: Michigan appears to have found its point guard of the future in freshman Dug McDaniel. After three straight years of adding stoppage time at that point, McDaniel was thrust into action after Princeton transfer Jaelin Llewellyn’s injury and thrived, averaging 10 points, four assists and just 1.5 turnovers per game in Big Ten game. Young big man Taris Reed Jr. has also shown promise and brings a different element to Dickinson as a defense-first big man who is good on the glass.

Still, it’s hard not to look at this season, failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015, as a turning point for Howard’s tenure at his alma mater. Michigan has now lost 15 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in more than 20 years. Howard has so far ignored NBA overtures, but with younger son Jett likely headed to the pros and older son Jace now entering his senior year, he may be more open to hearing about those NBA opportunities sooner rather than later. later.

There is no more ignoring the downward trend in Michigan. As John Beilein’s players have gone, so have the wins. This was the first year that Howard he did not do it they at least have a Beilein advantage and he’ll end up with an NIT berth. With the program now in Howard’s hands and a potential reinstatement on his plate this spring, how he reshapes the Wolverines’ roster will be a defining moment in how his coaching tenure at his alma mater will be remembered.

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