STATE COLLEGE — Entering the Big Ten Tournament, it wasn’t clear whether the Michigan men’s soccer team’s resume was good enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. After Sunday, the Wolverines are guaranteed an NCAA Tournament berth and are also looking to secure a home game and a first-round bye.
In winning its first Big Ten championship in its 11-year history, Michigan clinched the conference’s automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament. The victory came against a Penn State team that has won the tournament three times, tied for second-most in Big Ten Tournament history.
“It’s a comforting feeling,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “A lot of teams who are sitting on the bubble have their thoughts churning right now.”
Michigan’s best Big Ten Tournament finish prior to Sunday’s championship victory came in 2002 when the team lost to the Nittany Lions 2-1 in the finals.
Burns said he expects his team to be seeded, meaning it would earn a first-round bye. In the 48-team field, the top 16 teams receive byes and the remaining teams battle in the opening round of 32. Burns hopes that if Michigan (14-4-3) can’t get a seed, it will at least get a home game in the first round.
After Thursday’s 2-1 win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals and Friday’s 1-0 win over Wisconsin in the semifinals, Burns was confident that the team had done enough to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
But all doubt was removed on Sunday as the Wolverines’ pinpoint shooting led them to an easy 4-1 win over the Nittany Lions on Penn State’s home field, earning the team the Big Ten Championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s special,” Burns said. “I look at this group of guys and we recruited these guys to come to Michigan to win championships and they’re delivering.”
The Wolverines last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2008, making it to the round of 16.
“It was great to go in 2008, but we felt like we left something short, so winning this tournament gives us more momentum going into the NCAAs,” senior midfielder Alex Wood said.
Although none of the Big Ten teams reside in the top 25, the conference is expected to send four or five teams into the NCAA field. However, Michigan is the only one that knows already, for sure, that it will be going.
Michigan will find out where exactly it falls in the NCAA bracket on Monday at 4:30 p.m. The team plans to gather at Packard Pub on State Street in Ann Arbor with the Michigan Ultras fanclub as it watches the NCAA Men’s Division-I Selection Show on ESPNU.