BLOOMINGTON The Michigan basketball program has three things going for it right now: sophomore LaVell Blanchard hasn”t transferred, football coach Lloyd Carr publicly supported coach Brian Ellerbe and the program, and Rick Pitino hasn”t signed a contract to coach UNLV, or any other school.

Paul Wong
Michigan”s loss to Indiana may put its postseason hopes out of reach.<br><br>AP PHOTO

The Wolverines (3-8 Big Ten, 9-13 overall) are going to miss the postseason for the second time in the last three years. For them to qualify for the NIT (who ever thought they”d see the day when Michigan is hoping for an NIT bid three years in a row), they”ll need to win their next four home games, and either win at No. 3 Michigan State, or win two games at the Big Ten Tournament.

Since Michigan will face either the Spartans or No. 7 Illinois in the

second round, its season is done.

That”s right, another year of bad basketball on South Campus.

“Anything can happen in Chicago (home of the BTT),” Ellerbe said. “There have been three Big Ten Tournaments and we”ve won one of them.”

Anything can happen.

But one of two things will happen.

At best, Michigan wins its play-in game, and lose in the second round.

At worst, and most likely, the Wolverines suffer another embarrassment in East Lansing, and loses in the first round of the BTT.

Sound like a third straight year of depressing basketball? It is.

Two years ago was a rebuilding year. Michigan was bad, but everyone knew it”d be bad.

Last year started with much more promise. A 12-3 record raised everyone”s eyebrows. But the Jamal Crawford suspensions created too much drama, and the season ended with a 15-14 record. The season was chalked up as another rebuilding year.

An NCAA Tournament berth was the stated goal at the beginning of this season. After all, Blanchard was the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, a highly touted recruiting class was coming in and how difficult is it to be one of the nation”s best 65 teams?

In fact, Ellerbe even talked about trying to model his team after

Wisconsin at the beginning of the year. The Badgers made a tournament run to the Final Four last season by valuing each possession and shutting down the opposing team”s best players.

Yesterday, Ellerbe”s Wolverines had 16 turnovers in the first half, 25 for the game and Indiana”s Jared Jeffries and Kirk Haston both recorded career highs with 26 and 30 points, respectively.

It might be unfair to blame yesterday”s loss on any one person. After all, starting guards Bernard Robinson and Avery Queen were both benched in the first half for “violating team rules,” and backup point guard Maurice Searight is “indefinitely suspended.”

But who brought in those players?

Who brought in Crawford, another casualty of suspensions?

And who brought in Kevin Gaines, last year”s starting point guard who was kicked off the team at the start of the school year for violating team rules?

Every suspension, and every loss, makes it that much tougher on Blanchard to rationalize playing for Michigan. Every suspension, and loss, makes it that much tougher for Carr to continue his blind support for the program.

And maybe most importantly, every loss, and suspension, will make it that much easier for Pitino to sign on the dotted line with another school.

Raphael Goodstein can be reached at raphaelg@umich.edu.

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