The Big Ten is finally coming together after a two-year slide in conference play.
The conference was one of the Big Ten’s two worst in the first half of the 2016-17 season, when it dropped four of its final five games.
That has changed dramatically since the beginning of the decade, with conference play ranking third in the country in total games played and fourth in the Big 10 in total conference games.
In the second half of that season, Michigan and Ohio State went to the Final Four, while Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State fell to the Sweet 16.
Michigan’s emergence as one of college basketball’s best teams has been driven by two things: its freshman class and the emergence of four-star shooting guard Jahlil Okafor.
Michigan also has a lot of talent at its disposal, including four-stars Tyler Ulis, Jordan Morris, Jaron Blossomgame and Jahlill Okafore.
That gives Michigan plenty of firepower in the frontcourt, and that’s exactly what it needed after a tumultuous summer.
Michigan started the season as a dark horse to win the Big 12, but that fell apart.
Michigan had the nation’s second-best record and ranked No. 1 in the polls.
But after a disappointing loss to Purdue, the Wolverines were on a roll, winning seven of their last nine games.
Michigan then took a big step forward in the second month of the season, finishing the year ranked No, 1 in polls and averaging a Big Ten-best 73.6 points per game.
The Wolverines shot 50 percent from three-point range and outrebounded their opponents by a staggering margin.
Then Michigan went to an all-star break with a chance to win its second straight Big Ten title.
Then the Wolverine offense began to fall apart.
The offense wasn’t the problem.
The problem was the defense.
The defense wasn’t good.
The solution was to get OkaFOR.
Now, as the Big East has lost its two best defenses, it’s going to be a struggle for Michigan to stay relevant in the conference.
There’s no denying that the Wolverins’ offense has been one of its biggest problems over the past few years.
But they still managed to lead the Big Eight in scoring and rank second in the league in steals per game, while adding a lot more depth to the front line.
And OkaFor is exactly what the Wolveries needed to finally get things back on track.
Okafor’s impact on Michigan has been significant.
The 6-foot-11 forward has been a huge part of the offense, shooting a team-high 48.2 percent from the field and 37.2 points per contest.
He has also added 10.5 rebounds per game and added 1.5 blocks per game to go along with his 14.4 steals per contest, good for ninth in the nation.
That’s enough to get a lot better defensively than he has over the last two years, and he should help Michigan defend against the big men and small forwards in the paint.
He’s been a reliable option on the perimeter, posting a career-high in three-pointers made per game (1.7) and is second in steals and blocks per contest (1,957).
But Michigan isn’t going to just rely on OkaFore, either.
It also needs to replace its three-star recruiting class.
Michigan lost six-star guard Anthony Robinson, who committed to Florida State last season, and six-plus-star prospect Jalen Coleman, who is currently committed to Michigan State.
They’re all expected to sign soon, but it will be tough to keep them on the roster long-term.
Michigan needs to bring in a much better defensive player to replace them.
As for OkaFresh’s impact in recruiting?
Michigan is now ranked No., 8 in the recruiting rankings.
The program signed eight four- and five-star recruits this summer, and the Wolverons are on pace to sign another 10.
Michigan has struggled in the postseason the past two years.
Michigan finished 10-28 in the regular season and 12-21 in the tournament.
Michigan got knocked out in the round of 64 by Indiana.
Michigan is also on the outside of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2010 NCAA Tournament, losing to Florida, Duke and UCLA in the NCAA tournament.
It’s unclear if OkaAnd’s impact will change that trend.
Michigan has made some notable additions in recent years, including six-figure recruits Jalin Marshall and Jalen Hester.
But the program still has a long way to go.
Michigan hasn’t been to the NCAA Final Four since 2010, and it has never won the Big Dance.
It has never reached the Elite Eight, and its current three-year winning streak is the worst in college basketball.