The Michigan men’s basketball team has a chance to carve out its own little piece of history, beginning tonight in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT in New York. The only problem is that history — and everything else — is going to work against it.
The Wolverines will try and accomplish an unprecedented National Invitational Tournament double championship by winning the Preseason NIT after capturing the Postseason NIT title the season before. It’s a feat that has never been accomplished in NCAA history. In fact, just two other teams ever got to this point.
St. John’s won the postseason tournament in 1989 and advanced to the semifinals in the preseason tournament later that year. Minnesota accomplished the same thing in 1993. But both teams fell short of the preseason title.
“I’m excited to be playing against Arizona,” junior guard Daniel Horton said. “But I’m more excited to have a chance to make history. And that’s one thing we have a chance to do when we go to New York.”
But Michigan has more than just history standing in front of it. It first has to deal with No. 18 Arizona — the most successful school in Preseason NIT history. The Wildcats (2-1) are aiming for their fourth Preseason NIT title.
“Arizona’s going to be a very quick and fast team,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I think Arizona was one of the nation’s leading scoring teams last year.”
The Wildcats averaged 87 points per game last year, first in the Pac-10. They’ve scored 80 points in both of their victories so far this year, led by their starting five, each of whom averages more than 10 points per game in this young season. Guard Salim Stoudamire leads the way with a fat 19 points per game.
But the only thing more frightening for Michigan than the Wildcats may be a set of angry Wildcats.
Arizona was upset at Virginia on Sunday, 78-60, in its tune-up for the NIT. The Wildcats opened up the season ranked No. 10 in the nation, and will be hoping to use the NIT as a way to regain some of that national spotlight that they’re so used to playing under.
“We know what we’re facing,” sophomore guard Dion Harris said. “It’s all about us just playing and how we’ve been playing together — just playing hard. I think we’ll have a good game.”
The two schools have squared off once before in the Preseason NIT. Arizona downed Michigan 86-79 in the semifinals of the 1995 Preseason NIT. The Wildcats boast a 6-2 overall edge over the Wolverines.
But whether Michigan gets past Arizona or not is only half of the challenge. Either No. 1 Wake Forest or Providence will await the Wolverines in the championship or consolation game.
Wake Forest just captured the top spot in the nation with convincing wins over Virginia Commonwealth (81-67) and George Washington (97-76) in the first two rounds of the Preseason NIT, and Providence features one of the best players in the country in forward Ryan Gomes.
“If we’re able to go in and pull out two victories and win the tournament, that builds our resume,” Horton said. “You can’t knock a team who has had to beat Arizona and either Wake Forest or Providence.”