With the 2019-2020 season reaching an abrupt end, it is a fitting time to reflect back on one of the most successful decades ever for the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor basketball team. Recalling all the decorated players the past decade saw, I wanted to create three Michigan basketball all-decade teams for the seasons between 2010-2020.
Realizing that I needed a comparison, I reached out to University of Michigan-Ann Arbor graduate and my brother, Liam Houlihan, to create his own all-decade teams. Liam received his undergraduate degree in the spring of 2017 and his master’s in the spring of 2018. During his time at Michigan, he was able to witness the rebirth of a once surging program.
Two years removed from the 2013 Final Four team, he was a freshman when the program fell into disarray. That year, Michigan lost to NJIT and Eastern Michigan and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. By the end of his senior year, however, Michigan had captured its second straight Big Ten Tournament Title and returned to the Final Four.
When asked to sum up his thoughts on this past decade, Liam said, “This decade will be looked back upon with longing and nostalgia for many decades to come. Michigan basketball may return to the level it was at from 2010-2020, but it will take many years. In this past decade, an amazing coach was able to mold a basketball program in a football school into one of the elite programs in the country. There are very few people who could have accomplished even half of that given what the circumstances were at the time at the University of Michigan.”
With all that being said, our lists are contained below, along with the most pressing questions we had for each other with our differences. We took into account certain factors like stats, team records/achievements, along with talent, career length, and team importance when making our selections.
Ryan’s All-Decade Teams:
PG Trey Burke, G Tim Hardaway Jr., G Nik Stauskas, F Ignas Brazdeikis, F Moritz Wagner
PG Derrick Walton Jr., G Caris LeVert, F Charles Matthews, F Zack Novak, C Jon Teske
PG Zavier Simspon, G Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, F Glenn Robinson III, F Jordan Morgan, F Mitch McGary
Honorable Mention: G Jordan Poole, G Zak Irvin, G Stu Douglas, F Duncan Robinson, F Jordan Morgan
Liam’s All-Decade Teams:
PG Trey Burke, G Nik Stauskas, G Tim Hardaway, F Caris LeVert, F Moritz Wagner
PG Derrick Walton Jr., G Zack Novak, F Ignas Brazdeikis, F Glenn Robinson III, F Mitch McGary
PG Zavier Simpson, G Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, F D.J. Wilson, F Jordan Morgan, F Jon Teske
Honorable Mention: G Jordan Poole, G Zak Irvin, G Stu Douglas, F Charles Matthews, F Duncan Robinson
Where we differed:
Ryan: Our 1st team is almost identical, filled with members of the 2013 Final Four team, along with Mo Wagner. The only difference is you put LeVert in your list where I had Brazdeikis. What was your reasoning for including LeVert in your first team over Brazdeikis?
Liam: Caris averaged upwards of 20 PPG at the end of his career and was by far the best player on the team. He is vastly under appreciated because those mid-decade teams were not that good.
Ryan: I agree that LeVert was very underappreciated, but injuries overshadowed his career as he only played in 18 games his junior year and 15 games his senior year. If he had consistently stayed healthy, I think we would be talking about a potential Big Ten POY/All-American candidate because of his talent. I chose to put Brazdeikis ahead of LeVert because of all that he accomplished in his one year stint with the program: team’s leading scoring at 15 ppg, Big Ten Freshman of The Year, 2nd Team All-Big Ten, and a finalist for the Karl Malone best power forward of the year… all as a freshman!
Liam: LeVert averaged 17.6 PPG in his senior year, including 19, 19, and 22 in his final three games while healthy. Brazdeikis, who you chose to put on instead, only played one year for Michigan and averaged 14.8 PPG while leading a team that lost the regular season conference championship and tournament championship before eventually getting stifled in the Sweet 16.
Ryan: I cannot call you out on the McGary second team selection because I was debating placing him there, but how can you overlook his short tenure in the Maize and Blue? He did not start until the end of his freshman year and played in only eight games before a suspension ended his sophomore season.
Liam: McGary stepped up when he was most needed (the NCAA Tournament) and was a great rebounder and post player in a system that rarely saw either of those things. His defense and rebounding inside is underrated and he made a National Championship game. He was also named to the All-Tournament team that year and was a consensus preseason first team All-American going into 2014 before he was suspended.
Ryan: McGary’s talent level was incredible, but it is hard for me to overlook what a flash-in-a-pan his career was. He was another “what if” that should have his name on the first team. I opted to go instead with Teske, who was a winner his whole career and a consistent steady force.
Liam: Basketball is a team sport and winning is usually due to everyone on the court and bench, not just one player. That being said, during McGary’s one and a half years at Michigan, his teams made the National Championship game and Elite Eight during McGary’s two years (one and a half due to suspension) at Michigan. Although McGary never quite reached the peak of his recruiting hype, he was still very successful at Michigan before his suspension and departure. I also think that while Jon Teske’s development was remarkable up until this past season, McGary was a better scorer, rebounder, and defender. Teske is at his best if and only if the pick and roll game is working and his jumpers are falling since he is not a post player. McGary was more of a natural fit for his position and could perform relatively well no matter how other teams defended and attacked Michigan.
Ryan: Charles Matthews was one of my easier selections to the second team, but he did not even make one of the three teams in your list. Why was he left out? He was an elite defender as well as a versatile scorer who averaged almost 13 ppg in his career at Michigan. Not to mention he was a big reason why the 2018 team made the National Championship game since he was named the NCAA Tournament All-Region player for Michigan’s region.
Liam: Charles was not higher on this list because his trajectory is the opposite of McGary. He vanished down the stretch, playing his best ball in November and December in the year you are referencing. He similarly vanished in the Round of 32 and Sweet 16 of his senior season. His best honor is his conference honorable mention in 2019 and so I accordingly put him in my honorable mention in a decade’s worth of Michigan players. He at many times was an elite defender and integral part of his respective teams, but his deficiencies and inconsistency late in the season was not enough for me to move him past some very talented Wolverines.
Ryan: I thoroughly disagree that his best basketball was in the earlier months of the 2017-18 season. Matthews averaged 14.8 ppg in the tournament that year, second on the team behind Wagner, who scored one more point than Matthews. I believe that Matthews is a much more polished player than Glenn Robinson III, who you included on your second team. I always thought of GR III as a great athlete, but a passive offensive option. I found myself wanting more from Robinson III on the offensive end as he had all the talent to get to rim at will or beat you from outside.
Liam: He was more solid in his first year, you are correct. Although with a National Championship on the line, Matthews only put up six points on 3-9 shooting against Villanova. In a game where Michigan needed every point it could get to keep up with Villanova’s offensive machine, he was 0-4 on his free throws. Robinson III did not have as many high point games as Matthews, but I prefer GR III’s solid play down the stretch to Matthews’ inconsistency despite him having an indisputable edge defensively. I think Robinson was the better athlete and an overall better player for Michigan than Matthews though I do think it is close.
Ryan: As far as the third team selections go, I was torn between Jordan Morgan and D.J. Wilson. I opted to go with Morgan because of his importance and impact beyond the stat sheet. The charge he took against Syracuse in the Final Four is one of the first plays of his career that comes to mind. What were your reasons for including Wilson in your third team?
Liam: This was another tough call, but I ultimately decided to value D.J. Wilson’s impressive last year (2016-2017) over the entirety of Jordan Morgan’s solid Michigan career. In that final year, Wilson put up 11 PPG, compared with Morgan’s 6-7 PPG over his entire career. Wilson was a starter for Michigan and ended his Michigan career with three excellent NCAA Tournament performances. Against Oklahoma State in Michigan’s first round game, D.J. put up 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 blocks. In the Round of 32 against #2 Louisville, Wilson put up 17 points with 3 blocks. In a heartbreaking loss against Oregon in the Sweet 16, he put up 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks. I gave the edge defensively to Morgan and will forever remember his taken charge and dunk against Syracuse in the Final Four to send Michigan to the National Championship game. However, I chose to go with the starter with one good year over the very solid role player.
Ryan: Let’s say we expand the decade to include former Michigan standouts Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims in our selections. Where is each playing landing on your list?
Liam: Although he did not have close to the level of team success as many of the other players on this list, I would put Manny Harris on my second team. In his Michigan career, he averaged 17 ppg, 5.7 rebounds per game, and 3.7 assists per game. He earned first team All-Big Ten honors in his sophomore year and his numbers are all the more impressive when you consider that he did not have very much talent around him besides DeShawn Sims. For Sims, I would put him on my third team. He averaged 12 ppg and 5.5 rebounds per game during his Michigan career and, along with Harris, made John Beilein’s early Michigan teams extremely competitive in games that they probably should not have been in on paper. Those numbers combined with his lack of success puts him just above the honorable mentions on my list.