NEW YORK — It might not be where Michigan hoped it could
be, but at least the Wolverines are playing in April.

Tonight, Michigan looks to be one of two division I teams ending
its season on a win when it takes on Rutgers in the NIT
Championship in Madison Square Garden.

A victory for the Wolverines would be their first title in a
national postseason tournament since the 1989 NCAA Championship.
Michigan won the NIT in 1997, but all of the games played in that
tournament were forfeited as a result of NCAA sanctions.

Standing in the way of Michigan’s first tournament victory
in 15 years is Rutgers, which defeated Iowa State 84-81 on Tuesday
to reach its first-ever NIT final.

The Scarlet Knights (7-9 Big East, 20-12 overall) are strong on
the perimeter and aren’t afraid to launch from downtown, as
evidenced by their 23 attempted 3-pointers on Tuesday.

The squad from New Brunswick, N.J., has several main scoring
options. Though junior guard Ricky Shields and 6-foot-10 senior
Herve Lamizana led the team in scoring, averaging 16 and 13 points
per game, respectively, guard Quincy Douby has recently emerged as
Rutgers’ best scoring option.

The freshman spent all season coming off of the bench, but has
started each of the team’s four previous NIT games and has
been red-hot for the Scarlet Knights. Douby has scored 96 points in
the tournament, including 35 points in Rutgers’ overtime win
on Tuesday. He dished out just one assist in the game and grabbed
just one rebound, but both came in the final 1:09 of overtime.

“Their guards are really fast and they can shoot,”
Michigan senior Bernard Robinson said.

“We have to make sure that we get out on them on every
shot and make sure we get back on defense because they are a very
explosive team.”

The Wolverines (9-9 Big Ten, 22-11) have also been explosive
over their past few games. After a long season of inconsistency,
the Michigan offense has finally been running on all cylinders
since the NIT began, especially over the team’s past two
contests. The Wolverines put up 88 points on Hawaii last Wednesday
and dropped 78 points on Oregon on Tuesday — both well above
their season average of 69 points per contest.

Michigan has benefited from a solid effort on offense all across
the board. Six Michigan players have already posted double figures
in at least one NIT game. Freshmen Courtney Sims and Brent Petway
have both contributed in each game, while failing to hit double
digits.

“I think (with balanced scoring) we become a very
dangerous team — a team where you can’t key on one or
two guys because there are many other weapons that can hurt
you,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I think the
team is starting to feel that and is playing really unselfish right
now.”

In addition, Michigan’s defense has also been peaking at
the right time. The Wolverines held the Ducks to 53 points —
22 points below their season average — in their semifinal
win.

“I think we’re finally getting to the point where
we’re just getting better and better and where we’re
competing every night,” Michigan guard Daniel Horton said.
“We’re really concentrating on giving it our all on the
defensive end, and I think it’s really starting to pay off
for us.”

While Madison Square Garden is technically a neutral site,
Michigan will have to contend with a strong Rutgers following. Many
Scarlet Knight faithful made the trip across the Hudson River on
Tuesday for the semifinal game, and they were easily the loudest
crowd in attendance among fans of the four teams in New York. And
with Michigan’s road woes this season — the team is
just 3-7 in games played in opponents’ arenas — these
fans could be a reason for concern.

But if the Wolverines keep playing like they have been as of
late, Michigan may be one of those two teams that ends its season
with a win, regardless of what type of crowd is in the stands.

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