It’s hard for fans to be confident about anything about the Michigan men’s basketball team this season, including the result of the Wolverines’ game against Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament today in Indianapolis.
When they seem like they’re on a roll, they lay an egg (the home loss to Penn State after consecutive road wins against Iowa and Minnesota comes to mind). When they seem like they’re down and out, they get a big win (the recent blowout win at home against Minnesota on senior night after losing three straight).
But despite all of the inconsistency, and despite the most recent loss at Michigan State on Sunday — probably the most uninspired game the Wolverines have played in a season full of them — Michigan coach John Beilein is still confident about one thing:
“We’ve bounced back after some very disappointing losses this year,” Beilein said. “I’m not going to go into this confident of an NCAA Tourney bid — we go in confident we’re going to play hard every night.”
It should be a reasonable expectation of a team whose next loss represents the end of the season. Beilein has already publicly ruled out the College Basketball Invitational, a 16-team tournament played at on-campus sites and for which teams must pay a fee to play.
And the National Invitational Tournament appears to be a long shot. Despite the NIT changing the rules in 2006 to allow teams with records below .500, no team below .500 has ever made it.
“I know it’s much more difficult to get to the NIT than it was years ago. Any BCS school that had a pretty good record was usually going to go,” Beilein said. “The NCAA selects it now, and there’s a lot of good schools that have had better years than us.”
The Wolverines will start their “new season,” as they choose to look at it, at 2:30 p.m. today against Iowa. Michigan has already beaten the Hawkeyes twice this year — in a blowout at Crisler and a nail-biter in Iowa City.
In the second meeting, which the Wolverines won in overtime, Hawkeye forward Aaron Fuller had a tremendous game, scoring 30 points on an incredibly efficient 13 shots. At 6-foot-6, he occupies that forward spot where Michigan is so undersized. In today’s game, sophomore Zack Novak, who’s used to handling players much taller, will most likely be checking him.
“He’s that rugged four-man that we’ve had trouble matching up with,” Beilein said. “He plays much bigger than 6-6 because he just really gets to the rim with or without the ball. He’s been difficult for us.”
Despite this being the third meeting between the teams, Beilein said there will definitely be some new wrinkles he hasn’t seen yet on film.
“There’s always surprises,” Beilein said. “There’s always going to be new looks and new things but you can’t outfox yourself either, that’s really important.”
Should the Wolverines win, they would play Ohio State at noon on Friday.
Notes: Injuries to Blake McLimans and Jordan Morgan have left Michigan with few scout team players to speak of. Beilein said freshman Eso Akunne and redshirt junior Anthony Wright have been playing at the forward and center spots in practice.