Frank Sinatra might want to “start spreadin’ the news” that the Michigan basketball team is heading back to Madison Square Garden — but this time for the Preseason NIT final four.

Brian Schick
The Wolverines need to put together two consecutive solid halves in order to beat Arizona, which could be a major springboard game for the rest of the season. (RYAN WEINER/Daily)
Brian Schick

 

“I want to be a part of it, New York, New York … ”

And assuming that Wright State won’t pull off a stunning upset of No. 10 Arizona tonight, the Wolverines will play one of the premier programs in college basketball.

The Michigan players and coaches have said that this is a great opportunity for Michigan and a chance to play against some quality opponents. While this is true, just playing against Arizona and being competitive against the Wildcats are two completely different things. Making the triumphant return to the Garden is a great achievement, but if the Wolverines continue to keep playing erratically — the way they have in the early going this season — just making it to New York might not seem like such a great achievement. The Wolverines need to show they belong there.

Looking at the two NIT games so far, it was a tale of two halves for Michigan against Binghamton on Monday. The Bearcats looked as if they’d play the spoiler, jumping out to a double-digit lead. A solid second half from Dion Harris and Daniel Horton helped whittle away the lead at little bit at a time, and Michigan pulled away to secure the win.

Tonight, the Wolverines looked like they’d send Colorado packing before five minutes elapsed. But Michigan couldn’t extend its 15-point halftime lead, and eventually surrendered 35 points in the second half. There were several instances down the stretch when it appeared that Colorado might have stolen the momentum from the Crisler Arena crowd. Granted, Michigan kept finding ways to keep the Buffaloes at bay, but it was too close for comfort.

 

“I’ll make a brand new start of it, in old New York … ”

It appears that each game has featured one half in which Michigan looks like it can make a serious run at the Big Ten championship this year and can hang with the elite teams in college basketball. The other half is plagued with careless passing, bad turnovers and questionable shot selection, which would be good enough for the Postseason NIT.

The most frustrating aspect of the first two games is seeing flashes of a great team trying to get past inconsistent play. I have no doubt that the Wolverines have the talent to give Arizona a great game a week from tonight, but it will take two halves playing like the team we saw in the first half tonight and the second half against Binghamton.

I’d hate to see people start referring to this team as one that could give a good team just one good half. After all, this team has accomplished so much over the past few years, emerging from controversy and making steady steps each season, culminating in the Postseason NIT championship. To not cement Michigan’s return to being a quality program on a national stage would be disheartening.

 

“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere … ”

This might seem like an exaggeration, but I feel that this trip to New York will have a big impact on how the rest of the season will go for Michigan. If the Wolverines can put together a game with two consistently solid halves to make the perfect game — even in defeat — this team can be proud of its effort and show it belongs in the top-25 with the Arizonas of the basketball world. But if the Wolverines come out flat and have lackluster performances, it could be a serious blow to the team’s confidence — especially heading into the Georgia Tech game on Nov. 30 — from which the team may not recover and drop out of the Big Ten race.

I really don’t see the latter situation happening from what I’ve seen so far; this club recognizes the importance and even if they won’t say, the players have had their eye on the potential matchup with Arizona since the NIT schedule was announced. It seems this team is ready for a big game on a national stage to show that it is ready to make a name for itself and it won’t back down from any challenge.

 

With apologies to Old Blue Eyes, Brian Schick can be reached at bschick@umich.edu.

 

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