Michigan could have thrown in the towel.
After a nauseating come-from-ahead loss to Michigan State on
Tuesday, the Wolverines had every opportunity for a massive,
season-ending letdown.

Mira Levitan

With road trips to Indiana and Northwestern looming, they still
might.

But not yet.

And because of yesterday’s 75-64 win over Ohio State,
Michigan’s NCAA Tournament bubble is still afloat.

“For us to have any chance to keep moving forward with our
program, (this was) a critical moment,” Michigan coach Tommy
Amaker said. “I thought our kids really answered the
bell.”

Yesterday’s victory, though, was far from the stuff of
champions.

It was sloppier than the Wolverines would have liked, thanks to
16 turnovers and a few defensive lapses. It was a little uglier. A
little sloppier.

It was also exactly what Michigan needed to restore a little bit
of confidence.

“Our next two games are road games, and we just had to get
this win,” forward Graham Brown said. “We were coming
off the big loss against Michigan State, so getting this big win
over Ohio State gets our confidence up for those road
games.”

So after all of the ups and downs of this season — losses
to the likes of Boston University and Minnesota and wins over N.C.
State and Wisconsin — Michigan’s season comes down to
two road games and the Big Ten Tournament.

And the Wolverines have one more chance to make this season
everything it looked like it could be back in November.

“We don’t want to leave it up to the NCAA committee.
We want to leave it up to ourselves and win as much as
possible,” senior Bernard Robinson said. “If we can win
a couple of more games and a couple in the Big Ten Tournament or
hopefully, the whole thing, we’ll be happy with any decision
that’s made.

“We’ll know we did as much as we could.”

To do that, the Wolverines are going to need to steal two games
outside of Crisler Arena in a year where a road win has been harder
to get than a suntan in Ann Arbor.

What the Wolverines have going for them is that, on paper, they
are deeper and more talented than either Indiana or
Northwestern.

What they don’t have, though, is any more room for
error.

Be it home or away, Michigan has consistently proven itself to
be one of the best first-half teams in the Big Ten.

But en route to a 1-5 conference road mark, the Wolverines have
too often faltered in the second half.

It happened at both Wisconsin and Illinois. It reached a
pinnacle in a second-half collapse at Minnesota, and occurred yet
again at Iowa.

And if it happens at Indiana or Northwestern, the Wolverines
will have to kiss their NCAA Tournament at-large bid hopes
goodbye.

“We’ve talked about how (we need) to be tougher on
the road, and we’re going to find out,” Amaker said.
“We’re going to have confidence — we should,
having played four games and won three here.

“It’s going to be difficult. Any time you go on the
road in this league, it isn’t easy. We’ll be feeling
good about ourselves, we’ll be confident and we’ll
certainly find out very quickly.”

It is a little bizarre to think that, after 25 regular season
games, it’s still unclear what to expect from Michigan.

This team is extremely capable of storming out of Indiana and
Northwestern with victories.

The Wolverines, without a doubt, could go to Indianapolis and
walk off with the Big Ten Tournament crown. They’ve shown
they can play with any team in this conference. They’re deep
and give opponents fits with their length.

But Michigan could also flop away from home — again
— and lose its last two, go home early in Indianapolis and be
headed back to Crisler to host an NIT game following a regular
season in which it failed to reach its goals.

“We definitely have to come out and play the way
we’ve been playing the last couple of games,” Robinson
said. “We need to run, rebound, get out on the break and
defend well.”

And, let’s not forget …

“We’ve got to get the wins,” Brown said.

You’re not going to fool anyone into thinking that this
has been a spectacular season for the Wolverines.

They’ve had chances to put themselves over the top in the
race for the NCAA Tournament and haven’t capitalized.

On the other hand, they’ve had times where they
could’ve folded and been erased from tournament
contention.

Just like yesterday.

When they’ve needed to win, when there’s been
absolutely no alternative to winning, Michigan has succeeded more
often than not this year.

So now, the Wolverines have to respond to their biggest
challenge of the year.

It’s tournament time already for Michigan. Win and keep
the dream alive. Lose and, well …

The bubble keeps floating.

The question is: For how long?

 

Chris Burke can be reached at
“mailto:chrisbur@umich.edu”>chrisbur@umich.edu.

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