Let’s preview the real tournament.
WHEN DOES MICHIGAN PLAY?*: MICHIGAN PLAYS ON FRIDAY AT 7:20 PM
*This section sponsored by ESPN, because I had to click on 12 different pages of their godforsaken website to find the fucking game time.
How did they get here?: Michigan was part of a three-way tie for the Big Ten regular season title and has been ranked for the entire season. For once, Wolverine fans weren’t holding their breath on Selection Sunday, as their place in the field had been all but assured for months.
The Joe Lunardis of the world had Michigan pegged as a 3-seed before the Big Ten Tournament, so it’s possible that Michigan’s 22-point loss to Ohio State knocked them back to a 4-seed. However, with 3-seed Georgetown facing off against Belmont — a surprisingly talented team that has absolutely run train over its conference over the past two seasons — the Wolverines should consider this a favorable draw.
First round opponent: Ohio (Not That Ohio) Bobcats
The actual school in Ohio named “Ohio” comes into the tournament riding a 4-game winning streak, including a 3-0 run to win the MAC Tournament last weekend. Despite finishing 3rd in the MAC in the regular season, they had the conference’s best overall record at 27-7. Of course, this is largely due to a weak non-conference schedule; their only real test was a 5-point loss at Louisville.
Anyway, Ohio can’t really shoot very well (they’re ranked in the 200s in the entire NCAA in field goal percentage), and their success depends largely on getting to the free throw line. Their chances of an upset largely rest on point guard D.J. Cooper, their leader in both points and assists per game, outplaying Trey Burke by a mile.
Keys to success: If Michigan wants to win their first game or two, they need Trey Burke to continue his excellent play and not get collapses from everyone else. If they want to move beyond the first weekend, then Tim Hardaway Jr. will need to put together a more consistent effort than the mere glimpses of efficiency that he has shown throughout the season. Additionally, Jordan Morgan needs to be an absolute monster on the boards, especially against North Carolina (John Henson missing the game would help big-time with this). Finally, Michigan needs to hit threes in bunches to offset their (likely) size disadvantage. If all of these things happen, Michigan could be a very dangerous team in this tournament.
Prediction: John Beilein’s offense is extremely complex and very tough to defend on short notice; this is one of the reasons that his West Virginia teams were frequent surprises in the tournament when he coached there. I think that Michigan has enough talent to get past both Ohio and (likely) Temple in the first weekend, but their run ends abruptly when they meet a North Carolina juggernaut in the Sweet Sixteen.