The final weekend of the regular season provided no shortage of drama for the Wolverines in the Big Ten Tournament. After receiving their ever first No.1 seed, Michigan fended off a tough Illinois team in the quarterfinals by a score of 64-63. Jordan Morgan nailed the go-ahead floater in the paint to give Michigan the lead with 7.9 seconds remaining and Tracy Abrams missed a floater in the lane on the ensuing possession for the Illini as the buzzer sounded.
This set up a rematch in the semifinals with rival Ohio State, who overcame an 18-point deficit in the quarterfinals to defeat fourth seeded Nebraska. Michigan raced out to an early 32-16 lead in the first half, but the Buckeyes fought back, taking the lead in the second half on a Sam Thompson alley-oop with about 7 minutes remaining. The Wolverines stayed tough though, as Nik Staukas nailed an incredible “up-and-under” basket with 2:08 left to give Michigan a 71-68 lead. Ohio State, down by three on their final possession, had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but Aaron Craft’s shot slipped out of his hands and Michigan again escaped and advanced to the conference championship.
Another familiar rival, the Michigan State Spartans, greeted them with Brendan Dawson, Adrien Payne and Keith Appling all in the lineup together, unlike in the previous two matchups against the Wolverines. Despite getting out to an early 9-4 lead, the Wolverines were dominated by the Spartans for the rest of the game, as the Spartan lead went under 10 points for only 42 seconds of the second half. Michigan looked tired at times, but the Spartan defense on Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert was too much to overcome, especially since Michigan struggled to move the ball and generate offense in the paint. Both Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford picked up two fouls in the first half, forcing Max Bielfeldt into extended minutes. Despite the loss, this was Michigan’s deepest Big Ten tournament run under John Beilein and it certainly doesn’t detract from an incredibly successful 25-8 regular season, which featured an outright regular season Big Ten title.
Now, the Wolverines will focus on the NCAA Tournament, which begins on Tuesday with the First Four in Dayton. Michigan earned a No. 2 seed in the tournament and will take on the 15-seeded Wofford Terriers out of the Southern Conference. The Terriers are 20-12 on the season and defeated Western Carolina in their conference championship.
The Wolverines were placed in the Midwest region, which will hold its Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups in Indianapolis, giving Michigan a very generous geographic advantage should they advance. Second and third round matchups will take place in Milwaukee. If the Wolverines defeat the Terriers, they will face the winner of the matchup between 7-seeded Texas and 10-seeded Arizona State. Both teams have struggled of late, as the Longhorns stumbled to a 5-6 finish while the Sun Devils have lost five of their last seven games. Looking beyond the first two rounds, other top seeds in the Midwest region include Wichita State, Duke and Louisville. The Duke Blue Devils are the third seeded team in the Midwest region, meaning the Wolverines could very likely face them in the Sweet 16. Michigan and Duke faced off December 3rd at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, with Duke winning 79-69. However, the Wolverines were playing with Mitch McGary healthy, while Stauskas managed only four points, and Jordan Morgan played only 10 minutes. Clearly, Duke would be facing a much different Michigan team this time around. Looking even farther ahead, one potential Elite Eight opponent for Michigan could be the 4th seeded Louisville Cardinals. This would set up a highly entertaining rematch last year’s national championship game.
Overall, the outlook looks very good for Michigan to advance to the Sweet 16. The Wolverines should have no trouble with Wofford in their first matchup and Texas or Arizona State seems manageable as well. After that though, the matchups will be very tough, as the prospect of facing Duke, Louisville or even Wichita State won’t make many fans optimistic. However, the NCAA Tournament features a great deal of unpredictability and as Michigan fans learned last year, anything can happen to turn the bracket upside down in an instant. Get excited fans, March is finally here!