In honoring senior guards Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert on Saturday, the Michigan men’s basketball team will close the book on its most successful four-year stretch since the early 1990s. The two seniors, out with a pair of hip injuries and a left leg injury, respectively, will watch from the bench as the senior-less Wolverines take the court for a season-defining matchup with No. 16 Iowa.
Win, and Michigan is almost certainly in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in six years. Lose, and the Wolverines will likely miss the Big Dance for the second season running.
“It’s all-go against Iowa,” Michigan coach John Beilein told reporters on Friday. “I’m no bracketologist, (and I don’t) follow the bubble like I once did — all I do know is that this has to be an extremely important game for us if we want to keep our postseason hopes alive. That, or make a big run in the (Big Ten) Tournament.”
Luckily for the Wolverines, they’re taking on a team in a full-on nosedive. The Hawkeyes have dropped four straight games and five of their last six, and they seem like a shell of the team that jumped out to a 7-0 start in Big Ten play.
Despite an 82-71 loss, Michigan turned in one of its better performances of the season against the early-season Hawkeyes on Jan. 17 in Iowa City. Twice, the Wolverines fought back from sizable deficits to make the road game competitive against a team with more size, strength and experience.
Michigan gets the Hawkeyes at Crisler Center the second time around, and beyond home-court advantage, it has been spotted an edge in the schedule. Iowa hosted Indiana on Tuesday, falling 81-78, while the Wolverines have been off since their 68-57 loss to Wisconsin on Sunday.
Beilein said after the loss to the Badgers that he intends to treat the week in between as he would a week leading up to an NCAA Tournament game — appropriate, given the win-or-stay-home nature of Saturday’s clash.
Beilein says his players know what’s at stake — then again, the Wolverines can’t afford to overthink things, especially in light of their error-riddled loss last week in Madison.
“Having extra time should help,” Beilein said. “(But) what Iowa does, Iowa does with a really veteran team. It’s gonna be tough to stop them. It’s gonna be tough to score on them. They’ll change things on us. We’ll see zone, we’ll see man … but there are things that continue to bog us down, which is doing the same thing over and over again, (making) the same mistake.”
Note: Michigan will dress one of its managers, Fred Wright-Jones, for the game on Saturday. Wright-Jones is a freshman from Detroit and is a Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient, which covers the cost of his education through a Ph.D. He will wear number 14.
Also: Construction on M-14 in Ann Arbor between Miller Road and Main Street began on Friday, and could potentially impact fans driving to Crisler Center for the game. Additional parking information is available here: http://www.mgoblue.com/facilities/parking-options.html
Daily Sports Writer Ted Janes contributed reporting.