Emma Mati/Daily. Buy this photo.

With the calendar flipping to March, the Michigan men’s basketball team is running out of time to make a good impression. 

Over the last few weeks there were several opportunities to improve its résumé by stacking together Quadrant 1 victories and ensuring a tournament berth. But so far, the quest to build a formidable track record has been met with a lot of setbacks.

On Sunday against No. 15 Illinois, the Wolverines had a chance to get some assurance that their name would pop up in the bracket on Selection Sunday. Michigan got off to a sluggish start, then battled to make it a game, but ultimately fell short — leaving with its tournament chances still in limbo.

But as is the nature of the final month of college basketball, there is no time to dwell on what could’ve been against the Illini.

Instead, the attention must quickly turn to the Wolverines’ matchup with Michigan State, which will tip off just over 48 hours after the Illinois game finished.

“We’re going to get back to the drawing board tomorrow, just learn from it, watch film, all that stuff,” freshman wing Caleb Houstan said. “Just prepare for Michigan State. You can’t think about it too long but obviously you’ve got to learn from the mistakes. And also, the things you did well.”

Michigan may want to think about the plethora of mistakes it made the first time out against the Spartans. The Wolverines were run out of the gym in East Lansing back in January, losing 83-67. They were overwhelmed by the Spartans depth and couldn’t keep pace offensively. At the time, the loss put a dent in Michigan’s postseason hopes while Michigan State surged as a top-10 team in the country.

But since then, circumstances have changed. The Spartans have won just three games and are no longer ranked. The Wolverines, meanwhile, have proven to varying degrees that they can beat strong Big Ten competition. They were able to get revenge against then-No. 3 Purdue after losing to the Boilermakers in West Lafayette. However, they failed to achieve a different result against the Illini the second time around. This time, Michigan is seeking revenge against the Spartans and not dwelling on what’s happened in previous games.

“Our intention and our preparation are to win the next game,” acting head coach Phil Martelli said after Sunday’s Illinois game. “That happens to be Michigan State on Tuesday night.”

Life on the bubble doesn’t afford the luxury of taking games off. Michigan is facing a hyper-emphasis on its final few games — each win a chance to improve its stock, each loss holding the risk of being a costly blow.

Needless to say, the matchup with the Spartans is extremely important for securing a tournament berth, and there are some clear benchmarks that can lead to a better result the second time around. Improvements from beyond the arc and generating points from players other than sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, to name a few.

That can help on the court. Mentally, though, the players must quickly get ready to play a game after an emotionally draining loss on their home floor not very long ago. They also must navigate the delicate balance of putting all their energy and focus into winning the Michigan State game while also knowing that the games that follow later in the week, against No. 24 Iowa and No. 23 Ohio State, hold just as much weight.

“It’s the biggest game of the year,” Martelli said. “Then I think, when we catch our breath on Thursday, that’ll be the biggest game of the year.”

When speaking to reporters on Monday, Martelli emphasized “controlling the controllable.” Michigan, though dicey at times, has done what it needed to do to at least put itself firmly in the tournament conversation. To stay there, Tuesday’s bout against Michigan State is crucial. 

Martelli had a simple thought process for how to guide the team forward through the final days of the season:

“It’s about the next day. Not about the last day.”