This Friday, Valentine’s Day, will be a special holiday for some people. Everyone is looking for a little love from a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife. The Michigan basketball team will be hoping for a little love from the NCAA Infractions Committee, which will finally make a decision as to how it will punish the Wolverines for the Ed Martin scandal.
Given Michigan’s self-imposed sanctions announced prior to this season, which included a one-year postseason ban, two years probation and a payment of $450,000, the committee has several options.
It might choose to extend the ban, rendering Michigan unable to play in a postseason tournament for another year or more. It might choose to take away future scholarships, or increase the monetary penalty. Or it might choose to accept how Michigan punished itself.
All in all, this Friday will be the most important day for the future of Michigan basketball since the day Tommy Amaker was hired. But that’s not what the second-year coach is thinking about.
“I’m focused on Wednesday,” said Amaker at Monday’s practice about Michigan’s game at Indiana tonight. “I’ve been focused on our team and our season and our players all year. They deserve that, and it’s not going to change.”
Friday’s hearing has no affect on Michigan’s chances of winning the Big Ten title, and a win tonight could significantly boost those chances. With six games remaining after tonight (three home, three away), the Wolverines (7-2 Big Ten, 14-8 overall) will finish with at least 10 wins if they can defend their home court successfully.
Tack on a road win, either tonight or down the road against Purdue, Wisconsin or Penn State, and the Wolverines would have 11 wins, which was good enough for a share of last year’s conference title.
But considering that the Hoosiers (4-5, 14-8) have lost five straight and will head out on a three-game road swing following tonight’s game, the Wolverines know it will be desperation time for Indiana if the Hoosiers want to defend their Big Ten crown.
“I think the timing of playing Indiana is not good,” Amaker said. “Knowing how dangerous and desperate teams become when they’ve lost a few games, if I had a chance to structure it, I wouldn’t have it this way. But we will try to be the aggressor and be hungry when we go out there. That team has a lot of pride, and we’ll get their best shot.”
Although the Hoosiers have been struggling, they still present several challenges Michigan will have to overcome if it wants to pick up the win. Assembly Hall in Bloomington has been unkind to the Wolverines, as they have not won there since Jan. 24, 1995.
Defending against freshman Bracey Wright, who leads all Big Ten freshmen in scoring with 17.1 points per game, will be a daunting task.
“His deep shooting range is incredible,” Amaker said. “He can stretch you out on the floor, and I’ve been impressed with his ability to create his own shot.”
Michigan’s Daniel Horton is familiar with Wright from playing high school basketball in Texas. The two met in the state championship tournament their junior and senior years, splitting the meetings.
Indiana senior Jeff Newton, who is coming off a 24-point performance against Michigan State, and senior Tom Coverdale will also be waiting to right the ship for the Hoosiers.
While Friday’s hearing may be crucial for the future of the Michigan basketball program, tonight’s game is crucial for the outcome of this season, which as Amaker says is everyone’s main concern.
“I don’t know what to expect Friday, I’ve never been a part of this before,” Amaker said.
And when it comes to chasing a conference championship, these Wolverines might not know what to expect either.