Prior the start of the college basketball season, I had absolutely zero hope that the Michigan men’s basketball team would earn an NCAA Tournament bid.

Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

The only chance the Wolverines had was to hope that the Fab Five would be reincarnated, and Webber, Howard, Rose, Jackson and King would take the floor against the Ohio States, Wisconsins, Purdues and other tough teams on their schedule.

And could you blame me for my skepticism? Manny Harris, one of the most athletic and talented scorers at Michigan in the past decade, had left early for the NBA. DeShawn Sims, his partner in crime, had graduated. And with their departure went 35 of the Wolverines’ points per game.

There wasn’t a single analyst in the country that would tell you they thought Michigan could make the NCAA Tournament.

But as Darius Morris laid in the Wolverines’ final basket in a 70-63 win over rival Michigan State — a win that gave Michigan one of its most important season sweeps in recent history — it was time for the entirety of the college basketball world, including myself, to admit that they underestimated John Beilein and his Wolverines.

When Michigan came within a possession or two of beating Syracuse back in November, we brushed it off as a fluke — the Wolverines had been known to surprise a team or two in the past few years — and went back to normal when they lost to UTEP the next day.

And when they lost seven of eight games in their toughest stretch of the season, we sighed and remembered that this is what we thought would happen this season.

But something happened at the end of that stretch as Michigan took to the court at Michigan State’s Breslin Center. Something happened when Stu Douglass hit a big-time 3-pointer as time ticked away in the game’s second half. Something happened when Michigan left the building with its first win in almost 14 years in East Lansing.

The Wolverines started to look like a Tournament team.

Sure, Michigan may have lost three games since then. But a closer look shows one loss to the nation’s top team (Michigan led at half) and two heartbreakers with the game winding down (against Wisconsin and Illinois).

There are few teams outside of the NCAA’s elite that can claim a better end to the season than the Wolverines can.

And now, with only the Big Ten Tournament remaining, there are few bubble teams that can make a better case to stay on the right side of the bubble than the Wolverines can.

Michigan will face Illinois on Friday to sweeten their résumé and show their late-season prowess in the Big Ten Tournament. But if you ask me, the Wolverines have already done enough to earn that coveted bid, one that looked so impossible, so unlikely just four months ago.

The NCAA Selection Committee may put an awful lot of credence into the idea of big-time wins. And Michigan doesn’t exactly shock the world when it comes to that category.

But the Wolverines’ late-season run, sandwiched by two impressive victories over the Spartans, showed that this team is on the upswing. Put this team up against the same Syracuse, Ohio State, Kansas, Wisconsin and Purdue teams that they played and narrowly lost to earlier in the season, and I’m not so sure we’d see the same result.

And if that’s not on the committee’s mind, then the integrity of the entire group should be questioned.

Because now with the regular season over, it’s obvious that we were ALL wrong about this Michigan. And it would be an awful shame if the committee makes the same mistakes we made in judging the Wolverines before the season.

— Kartje would love to hear if any of you actually thought Michigan would be this good. He can be reached at rkartje@umich.edu

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