INDIANAPOLIS — The Michigan locker room was, understandably, quite somber after Saturday’s 68-61 loss to No. 1 Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
“It just seemed like (Ohio State’s) confidence was staying high the whole time,” redshirt freshman forward Jordan Morgan said. “I felt like we kind of got down on ourselves during the game, and they kind of fed off of that.”
But as down as the Wolverines were during and after the game, they could get quite the emotional boost come Sunday. That’s because the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will announce the field for the “Big Dance” beginning at 6:00 p.m.
Selection Sunday brings a merciful end to the endless Bracketology, number crunching, minute analysis and multitude of prognosticators — both professional and amateur — trying to predict who will fill make the 68-team tournament field.
Michigan is in a relatively comfortable spot — if everything goes as expected, the Wolverines should find themselves solidly in the bracket.
“We hope so,” Morgan said when asked if he though his team would make the field. “We’ve done everything we can to convince the committee. They do a really good job. We’ve played some really good teams really close … We made it to the semis as the fourth seed in the conference.
“We just hope that, come tomorrow evening, we get a call from them.”
The conventional wisdom held that Michigan would lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament if it defeated No. 5 seed Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
The Wolverines did just that. In most years, Michigan’s resume for an at-large bid would put it in very questionable territory. But this is somewhat of a down season for college basketball — the bubble is relatively weaker, meaning the Wolverines’ profile should be strong enough to get them in the field, despite the team’s lack of any “signature wins.”
Michigan coach John Beilein has generally avoided questions about the NCAA Tournament, always saying in response that he doesn’t look at the various scenarios, or that it’s an issue for the Selection Committee to decide and not him.
But even Beilein had to admit after the loss to Ohio State that he thinks his team has accomplished a lot.
“The big thing that I would say — we finished fourth in a great conference,” Beilein said. “I have never seen the Big Ten be this strong in my four years here … Forget the tie breakers and all that stuff. We finished fourth, and we got to the semifinals (of the conference tournament), and played a high-level schedule (with games) against a couple No. 1 seeds.”
If the Wolverines do make the NCAA Tournament field, it would only add to one of the most surprising seasons in program history.
Michigan lost leading scorers Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims off a team that played below expectations a year ago. It came into this season with no seniors and one of the youngest teams in the country, and was picked to finish at or near the bottom of the Big Ten.
The Wolverines played better than expected through the early part of the season, but their conference record stood at 1-6 by mid-January.
“We were a young team with a lot of unproven players, so there really was no reason for people to think much of us,” junior guard Zack Novak said. “But I think we just stuck with it, and there was times this year where we easily could have quit.
“(But) leadership on our coaching staff just kept everyone going in the right direction, and we never quit. I think that we showed a lot of resiliency thus year.”
Michigan has already defied the odds this season. For Novak and his teammates, Sunday could bring even more proof of that.