Notebook: Livers injury, bracket update and the case for Detroit

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 - 9:39pm

Freshman forward Isaiah Livers didn't think his latest ankle injury was serious.

Freshman forward Isaiah Livers didn't think his latest ankle injury was serious. Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

Asked about where he thinks Michigan deserves to be seeded, fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson instead summoned a different sport — with a much smaller ball — for comparison.

“There’s a week left, so there’s a lot of moving pieces still,” Robinson said after winning the Big Ten Tournament on Sunday evening. “But we’re in the clubhouse, I guess you could say.”

And if the No. 7 Michigan men’s basketball team is comfortably perched in the clubhouse, it is waiting anxiously as the rest of college hoops makes the turn down the back nine.

Sunday evening, the 68-team NCAA Tournament field will be unveiled, and the Wolverines will head back out on the course. And after a torrid run through the Big Ten Tournament last week, their stock is soaring in many bracket projections.

Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s leading bracketologist, has Michigan as a 3 seed in the East region. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports penciled in the Wolverines as a 4 seed in the South region. 

BracketMatrix.com — a website that compiles a total of 102 different bracket projections — currently lists Michigan as the final No. 3 seed, with an average seeding of 3.22.

Michigan currently sits at 13th in RPI with a 6-5 record in “Quadrant I” games — matchups against RPI top-25 teams at home, top-50 on neutral sites and top-75 on the road. The quadrant system is a new criteria the committee is expected to utilize this season for the first time — a quantitative way to evaluate “good wins” and “bad losses” and place a weighted value on winning away from home.

Regardless of the seed line, though, the Wolverines will be a group any NCAA Tournament-bound teams will hope to avoid in their bracket come Sunday evening.

“We have Michigan as a No. 3 seed,” Sports Illustrated’s current bracket projection reads, “but even if they end up as a No. 4, or somehow a No. 5, they’re going to be a team no top seed will want to see in its region.”

Livers (ankle) expects to be ready for the NCAA Tournament

When freshman forward Isaiah Livers lay near midcourt just over a minute into the second half against Purdue, the worst-case scenario rushed to mind.

Cutting toward the ball to receive an inbounds pass, Livers stepped on the foot of Boilermaker forward Vincent Edwards and immediately fell to the ground, grabbing his left ankle, clearly in agonizing pain.

“I must have overstrided,”  Livers said after the game, “and I stepped on his foot and pushed off.”

Livers made his way to the locker room shortly after, limping noticeably on his way down the tunnel.

The freshman first sprained his ankle in an early February loss at Northwestern. He returned eight days later against Iowa, missing only one game.

The trainers told him Sunday’s injury was similar to the one he suffered against the Wildcats, though he told reporters the pain was worse.

And while instant reactions seemed grim, it seems the injury is not as bad as it may have initially seemed. Livers came back to the bench midway through the second half, though he did not play the final 19 minutes of the championship bout.

“I could (have gone back in),” Livers said. “Duncan (Robinson) was just playing good.”

After the game, Livers vowed to be ready for the NCAA Tournament. Aided by the extra week off, he will, at minimum, have 10 days to regain his health in preparation for the Tournament.

Livers took over as the starter at the ‘4’ in mid-January against Michigan State and hasn’t relinquished it since. While he remains the starter — and likely will the rest of the season, health permitting — due to his defensive capabilities and rebounding prowess, the freshman has increasingly ceded minutes to fifth-year senior Duncan Robinson. Robinson has eclipsed Livers’ total in minutes in all of the last 12 games, including each Big Ten Tournament contest.

The case for Detroit:

The third round of Michigan-Michigan State might be slated for Sunday afternoon, just not on the court this time.

The Wolverines dispatched the Spartans in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal Saturday afternoon, completing the sweep of their in-state foe.

But with Detroit slated to be one of the first-round sites of the NCAA Tournament next weekend, the battle of the two résumés may determine who gets to trek tens of miles to Little Caesars Arena instead of hundreds or even thousands.

This year, the NCAA has re-emphasized a desire to accomodate teams and their most convenient travel situations.

Lunardi affirmed this in his Bracketology page FAQ.

“For the 16th time, the NCAA men's basketball committee will not predetermine the regional designation of each of the eight sub-regional sites (what it calls the "pod" system),” Lunardi writes. “This gives the committee increased flexibility to reduce travel for teams and fans, as well as create more local interest at sub-regional sites that may not be traditional basketball areas. For example, the sub regional site in Pittsburgh could send its winners to Los Angeles (West Regional) instead of, say, the East Regional in Boston, if the committee thinks it makes more geographic sense for the teams involved.”

But given Xavier and Purdue’s proximity to Detroit as well, it may come down to Michigan and Michigan State for that final preferential spot.

The Wolverines, of course, have beaten the Spartans head-to-head twice this season, both games away from Ann Arbor. They are currently 13th in RPI to the Spartans’ 15th, have six Quadrant I wins to the Spartans’ three, played the toughest schedule in the Big Ten this year to Spartans’ 13th-ranked conference strength of schedule and, of course, won the Big Ten Tournament title.

But it’s not that simple. 

Most bracket projections still list Michigan State ahead — with that coveted spot in Detroit — for a few reasons. For one, the Spartans lost just four games all year en route to compiling a sparkling 29-4 record and the regular season Big Ten title. Michigan State played a far tougher non-conference schedule, including a more notable non-conference win over North Carolina, a team the Wolverines lost to handily. And to top it off, the Spartans haven’t lost a game outside Quadrant I all year. Michigan State’s marquee non-conference win is better and they have no bad losses, in short.

All of this comes down to what the committee values and doesn’t, a fruitless task to even ponder. If they choose to look at the head-to-head matchups and/or RPI, Michigan will take precedent. If they want the more consistent team, it will be Michigan State.

But if you know how the selection committee will evaluate this — and every — decision, maybe you should stop focusing on college basketball and start playing the lottery.