He’s been under intense scrutiny since the season began back in November.

Drew Philp
Michigan coach Tommy Amaker still has the support of his players despite missing the NCAA Tournament again. (BENJI DELL/Daily)

Nearly every local columnist has said he should be fired now that his team has missed all six NCAA Tournaments during his tenure.

The message boards have been even more relentless in calling for his dismissal.

A fan at Tuesday’s NIT first-round game at Crisler Arena even chose to show his displeasure by wearing a paper bag over his head.

But Michigan coach Tommy Amaker can take solace in the fact that his players still support him.

Ask any of them and the answer is the same: Don’t blame him – he isn’t the one making all the mistakes on the court.

“He’s a great coach,” senior Courtney Sims said. “I think he has a lot of knowledge, and he’s learned a lot from coaching us. When we play the style he wants us to play, I think you see we’re a good team. I don’t think he should be punished for us struggling.”

Tonight’s second-round NIT matchup against Florida State represents another opportunity for Amaker to prove himself worthy as head coach. But facing a Seminole team that has beaten the likes of No. 6 Florida, No. 17 Maryland and No. 21 Duke, he might not feel all that comfortable when his team travels to Tallahassee.

He doesn’t know how the Wolverines will respond to playing their fourth game in seven days after a Big Ten schedule that was the second-toughest in the conference.

He doesn’t know how they’ll combat Seminole forward Al Thornton, who is projected to be a top-10 pick in June’s NBA Draft. After Tuesday’s win over Utah State, Amaker admitted he had seen little tape of Florida State.

But most important, Amaker doesn’t know if this will be his last game as head basketball coach at Michigan. That decision rests in the hands of athletic director Bill Martin.

One would think that with the uncertain status of its coach, Michigan would be unraveling at the seams. The opposite seemed true in the first round of the NIT, though, as the Wolverines held off a scrappy Aggie squad, 68-58.

“We’ve heard about (Amaker’s job security); you always hear about that stuff,” freshman Ekpe Udoh said. “Really, we just try to stay focused at what’s at hand. That’s the type of thing you talk about after the season is over.”

The Seminoles extended their season on Tuesday night as well, with a 77-61 win over Toledo in the first round of the NIT.

Against the Rockets, Thornton showed off the reasons NBA scouts are so enamored with his talents. The senior filled up the stat sheet with 24 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

The 6-foot-8 Thornton presents a tricky matchup problem for Michigan. Senior guard Dion Harris is quick enough to guard him, but standing just 6-foot-3, he will have trouble if Thornton heads into the paint. Senior Lester Abram, who did an admirable job on Utah State star Jaycee Carroll, seems the likely candidate. But he will still be at a height disadvantage, standing just 6-foot-6. He will also have to deal with Thornton’s superior quickness.

On the offensive end, the Wolverines may have found another weapon to add to their arsenal. At the Big Ten Tournament, freshman DeShawn Sims showed some of the potential that made him one of the top recruits in the nation last year.

He followed the Tournament with an explosion against Utah State. The Detroit native scored 11 first-half points and was instrumental in helping Michigan build an insurmountable 12-point halftime lead.

It provided fans and teammates a glimpse into the future of Michigan basketball. Whether that future includes Amaker is anybody’s guess.

“I’ve never really had a coach be fired,” Sims said. “We aren’t worried about that because he’s not. We’re just going to do what we can do to prove to everybody that he’s a good coach. . We’re going to pull it out for him.”

Michigan at NIT
Matchup:
Florida State 21-12; Michigan 22-12
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Tucker Center
TV/Radio: ESPNU

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