There wasn’t any suspense, a big watch party or any hoopla as the Michigan basketball team tuned into CBS to learn its NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday night, but the Wolverines were just fine with that.
Instead, Michigan enjoyed a stress-free Selection Sunday, knowing that it was a lock to make the Big Dance because of the team’s strong resume. For their 24-9 performance this season, the Wolverines were rewarded with a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region. It’s the program’s highest seed since the team earned a No. 3 in the now-vacated 1997-98 season.
Michigan will take on Ohio, the MAC Tournament champions, in Nashville in the second round on Friday. Should the Wolverines top the Bobcats, a third round match-up looms with the winner of the game between No. 5 seed Temple and either California or South Florida (the Golden Bears and Bulls play each other in the first round on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio).
“(It was) less nerve-wracking,” senior guard Zack Novak said of watching the bracket unveiled this season compared to last year. “(I was) more concerned about matchups this time, looking who you’re going to play.
“If you would’ve asked me last year after we got in, I’d had no idea what seed we were, no idea where we were going or really even who we were playing. … This year, we just saw it, and you’re waiting to see who you drew.”
The Wolverines were among the last names to be called, simply because the Midwest bracket was the last region unveiled during the selection show. That meant the team had a good idea of where it was likely to end up in the first round as other sites filled up.
Leading up to Sunday evening, most analysts and bracketologists pegged Michigan as a No. 3 seed in Columbus, the second and third round site closest to Ann Arbor. Thus, it could’ve been a slight disappointment to instead end up on a lower seed line and in a location further away.
But players said they weren’t keeping up with all of the projections and didn’t feel slighted in the least. Michigan coach John Beilein, for his part, said he was just enjoying watching the show.
“You just don’t get over the moment where you see your name up there, and then the suspense of who you’re going to play, and then who you’d play if you’re fortunate enough to advance,” Beilein said. “There’s a lot that goes through our minds. Our kids are all thrilled. With the loss (to Ohio State on Saturday), we’re eager to get back to work.”
The team will have quite a bit of work to do, considering how poorly the Wolverines played in the 77-55 loss to the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal, and given that Michigan does not know much about its second round opponent.
13-seed Ohio wasn’t the best team in the Mid-American Conference, finishing in third place in the East division. But the Bobcats got hot at the right time. They won three games in three days to take the conference tournament championship, defeating Akron, who finished with the best record in the MAC, by one point in the finals.
Ohio faced just one team from the six power conferences this season, falling to then-No. 7 Louisville by five points back in November. The team faces long odds in trying to topple Michigan, but it’s pulled an upset before — the last time the Bobcats made the NCAA Tournament, they defeated Georgetown in 2010 as a No. 14-seed in their first game.
Other than a couple connections to individual players on Ohio, the Wolverines don’t know anything about their foe besides what they’ve gleaned from occasionally watching the Bobcats on television. Beilein, though, is familiar with coach John Groce. Groce was an assistant for Thad Matta at Xavier when Beilein was also in the Atlantic 10 at Richmond, and Groce also assisted Matta at Ohio State before taking the Ohio job.
“He’s done a great job,” Beilein said. “I believe he’s a very good friend, a close friend, of (assistant coach) Jeff Meyer as well. I haven’t seen him a lot, (but) you can bet your paycheck I’m going to be watching a lot of (his team) the next couple of days.”
The only bright side of Michigan’s blowout loss to Ohio State is that it didn’t end the team’s season. Players said that the defeat will help refocus and remotivate them heading into the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolverines are looking to take another step forward in the Big Dance, having only made it to the third round in the two times they’ve made the tourney under Beilein. Michigan hasn’t made it to the Sweet 16 since 1994, when members of the Fab 5 were still patrolling the court.
“Our kids love this time of the year, and they really liked their experience last year, and I’m sure every one of them would want to play right until the end,” Beilein said. “And hopefully we’ll get victory, after victory, after victory. Just got to get number one first.”