Juwan Howard hunches over with his hands on his knees and looks onto the court. The crowd and media sit behind him.
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This story was updated March 12 at 11:37 p.m. to correct an error in the originally released bracket seedings.

For the first time since 2015, the Michigan men’s basketball team will miss the Big Dance. 

After a disappointing season filled with potential but a lack of follow through, the Wolverines missed the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they will participate in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). Michigan earned a No. 3 seed in the Clemson region. It will kick off its postseason against Toledo on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Crisler Center. The appearance is the first NIT bid for the Wolverines since 2007.

This likely isn’t what Michigan was hoping to hear on Selection Sunday, but it only has itself to blame. 

“At the beginning of each season, we have goals,” junior guard Jace Howard said. “Yes, we did not reach them, but we have a chance to change that. Some teams don’t have that chance. We do. We are still hungry.”

That hunger is something the Wolverines seemed to lack late in the season, though.

Following their win over Wisconsin two weeks ago, making the NCAA Tournament seemed well within their sights. With two road games remaining in the regular season and opportunities in the Big Ten Tournament as well, Michigan had a path to March Madness laid out nicely if it strung together a couple wins.

But just like the Wolverines did all season, they squandered their chances. A double-overtime loss in Illinois, in which Michigan blew a seven-point lead in the first overtime, whisked one opportunity out of reach. Then an overtime loss to Indiana to end the regular season — after leading by 12 points midway through the second half — took away another. 

The Wolverines entered their matchup against the Hoosiers with the chance to finish anywhere between a No. 2 seed and a No. 8 seed in the Big Ten. Unfortunately for Michigan, everything that could go against its favor did, and the Wolverines ended up as the No. 8 seed, facing Rutgers in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. 

Despite beating the Scarlet Knights earlier this season on the road — a notoriously tough environment for opposing teams — Michigan lacked any urgency on the neutral court of United Center and blew any chance of worming its way onto the right side of the bubble. After shooting 4-for-21 in the second half, the Wolverines fell to Rutgers, ending any hopes of turning their season around.

“We weren’t able to reach one of our goals and play in the NCAA Tournament; however, we have another chance to get out there,” junior center Hunter Dickinson said. “So many different things have happened to us this year, but we never put our heads down. The guys in that locker room are special and they know how much this means.”

Michigan had opportunity after opportunity to work themselves out of the hole it dug throughout the season. And while the Wolverines have shown glimpses of growth — stringing together a couple three-game win streaks and losing in overtime instead of regulation — it wasn’t enough down the stretch.

On a three-game losing streak, Michigan will look to turn things around in the postseason. But it can’t do it in the NCAA Tournament this year. Instead the Wolverines have to do so in the subpar NIT.

Nonetheless, Michigan is still taking a positive outlook, and focusing on the opportunity ahead of it.

“Being able to coach this team again means a great deal,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said.
“We get a chance to play for a championship. That means something. These guys have put their hearts and souls into this year despite all the adversity. This team has grown throughout the year, and we are looking forward to the opportunity to suit up and compete again.”

And that first opportunity comes this Tuesday against Toledo, when the Wolverines have a chance to get back into the win column.