Manny Harris’s television is almost always set to ESPN.
But the moment a segment about NCAA Tournament bubble teams comes on the screen, the sophomore forward quickly switches the channel.
“You try not to think about it or put that much pressure on yourself, but it’s going to stay in your head,” Harris said. “You just kind of got to relax and free your mind. It’s hard to do.”
It seems wherever the Michigan men’s basketball team goes, players and coaches are surrounded by one question: Will the Wolverines make the NCAA Tournament?
Michigan (8-9 Big Ten, 18-12 overall) is among a handful of teams fighting for one of 34 at-large bids to the Big Dance. It could also lock up an automatic bid by winning next weekend’s Big Ten Tournament.
Fifth-year senior guard C.J. Lee has noticed more students approaching him on campus asking him about the team and its tournament prospects.
According to ESPN, the Wolverines are ranked 47th in RPI and 11th in strength of schedule.
But most prognosticators have Michigan out of the tournament. The Wolverines appear in just 13 brackets on Bracketproject.50webs.com, which compiles a matrix of 60 projected brackets.
Michigan coach John Beilein tries to avoid the media hoopla heading up to Selection Sunday, but even he has been monitoring other bubble team’s games.
And Wednesday was a good day for the Wolverines. Five other bubble teams — Boston College, Florida, Kentucky, Miami and Virginia Tech — lost.
“When you watch those scores yesterday, however the scores went yesterday, I would still say the same thing in the locker room today,” Beilein said. ” ‘That was a great day yesterday for Michigan basketball. Just keep moving. Just keep getting better.’ ”
The Wolverines have a chance to impress the NCAA Selection Committee on Saturday in what boils down to an elimination game against Minnesota.
A win would lock the Wolverines in as the seventh seed in the Big Ten Tournament, where they’d likely play Iowa in the first round. If they advance to the second round, they would play No. 19 Purdue or No. 23 Illinois.
A loss won’t completely kill the Wolverines’ postseason dreams, but they will likely need a few wins in the conference tournament to improve their chances of making the Big Dance. A loss to the Golden Gophers would give Michigan an No. 8 seed in the conference tournament and a first-round matchup with Northwestern. If the Wolverines beat the Wildcats, they would play Big Ten regular season champion Michigan State.
“It’s a regular-season game, but there’s a lot on the line,” Lee said. “That’s what you come to college for, to play in games like that. We want to treat every game at this point like a big game.”
Beilein, who usually avoids focusing on the importance of a single game, admitted that Saturday is a critical match for the Wolverines.
But he also said he’s happy to be in the hunt to make the tournament. Last season, Michigan went 10-22 with no shot of any postseason play.
The Wolverines have stressed all season that nothing short of making the NCAA Tournament will remove last year’s sour memories.
That’s why there is so much more added pressure on the Wolverines.
“We know where we are, and we know where we stand,” Lee said. “That’s not something to shy away from or be scared about, so we all know where we stand and what we need to do to get to where we want to go.”