With the month of March winding to a close, there are just eight
men’s college basketball teams still playing — and
Michigan is one of them.

Tonight, the Wolverines (9-9 Big Ten, 21-11 overall) will try to
extend their season for one more game, as they take on Oregon (9-9
Pac 10, 18-12 overall) in the semifinals of the NIT at Madison
Square Garden in New York.

“We’re in it to win it,” Michigan coach Tommy
Amaker said. “It would be a very significant
achievement.”

The Wolverines will have their hands full tonight against the
Ducks. Oregon is brimming with confidence after a 65-61 road win
over Notre Dame in the quarterfinals propelled the Ducks to the Big
Apple.

Front and center in tonight’s contest will be the matchup
between two seniors: Oregon’s Luke Jackson and
Michigan’s Bernard Robinson.

Jackson, an All-Pac-10 performer this year, averages 21.3 points
and more than seven rebounds per game and also paces the Ducks in
several other statistical categories. Robinson, Michigan’s
“Mr. Everything,” leads the Wolverines in rebounds,
assists and steals, while frequently being asked to guard the
opposition’s top offensive threat.

Tonight, that means Robinson draws Jackson.

“I think he’s similar in a lot of regards to
Bernard,” Amaker said. “He’s bigger than Bernard,
and he shoots the three a little bit more and better.

“I think (Jackson is) one of the best all-around
basketball players in the country. We’ve very concerned
— it sounds like he took over down the stretch against Notre
Dame.”

Jackson scored the final six points of the Ducks’ victory
over the Irish.

“I know he’s a great scorer and can really fill it
up,” Robinson said.

While Jackson will be a huge challenge, perhaps the biggest test
for Michigan is proving that it can grab a win away from the
friendly confines of Crisler Arena. The Wolverines rode the raucous
home crowds in their three earlier NIT wins, but they were a mere
5-8 away from Crisler this season.

“We know that’s the next step for us to be
successful, to perform the same way (on the road),” Robinson
said. “I know that’s what Coach is going to be harping
us, to play the same way we’ve been playing at home on the
road.”

Easing Michigan’s transition is the fact that the
Wolverines have already played — and won — at Madison
Square Garden this year, in a 66-43 trouncing of Fairfield on Jan.
3. The large Michigan alumni base in New York helped turn the arena
into a pro-Michigan atmosphere on that day, and the Wolverines are
hoping for the same reception tonight.

“I hope we have a great crowd,” said Michigan point
guard Daniel Horton of the alumni in the area. “I doubt it
will be the same atmosphere as Crisler, but I’m sure it will
be pretty good.”

The winner of tonight’s Michigan-Oregon game will be back
at the Garden on Thursday to battle with the winner of
tonight’s Rutgers-Iowa State game. If the Wolverines can come
away with two victories, then they will capture their first
postseason title since 1989’s NCAA championship (the 1997 NIT
title won by Michigan was vacated due to self-imposed
sanctions).

“We would love to come out of New York as NIT
champs,” Amaker said. “We haven’t been in the
postseason in a while — I think it’s obvious —
some of the things that we’ve gone through. We reminded our
players that it wasn’t an NCAA ban that was lifted; it was a
postseason ban. And so we’re very fortunate and pleased to
have taken advantage of that good fortune for our
ballclub.”

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