Although the NCAA has yet to reply to Michigan’s appeal of next season’s postseason probation, it seems likely that the Wolverines will play 2004 knowing March Madness is not an option. This devastating news could bury many teams. Taking the postseason away from a college basketball player is like taking Romeo from Juliet. But according to senior tri-captain J.C. Mathis, the Wolverines won’t be affected by a lack of tourney time.
“I don’t think it’ll be hard because everyone on the team, outside of the three freshmen coming in, dealt with it last year,” Mathis said. “Motivation wasn’t a problem last year. We may have lost some games, but it wasn’t because of a lack of motivation.”
Coach Tommy Amaker agrees with Mathis, and feels that in a second straight year of postseason probation, the Wolverines can excel.
“I am hoping that the past experience of last year will allow us to be a little stronger and a little better,” Amaker said. “When we got the news about the lack of postseason opportunity for our team this season, we got that this past spring. Unlike last year when we got the news in November when we had already started practice. That was a very difficult pill to swallow and we had to shift gears and re-group. That will not be part of the equation this time,” Amaker said
He added, “I really think that this past year we took significant steps to right the ship here and put ourselves in a position to be a contending program in our conference.”
The Wolverines expect to hear a reply from the NCAA relatively soon, but Amaker attempts to keep the topic away from Michigan’s inner circle.
“We know that running the race on behalf of our players is the right thing to do,” Amaker said. “We have not given the appeal a lot of attention in terms of our specific program here. Our administrators have done a phenomenal job of trying to guide that in and orchestrate that. We will see how that turns out in late summer or early fall.”
Michigan may not be able to partake in the NCAA tournament or the NIT, but the Wolverines still hold lofty goals for the 2004 campaign.
“The expectations are very high,” Mathis said. “The highest that we can achieve. We can’t go to the post-season, so our main goal is to approach every game with the mindset to win. We’re trying to be the best in the Big Ten. Our goal is to try to win the Big Ten regular season championship and the conference championship.”
Achieving Big Ten supremacy will be far from easy; some college basketball analyst have already crowned the conference as the nation’s finest.
“The strength and power of this league is second to none,” Amaker said. “Going into my third year, it seems that every team has improved. I think the level of play is going to be a notch above what it was before.”