'That's impressive': UM hoops finishes calendar year 34-5
Ann Arbor — It might not have been quite the bang Michigan would've liked, but it still closed out 2018 on a high.
With Sunday's 74-52 win over Binghamton in the nonconference finale at Crisler Center, the Wolverines finished the calendar year with a 34-5 record in which they repeated as Big Ten tournament champions and reached the national title game for the second time in six seasons.
"I didn't know that. That's impressive," sophomore forward Isaiah Livers said when told the team's win-loss mark. "We got guys like Duncan (Robinson), Muhammad (-Ali Abdur-Rahkman), Moe (Wagner), all those guys are a big factor to that and they definitely taught us a lot."
While Robinson, Abdur-Rahkman and Wagner have all moved on, it hasn't slowed down the team's success.
Over the 39-game stretch, Michigan posted 14 straight victories, which was put to an end by Villanova in the title game, and is riding its current 13-game win streak to start the season.
The Wolverines also defeated eight nationally ranked teams in 2018, including five in the top 10 by topping Michigan State (twice), Ohio State and Purdue last season and Villanova this season.
Add it all up and it was a memorable year that featured no shortage of highlights. And for Livers, the top moment was unquestionably watching his roommate Jordan Poole sink the buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Houston in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I wonder what it is? It's my boy hitting that game winner," Livers said patting Poole on the shoulder. "I remember when Ibi Watson just turned like this (wide-eyed) like he couldn't believe it. He's the only one who didn't run after Jordan because he was just so shocked.
"All I remember is Jordan just (running away from) us. That was the biggest memory for real."
Poole sheepishly said he didn't want to cite that shot as his best memory, instead opting to reflect on everything the Wolverines have been able to accomplish.
"The team we had last year was an amazing team. Just being a freshman and coming in and seeing everything that we were able to do from winning the Big Ten tournament to going to the national championship game, it was just fun," he said. "There were so many moments. We had 99 points in the Staples Center, hit a lot of 3s. Moments like that were extremely exciting."
For coach John Beilein, what stood out was the fashion in which the Wolverines became the third Big Ten team to repeat as conference tournament champions.
Michigan had to win four games in four days at Madison Square Garden and had to beat three consecutive higher-seeded teams in Nebraska, Michigan State and Purdue to walk away with the title.
"It's probably not as special as doing it after a plane crash, but it was pretty special to do," Beilein said citing Michigan's Big Ten tournament run two season ago. "Then to go on and come out of that, a lot of teams win that and they're not as good in the first two rounds (of NCAA Tournament). We were fortunate enough to win those first five games and get to the championship game.
"I think, overall, the time that we just went on that 14-game run to end that season really made coaching a lot of fun for me."
And for Poole, 2018 was without a doubt the best experience he's had in his entire basketball career.
"For sure," he said. "I don't think there's been a stretch better than the one I just went through."
Michigan was whistled for two technical fouls in the second half, with one being called on junior guard Zavier Simpson and the second being assessed to the team.
The first was called on Simpson when he dove for a loose ball down on the court and inadvertently appeared to make contact with the face of a Binghamton player who was behind him.
"Apparently during the tussle, a foot got to the wrong spot. There was some type of kick involved — I didn't see it — when he was getting up or whatever," Beilein said. "They had that call and they make it a flagrant, so we'll learn from it. I don't know exactly what happened, but I think that was the one negative we had today. We didn't get many 50-50 basketballs."
The second came in the closing minutes when the win was wrapped up and Beilein was emptying his bench.
Beilein pointed to freshman center Colin Castleton and told him to go in for Poole. But when Castleton came on, there was a lack of communication as Poole never came off the floor and Michigan was called for having six players on the court.
"We told Colin to go in for J.P. and I got to do a better job of that," Beilein explained. "He went in for J.P., but he didn't go see J.P. Jordan was at the farthest way, so we had two technical fouls and neither of them came from me.
"But that one I got to take. Guys were excited to go in and I got to coach them and say, 'I said you're in for Jordan.' He was so excited so I don't know if he heard that part. Jordan obviously didn't know, so it's embarrassing but we'll live through it. I'm glad it wasn't a tie score at that time."
Simpson finished one rebound shy of recording an unconventional double-double with nine rebounds and 10 assists.
... Dating back to 2016, Michigan has won 20 consecutive nonconference games at Crisler Center.
... Michigan's home game against Indiana next Sunday will tip off at 4:30 p.m. on CBS.
... Beilein said while he'll likely have a much different curfew time than his players on New Year's Eve, he isn't going to prevent them from watching the ball drop.
"I want them to go out, I want them to enjoy the change of the year," he said. "2018 was a pretty good year for us, so enjoy the end of the year and be ready for 2019."