INDIANAPOLIS — Entering the Big Ten Tournament, the narrative surrounding the Michigan men’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament chances was a simple one: If the Wolverines could beat Northwestern on Thursday and then upset top-seeded Indiana the next day, they’d be in.
Thanks to sophomore guard Kameron Chatman’s buzzer-beating stunner on Friday, the Wolverines checked off both boxes. Yet when the latest projections of the 68-team NCAA Tournament field emerged on Friday night, many still didn’t include Michigan — an interesting about-face for several analysts who had previously predicted that an upset over the Hoosiers would get the job done.
Now, in the wake of the Wolverines’ 76-59 loss to Purdue on Saturday in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, Michigan is left sitting and waiting despite reaching the watermark that many say will make the difference.
“I thought it was a really big sign,” Beilein said, touting his team’s ability to beat Indiana despite the sea of red supporting the Hoosiers in Indianapolis. “It wasn’t exactly a road win, (but) it was as close as you can get to it. And that’s what people are looking for, those great wins. … To beat them shows that we can play with anybody. They could win a national championship. So you’ve got to look at that.”
Beilein, who’s always quick to acknowledge he’s “not a bracketologist,” has a clear stance. The NCAA Tournament selection committee’s stance is the one that matters, however.
“The coaches don’t really talk about that, but we hear from around, a bunch of different people, saying, ‘Yeah, you’ve got to get two wins to be able to play in the NCAA Tournament.’ And then after the win yesterday, (the narrative was), you still may have to get another win.”
So would it be more disappointing to hear the rumors, accomplish an explicitly stated goal,and still not get an invitation?
“I guess you could say that,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “Yeah. It’s always disappointing when you don’t make the tournament, especially if you’re expecting to.”
The Wolverines don’t seem to have many expectations one way or the other, but the consensus in their locker room was that they proved themselves over the weekend. This, said Beilein and Abdur-Rahkman and junior forward Zak Irvin, is a team on the upswing, one that is better simply for having played these three games and one that hasn’t stopped improving at any point this season.
Beilein offered a standard but convincing list of reasons the Wolverines are an NCAA Tournament-caliber team: strength of schedule, time spent adjusting to injuries to senior guards Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht and the encouraging late-season improvement.
“I do believe that if we played anybody right now — any of those other bubble teams right now — we’re as good as any of those other teams, or better,” Beilein said. “Because we’ve been playing elite teams. We haven’t been playing top-100 (teams). We’ve been playing elite teams.”
In the end, the strength of schedule and the bubble narratives and every other attribute of the Wolverines’ roller-coaster season will boil down to a simple question: Is Michigan good enough to play in the NCAA Tournament?
“Yeah, I think so,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “The Big Ten’s a great conference, the second-best or best in the country, so we’re playing tough teams day in and day out. I think we’ve proven ourselves, a little bit — that we can play with anybody.”
The Wolverines’ patience will be tested as they wait for their fate. They’re spending Saturday night in Indianapolis, opting for a Sunday-morning bus ride back to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines will then gather in their video room Sunday at 5:30 p.m. to watch CBS broadcast their fate.
“It’s gonna be a long Sunday,” Beilein said.