Michigan was hoping for Detroit.
It got Wichita instead.
The Wolverines will open up the 2018 NCAA Tournament Thursday as the No. 3 seed in the West Region against No. 14 seed Montana. Detroit is also hosting first- and second-round games but Big Ten rivals Purdue and Michigan State will be playing at Little Caesars Arena while Michigan will be playing at INTRUST Bank Arena in downtown Wichita.
The disappointment of not playing close to home was evident when Purdue’s name was called as the No. 2 seed in the East Region.
It was more profound when Michigan State, a team the Wolverines have beaten twice by double digits this season, was slotted into the bracket as the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region. The Spartans won the Big Ten regular season title, while Michigan won the Big Ten Tournament championship and the conference’s automatic bid.
“I don’t necessarily feel it was disappointment but I just think they wanted more fan base and wanted more support. You can understand that because Detroit is 30-40 minutes away from here,” said redshirt sophomore guard Charles Matthews. “We could definitely have more fans there but we’re fine wherever we’re at. We’re in the tournament and we’re going to make the most out of every opportunity.”
The NCAA Tournament selection committee attempts to keep the top four seeds in each region as close to home as possible for the first two rounds, but that can’t always be the case. Michigan opened the tournament in Indianapolis last year, beating Oklahoma State and Louisville en route to the Sweet 16. Wichita is, according to Google Maps, 920 miles from Ann Arbor. Pittsburgh and Nashville are a couple other sites for the first couple of rounds.
Michigan coach John Beilein is pleased to be playing on Thursday instead of Friday. The Wolverines have not played a game since beating Purdue 75-66 for the Big Ten Tournament title on March 4 in New York City.
“The bottom line is: everybody has to go through that,” Beilein said. “Never been to Wichita before, it’ll be great just to go. I wish our fans were closer but they’ll find a way to get there. It would have been convenient for everybody.
“They have a difficult job, so we were ready for anything.”