The only suspense awaiting Michigan on this Selection Sunday is where the Wolverines will land in the NCAA Tournament bracket. They were one of the first teams to qualify for the tournament when they won their second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title, beating Purdue 75-66 to cap a run of four wins in four days at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Michigan (28-7) moved up to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll after the win against Purdue last Sunday. The Wolverines were a No. 7 seed last year after winning the conference tournament but should be significantly higher this year. Michigan’s résumé includes nonconference wins against UCLA and Texas — a pair of RPI teams ranked 51st or better — as well as top-25 RPI wins against conference foes Purdue, Michigan State (twice) and Ohio State.
There’s a chance that Michigan could start the tournament playing in Detroit. The NCAA selection committee attempts to keep the top 4 seeds in each region close to home for the first two rounds, giving priority to teams with the higher seeds. Other possible relatively close sites for the first weekend are Pittsburgh and Nashville, Tenn. Xavier, Cincinnati, Michigan State and Purdue are other teams projected as top seeds that could end up in Detroit.
Three Wolverines are averaging double figures in scoring: junior forward Moe Wagner (14.5 points per game), junior guard Charles Matthews (12.6) and senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12.6). Abdur-Rahkman leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (5.04), while sophomore point guard Zavier Simpson is No. 25 nationally with a ratio of 2.76. As a team, Michigan is fourth nationally with a 1.62 ratio. The Wolverines don’t hurt themselves with turnovers.
It’s the Wolverines defense, however, that has been the catalyst of the team’s success. They are allowing just 63.5 points per game, the best average of any team from the Big Ten and No. 8 nationally. The Wolverines are No. 5 in the KenPom.com defensive efficiency ratings, giving up 92.6 points per 100 possessions.
Here’s a look at where Michigan could begin the tournament and how far it can go.
NCAA Tournament 2018: Michigan projections
As of Sunday morning, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Wolverines as the No. 3 seed in the East region behind No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 North Carolina. He places them in Dallas against Wright State in the first round.
CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm has Michigan as the No. 3 seed in the West and opening up against UMBC in Dallas. Xavier and North Carolina are the top two seeds in the region, per Palm’s projections.
Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan places Michigan among his four No. 3 seeds.
FOX Sports’ Howie Schwab has the Wolverines as the No. 3 seed in the East, opening against Iona.
NCAA Tournament 2018: Michigan outlook
Michigan has become one of the hot predictions to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament since winning the Big Ten Tournament championship, with some believing the Wolverines have a chance to win it all. The only national title in program history came in 1989, and no Big Ten team has won the national championship since Michigan State in 2000. Michigan was last in the Final Four in 2013, when it lost in the National Championship Game to Louisville. The Cardinals since have been forced to vacate that title.
The Wolverines have a legitimate shot at reaching the Final Four in San Antonio because of their defense and depth. Wagner, Matthews and Abdur-Rahkman are the top scorers, but there are multiple players capable of producing points. Senior guard Duncan Robinson leads the team with 69 made 3-point shots, and freshman guard Jordan Poole has shown the capability of igniting runs with his outside shooting.
Ultimately, Michigan will go as far as its defense takes it.