INDIANAPOLIS — There was a point when the Michigan men’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament chances looked slim to none, but now, with a pair of dramatic shots, the Wolverines are right back in the conversation.
Junior forward Zak Irvin knocked down a game-winning jumper in overtime against Northwestern on Thursday and sophomore forward Kameron Chatman sank a 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left to upset No. 10 Indiana on Friday, and suddenly Michigan’s postseason hopes have sprung back to life.
And just in case the win over the Hoosiers isn’t quite enough to emerge on the right side of the bubble, the Wolverines (10-8 Big Ten, 22-11 overall) have another chance to boost their résumé when they face No. 13 Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. The two teams split their meetings in the regular season, with each winning on its home court — most recently, Michigan used a late surge to knock off the Boilermakers in Ann Arbor on Feb. 13, 61-56.
It will be the Wolverines’ third game in 49 hours, meaning fatigue could come into play, but Michigan coach John Beilein isn’t too concerned.
“I don’t see a big difference, believe it or not, between a team playing their third or fourth game when the other team is playing their second or third,” he said. “That’s not gonna be the factor in the game. We’re gonna have to play well. I’ll probably try and rest some guys a little bit more. I’m making myself put (other) guys in the lineup in the first half just to give them a little more rest.”
Every team in the tournament has to deal with fatigue, but Michigan will need to hope its big men are ready to play — facing the 1-2 punch of Caleb Swanigan and A.J. Hammons down low is no easy task on any level of rest. The Boilermakers (12-6, 25-7) have only been outrebounded once all season: at Crisler Center in February.
It may be a stretch to assume the Wolverines’ big men will be up to the challenge again. Junior forward Mark Donnal, who has garnered most of the playing time at the ‘5’ position since late December, has nine fouls over the last two games and had some costly moments of hesitation in the game against Indiana.
Meanwhile, sophomore forward Ricky Doyle is nursing an ankle injury sustained at the end of the Northwestern game, forcing freshman forward Moritz Wagner to play some meaningful minutes against Indiana. The 6-foot-10 German finished the game with nine points and showed flashes of brilliance, but it was his first time playing more than 10 minutes since January.
Even if Michigan can overcome its fatigue and get serviceable play from its big men, toppling Purdue for a second time will be no easy task. The Boilermakers received a double bye in the tournament before throttling Illinois, 89-58, on Friday afternoon, allowing them to get their starters some crucial rest.
One thing is for certain, though: Thanks to the win over Indiana, Michigan is firmly on the tournament bubble once again. A win over the Boilermakers should just about make it a lock.