PARADISE ISLAND, The Bahamas — The season is just four games old, but it’s somehow crunch time for the Michigan men’s basketball team. Following back-to-back losses to Xavier and Connecticut, the Wolverines’ record sits at 2-2, and the window for gaining impressive non-conference wins to show the NCAA Tournament selection committee is narrowing.
A major step in that direction would be to salvage the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Wolverines (2-2) take on Charlotte (1-3) at 9:30 p.m. in the tournament’s second round, and will play either Texas or Washington in the final round on Friday.
The 49ers are no pushover, but they’re a certain step down from the level of competition Michigan has seen over the course of its last two games. Against Xavier, the Wolverines were beaten up inside — against Connecticut, they simply couldn’t shoot.
The season, at least, is still young.
“If you’re gonna lose, lose early,” said Michigan coach John Beilein after Michigan’s loss on Wednesday night. “We’re going to be better. We’ve had seasons like this, where we didn’t get off to such a good start. It puts better meaning to our ball-handling drills.”
The Wolverines don’t get much of a Thanksgiving Day celebration with the 9:30 p.m. tip-off. The day will be business as usual for Michigan, but with a few exceptions. The team’s pregame meal is normally limited to players and coaches, but given that it doubles as Thanksgiving dinner, family members who made the trip will be included. Beilein said Wednesday there might even be a turkey component involved.
After dinner, Michigan will find itself squaring off against a program with no shortage of new faces. Mark Price, a former Charlotte Hornets assistant who also played 12 season in the NBA, is in his first season with the 49ers. Most of his team is new to the program as well — Charlotte’s roster sports eight underclassmen.
The 49ers lost to Syracuse in the tournament’s opening round, but played the Orange tough in the 83-70 defeat.
The Wolverines can’t afford another early-season loss, but records aside, all Beilein wants to see at this point is improvement.
“One thing I know about these guys is that sometimes they’re slower than others, but they will get better from this game,” Beilein said Wednesday. “We’re playing really good teams right now, and we’re not a really good team right now, but we will be as the season progresses.”
A win would pit Michigan against the winner of Wednesday’s Washington-Texas matchup at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Wolverines would play that game’s loser at 9:30 p.m. with a loss. Each of Michigan’s final two games in the tournament will be broadcast on AXS TV.