Monday night, Michigan coach John Beilein sat down with his team and discussed down-on-their-luck teams that were able to pull away during the conference tournament to ultimately make NCAA Tournament runs.
After the Michigan men’s basketball team (10-8 Big Ten, 20-11 overall) lost four of its last five Big Ten games to close out the regular season, it will likely need to win at least two games to safely land an NCAA Tournament bid. Beilein hopes his squad can pull off a similar feat, and desperation seems to be fueling it.
“When you’re in the NCAA Tournament already, it’s hard to go down there (to the Big Ten Tournament) — we value the regular season so big, so much,” Beilein said. “And then you don’t win it and you know you might be in the NCAA Tournament, it is tough, you’ve gotta just keep your kids focused on trying to win it all.”
Now that his team is on the other end of the stick, with no guarantee at all of making the NCAA Tournament, he said that he “absolutely” feels that the Wolverines will be playing with a feeling of desperation. After all, if they lose to Northwestern in their first Big Ten Tournament matchup, their chances of getting a bid are close to zero. Even with a victory over the Wildcats, they will need to take down Indiana, the conference champion, the following day to feel better about their shot of hearing their name on Selection Sunday.
Michigan closed out its regular season with a loss to No. 16 Iowa. To most, it was considered a must-win game, but the conference tournament provides an opportunity to start fresh.
“We were really down after that loss,” Beilein said. “We didn’t play well, we didn’t play smart, we didn’t do a lot of things. We’re down. We watched the video yesterday, and it even made us feel worse. But now we’re going onto practice and we said, ‘OK, it’s done. Put it away and let’s move forward.’ ”
Junior guard Derrick Walton echoed his coach’s sentiment and added a positive outlook to Michigan’s reaction to its loss to Iowa.
“Guys on this team really care,” Walton said. “To be down about the game obviously showed that we care. We just gotta brush it off now at this point. We can’t go back now and change anything.”
Though Walton agrees with his coach in some aspects, he disagrees with others. He expects his team to be playing with a different mindset come Thursday afternoon in Indianapolis, but he wouldn’t give the Wolverines a “desperation” tag just yet.
“I think desperation is a word we probably wouldn’t want to use right now,” Walton said. “I think that puts too much pressure on ourselves. We’ll go out and perform as best as possible. I feel like if we put it all together like we know we can, this can be a big stretch for us.”
Whatever is fueling the Wolverines, whether it’s a different mindset, blind hope or desperation, it’s making an impression.
In Michigan’s final do-or-die situation before the Big Dance, the Wolverines seem to be fully aware of the Big Ten Tournament’s potential repercussions.
“I’m expecting our guys to play a little pissed off, pretty much,” Walton said. “We’re just not happy. … You can just expect this team to play with a bigger chip on their shoulder.”