The Michigan men’s basketball team opens the NCAA Tournament at 9:50 p.m. Thursday as the No. 3 seed in the West Region, against No. 14 seed Montana. Many Michigan fans are unhappy that the Wolverines open the tournament in Wichita, Kan., as opposed to Detroit.
Former Michigan and NFL running back Chris Howard examines why Michigan should be in Detroit, and Land of 10 reporter Rachel Lenzi explains why it’s a good thing that Michigan is in Kansas.
Q: SHOULD THE MICHIGAN BASKETBALL TEAM HAVE OPENED THE NCAA TOURNAMENT IN DETROIT?
CHRIS HOWARD: YES
It’s safe to say the NCAA Tournament selection committee has left quite a few people scratching their heads since Selection Sunday. In fact, I would wager that the “shaking my head” emoji probably was used more after the seedings were announced than anytime in “shaking my head” emoji history.
For me, Michigan’s placement into the West Region was one of those moments. Michigan swept chief rival Michigan State and toppled Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament to capture its second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title. The Wolverines finished the regular season on a nine-game winning streak and are one of the hottest teams in the country.
I thought that momentum would carry some weight in the eyes of the committee and Michigan would play in the Midwest Region in Detroit.
I was a fool to believe that the NCAA would get this right.
Instead, the Spartans open the tournament Friday in Detroit and the Wolverines open the tournament Thursday in Wichita, Kan. How Michigan State got into the Midwest Region over Michigan is baffling at best. Michigan has more Quadrant 1 wins and more top-50 wins. Seven of its top 10 wins came on the road or on a neutral court, and as I mentioned earlier, the Wolverines beat the Spartans by double digits twice.
Yes, the Spartans have an outstanding record, and yes, they won the Big Ten regular-season championship, but the résumés don’t compare. Michigan State has the star power, the legendary coach, the jaw-dropping dunks and nicely timed floor slaps, but it’s not the better team. Sorry, not sorry!
Could you imagine Michigan opening tournament play in Detroit in front of its fans? The energy from the fan base would have given the Wolverines an advantage and a sense of familiarity. Still, many are picking the Wolverines to make it to the Final Four.
But first, John Beilein and his red-hot Wolverines must make it through the West Region unscathed. While many experts believe the Wolverines have a manageable path to the Final Four, I have my reservations after reviewing the potential matchups. In my opinion, they have a tougher road than Michigan State or Purdue (which also plays Friday in Detroit).
The Wolverines open the NCAA Tournament at 9:50 p.m. ET Thursday against Montana in Wichita. The Grizzlies won the Big Sky Conference regular-season and tournament championships. This is the type of game that if Michigan is looking ahead, it could find itself in a dog fight, expending more energy to survive and advance to face either Houston — a very dangerous team — or San Diego State.
A second win could create a rematch with North Carolina, which beat Michigan handily in December. Even though this is a much-improved, battle-tested Wolverines team, the mismatches exist in North Carolina’s favor. The Tar Heels won’t rely on the outside shot. They’ll bang the ball inside, forcing Moritz Wagner into foul trouble, getting to the free-throw line early and often. North Carolina is a long, athletic team that has played well the last half of the season.
Of course, Xavier could be waiting in the wings as well. The Musketeers opened the season 15-1 and possess a strong offensive core of Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Quentin Gooden. Xavier is the real deal. If Michigan and Xavier make it to the regional final, man oh man, I might risk it and get my hopes up high.
While many people are penciling Michigan into their Final Four brackets, I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m a Michigan fan, so it’s only natural that I stay in a state of anxiety and uncertainty.
However, the basis for my apprehension is two-fold. Can a team like Michigan, which has been lights-out on both ends of the court, maintain that high level of play despite not playing a game in 10 days? When the game is on the line, will Michigan’s free-throw woes keep it from advancing?
The committee didn’t do the Wolverines any favors, but if you want to be the best, you must beat the best.