As of right now, the Michigan men’s basketball team is on the outside looking in to the NCAA Tournament.
According to bracketmatrix.com — a database that compiles bracket projections from across the Internet — the Wolverines were among the first four teams left out of the tournament before Tuesday night’s games.
But in the coming weeks, Michigan will have plenty of opportunities to face quality opponents and prove that it belongs in the field of 68.
With that in mind, the Daily breaks down what the Wolverines have done and what they will have to do in order to improve their NCAA Tournament résumé by the time Selection Sunday rolls around:
What does the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee look at?
The 10-member NCAA selection committee uses its judgment (“eye test”) along with several key metrics to evaluate a team’s performance. According to NCAA.com, some of those metrics include: Ratings Percentage Index (RPI); strength of schedule; performance against top-50 teams; home and road records; various computer metrics such as Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin; head-to-head results; and results versus common opponents.
Michigan’s Key Numbers (as of Jan. 24)
Overall Record: 13-7
Conference Record: 3-4
Ken Pomeroy Ranking: 43
Jeff Sagarin Rating: 38
Strength of Schedule (according to Ken Pomeroy): 54
Record vs. RPI Top 25: 0-4
Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-6
Record vs. RPI Top 100: 5-6
Record vs. NCAA tournament teams (using bracketmatrix.com): 3-5
Home/Neutral Record: 13-2
Road Record: 0-5
Michigan’s current résumé
The first factor that jumps out from Michigan’s résumé is its lack of wins against NCAA Tournament-caliber teams. The Wolverines have yet to record a win over RPI top-25 teams, and those struggles extend to their 2-6 mark versus RPI top-50 opposition. Michigan needs to show the selection committee it can be competitive with teams expected to make the field of 68 and, so far, the Wolverines’ only convincing evidence are their two wins against Southern Methodist and Marquette in New York.
Here’s the good news for Michigan: The Wolverines have yet to suffer a bad loss. Michigan’s worst loss was at Iowa — No. 113 in the RPI — with the rest of the Wolverines’ defeats coming to teams within the RPI’s top-50. Rutgers is the only remaining team on Michigan’s schedule with an RPI over 100. As long as the Wolverines don’t drop that game, they’ll steer clear of any ugly blemishes on their résumé.
Michigan also scores well in the computer rankings that the selection committee will begin to factor in this year. Those high marks primarily hang on the Wolverines’ strength of schedule and wins over the Mustangs and Golden Eagles in New York. Michigan will have chances to boost its ratings in the coming weeks, and the computers seem to have a favorable view of the Wolverines, which will come in handy in March.
How can Michigan’s résumé improve?
To put it simply: By winning the big games left on its schedule.
The Wolverines will have plenty of chances to pick up some impressive wins in the next few weeks. Michigan plays Indiana and Michigan State twice each in its next five games. Both the Spartans and the Hoosiers have gotten off to sluggish starts in the Big Ten, but are still projected to make the tournament field. Over this stretch, the Wolverines can potentially reshape their record against top-50 teams — an important criteria for the selection committee.
Michigan also needs to improve its road record. The Wolverines are currently 0-5 in true road games, and they will have plenty of chances coming up to post some away wins on the board. Michigan’s next three road games are against Michigan State, Indiana and Northwestern. Because the Wolverines dropped winnable away contests at Iowa and at Illinois, they’ll need to win a couple of these more challenging road games to make up for those early losses.
There are some metrics that Michigan can’t control that can end up helping it come Selection Sunday. The Wolverines’ strength of schedule can continue to improve if Michigan’s non-conference opponents maintain their winning ways. Southern Methodist, South Carolina and UCLA all currently rank in the top-3 of their respective conference standings. Marquette pulled off an upset victory over Creighton over the weekend, and Virginia Tech defeated Duke a few weeks ago.
One team to keep an eye on out of the Wolverines’ non-conference opposition is Marquette. Just like Michigan, the Golden Eagles are a bubble team, currently projected to barely make the field of 68. If both teams continue down that path, and only one spot remains in the tournament field, how much will the committee value the Wolverines’ November win over Marquette? In the best case scenario, Michigan hopes its play on the court will improve to a point where it won’t have this question hanging over its head on Selection Sunday.