While Michigan senior Dion Harris fielded questions from the media following Saturday’s loss to No. 1 Ohio State, his eyes were glazed and he didn’t have his usual air of confidence.
For the first time this season, Harris looked vulnerable.
And when a reporter asked the Detroit native if coming close to winning big games and the NCAA Tournament meant anything, Harris strained to keep his composure.
“Coming close is not good enough,” Harris said. “Coming close doesn’t mean anything to me as an individual. That just means you came close but you didn’t get it.”
For Michigan, “it” will most likely be an NCAA Tournament birth.
While most fans and critics wrote off the Wolverines weeks ago, last Tuesday’s win over rival Michigan State gave Michigan a slim chance to dance in March.
Add a win over the top-ranked Buckeyes and the Wolverines would’ve had one more conference win than last season, along with some momentum heading into the Big Ten Tournament. Those two wins could’ve given Michigan the margin it needed to be invited to the Tournament by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
But following what was the most frustrating four minutes in the program’s recent history, that longshot has gotten even longer.
Now Michigan must do one of the toughest things to accomplish in sports: get up to play a must-win game after expending all its energy in a rivalry loss.
“I think we still have a shot (at the Tournament) because there are a bunch of teams out there (in the same situation) – they’re on that bubble,” senior Brent Petway said. “We just have to do our thing at the Big Ten Tournament.”
Should the Wolverines fail to win in the conference tournament, their credentials heading into Selection Sunday won’t be impressive.
According to ESPN.com’s RPI rankings, Michigan is No. 52 with a decent strength of schedule at No. 39. In 14 games against the RPI top 50, the Wolverines are 5-9 and their record against teams ranked lower than 150 in the RPI (13-0) doesn’t make the 20 overall wins look that extraordinary.
Michigan’s resume isn’t entirely negative. Wins over Illinois, Indiana and Michigan State are notable; and with Davidson punching its ticket to the Tournament after winning the Southern Conference Tournament Championship, the Wolverines’s 10-point win over the Wildcats helps.
Still, Michigan lacks a significant road win, something that hurt the team’s resume last year despite three wins over ranked conference opponents.
“We’re in the (same) situation as a lot of other teams in our league,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I’m sure everybody is going into the (Big Ten) Tournament with the attitude that victories are crucial and games are crucial, and certainly we’re going to be one of those teams.”