You’ve probably experienced the feeling before.
Maybe it’s like that feeling you had after fifth grade baseball tryouts. You botched the last ground ball right in front of the head coach and you figured that would be the reason you wouldn’t make the team — sorry if that opens up an old wound.
Your stomach churns, you find it hard to concentrate, you can’t sleep. You know the situation is out of your hands, yet you can’t let it go. What if you would’ve done something different?
If you’ve ever experienced these types of feelings, you and the Michigan women’s basketball team have something in common. (I bet you never thought you’d hear that.)
But for the Wolverines, this feeling comes as they sit square on the NCAA Tournament bubble, hoping they’ve done enough this season to earn a bid to the Big Dance — something they haven’t done since 2001.
And this feeling was self-inflicted. It didn’t have to be this way.
Just a week and a half ago, Michigan was in the driver’s seat for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The Wolverines (10-6 Big Ten, 17-12 overall) capped off their best Big Ten season since the 2000-2001 campaign with a 58-55 win at Illinois, and they secured a first-round bye and the No. 3 seed for the Big Ten Tournament.
One win in the Big Ten Tournament and this team was a lock for the festivities in March.
And after last-place Illinois upset No. 6 seed Wisconsin and was slated to play Michigan last Friday, it appeared the Wolverines’ ticket had been punched.
All they had to do was beat the lowly Fighting Illini — a team the Wolverines beat twice this year and who had only recently snapped a brutal 12-game losing streak.
Maybe they caught the Illini when they were hot. Maybe it was the perfect storm for Michigan — playing against a team with absolutely nothing to lose, while you potentially have everything to lose.
Whatever it was, it ended in a 55-47 loss for Michigan, in a game where the Wolverines never really had a chance. They were down 37-16 at halftime.
That sure doesn’t sound like a Tournament team to me. Neither does a team who has lost to the third-worst team in the Big Ten (Minnesota) twice and to Detroit (13-17).
Clearly, the Wolverines’ record won’t blow anyone out of the water. And they know that.
“I know (the tournament committee) looks at overall records so much, and obviously ours is 17-12,” junior guard Courtney Boylan said after Michigan’s loss to Illinois. “It’s not 20 wins. Generally I think that’s what they look for, 19 or 20.”
And the team’s stats won’t exactly turn any heads either. Michigan isn’t in the nation’s top-50 in scoring offense or defense, and it lacks a superstar-caliber player.
But despite all of that, this is a tournament team.
Not only did these Wolverines prove they can beat some of the best teams in the nation — Big Ten Tournament Champion Ohio State (twice), Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin (twice) — they also have the perfect formula to weave deep into the Tournament bracket.
Michigan had eight different players lead the team in scoring this year.
In a three-game stretch starting in late December, when the Wolverines rolled off three-straight wins against ranked opponents, different players led the team in scoring in each game.
Sophomore forward Rachel Sheffer led the team with 19 points against then-No. 24 Boston College, senior guard Veronica Hicks and junior forward Carmen Reynolds poured in 17 in a 64-51 win against then-No. 12 Ohio State, and Boylan tallied 18 in her first start of the year in a 60-53 victory at then-No. 14 Iowa.
On any given night, seven different Wolverines (excluding sophomore Nya Jordan, who has been out since late December with a knee injury) have the potential to lead this team to victory. Sure, Hicks is clearly the emotional leader, and she leads the team in points per game. But this Michigan team in no way depends on her to score, like many other squads do of their senior leaders.
When Michigan is in need of a bucket, nobody knows who’s going to step up — but everybody knows that somebody will step up. That’s a rare quality, and it’s one that is crucial in March.
And this team takes care of the ball — something vital to postseason success. Prior to the Illinois loss last Friday, the Wolverines were ranked second in the nation in turnover-to-assist ratio. Even after a horrible performance against the Illini in which Michigan had 15 turnovers and just 12 assists, the Wolverines are still 14th in the nation in that category.
You’ll hear that Michigan is on the bubble. But if I was a betting man, I’d say that sick feeling that the Wolverines are feeling now will turn to elation come Monday night.
And who knows, maybe you’ll get that baseball career back on track after all.