Michigan men’s basketball played its first game in over three weeks on Sunday, and it wasn’t an easy one. Not only did they have to travel to a notoriously inhospitable building in Madison, Wisc., but they also had to try and beat a top-tier team in the 21st-ranked Badgers, who led by 12 at the half.
But U-M found a way back, as a 40-20 second-half outburst rocketed these third-ranked Wolverines to a win and a Big Ten–best 9-1 conference record. And though that record has been bolstered by a lot of easy on the eyes, wire-to-wire performances, Sunday was a sign that perhaps they’re built to win nail-biters, too.
Michigan has consistently managed to be one of the better teams in the country for like five years now, but this edition—ranked third in KenPom, first in the country’s toughest conference—screams “contender!” more than any squad since Trey Burke’s. There are plenty of reasons for this success, but none are bigger, literally, than Hunter Dickinson, the team’s 7-foot-2 freshman center, who has brought to the maize-and-blue a nearly uncontainable ability to affect the game around the basket.
Dickinson’s stat line from the Wisconsin win is great: 11 points, 15 rebounds, and five blocks. But what’s best about it is when he made his most crucial plays. On this late three-ball from senior leader and top scorer Isaiah Livers, it was Dickinson’s comically lengthy arms that snatched a rebound from an awkward position, and his awareness in the double-team let him kick it out to the open man.
With the score tied at 59 about a minute later, Dickinson’s sheer size made it impossible for any Wisconsin defender to have a prayer of collecting Eli Brooks’s miss. They could only watch as the large child in their midst grabbed the putback and gave his team the lead for good, all while barely even leaving the ground. Again, check out freaking Doc Ock over here.
“He’s a load,” opposing coach Greg Gard said after the game. “He’s skilled. He’s got great footwork, great balance. He’s big and strong and has a nose for the ball. He plays how you want your post players to play.”
You’re all caught up with the game’s key moments now, but let’s also take a moment to appreciate how Dickinson’s bigness creates chaos on the defensive end. I spent ten minutes searching for and then putting together this compilation of Dickinson’s blocks from yesterday, so please clap, for both me and for his absurdly extended upper limbs that make it so he is never really out of position.
Pretty neat, huh? The Big Ten isn’t exactly hurting for stellar centers—Michigan’s date with Luka Garza and Iowa on March 4 looms large—but the way Dickinson has instantly been able to contribute as a freshman jumps out at anybody who’s caught even a few of his games. If there is an NCAA Tournament this year, and I guess the money demands there will be, watching this stretched-out 20-year-old intimidate and bewilder all the little imps below him could be the greatest joy of Michigan’s inevitable Final Four run. Yes, I said it. Those arms are not going to be satisfied until they’ve destroyed at least four other tournament teams.