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In March of 1987, Platoon won the Oscar for Best Picture, U2’s Joshua Tree rocked the radio airwaves and Les Miserables debuted on Broadway.
In college basketball, Purdue and Michigan hooked up in the regular season finale at Crisler Arena in a game dripping with Big 10 Title and NCAA Bubble implications.
Does that sound familiar? Twenty-two years ago, these two proud Big 10 basketball programs played a game with basically the same stakes that are on the line tonight.
For the nuance-inclined, subtle differences exist between tonight’s scenario and 1987. Both games close the Crisler season, but in 1987 it was also the final game of the season. Two games, plus the league tournament, remain for both teams to play this season. In 1987, Purdue had already clinched a share of the title, but needed to beat Michigan to claim the outright championship, or else share it with hated Indiana. This season, Purdue trails the title chase by a game. If they keep winning, the Boilers likely will force a winner-take-all showdown against Michigan State in next week season’s finale. Michigan’s place on the bubble was not exactly the same either. Since it was the final game of the season, Michigan was in a ‘won or else’ mode that day in 1987. Win or lose tonight, Michigan still has some season left to win or lose a bid.
Those details aside, though, it’s hard to shake the comparison at how similar the situations appear 22 years apart as we head into tonight’s critical contest. And, I don’t need a better reason to wax poetic about Michigan sports history, so let’s jump in the Way Back Machine and revisit 1987, when, by the way, I was in the middle of my freshman year in high school.
A Rebuilding Season for Michigan
The 1986-87 basketball season was a transition year for the Michigan program. Fresh off back-to-back Big 10 titles, the Wolverines were playing without stars Roy Tarpley, Butch Wade and Richard Rellford for the first time in four seasons. Coach Bill Frieder had lined up an impressive recruiting class, but blue chip products Terry Mills and Rumeal Robinson both had the sit out the year due to Proposition 48 standards.
The cupboard was hardly bare, however. Michigan had four-year starter Antoine ‘The Judge’ Joubert to lean on. Gary Grant and Glen Rice, the last two Big 10 Freshman of the Year award winners, were in the rotation as was sharp shooting Garde Thompson, who took advantage of the newly introduced three-point shot to boost his scoring production for the team. Underclassmen Mark Hughes and Loy Vaught stepped in to front court positions for the vacated seniors, but those two were just solid role players at that point in their careers, not guys ready to carry a team from the center or power forward positions.
Still, that’s a pretty talented squad. What if you dropped that core of players into the Big 10 today? I don’t think it’s too hyperbolic to state they would win the Big 10. But, back then, in a testament to the strength of college basketball in general and the power of the Big 10 in specific, the 1986-87 Wolverines struggled because they did not have the top to bottom fire power of the league elites that season like Purdue, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa all of whom began the year in the AP top 15. Despite a lineup that in retrospect looks pretty darn good, Michigan hovered around the .500 mark in league play for much of the season.
Struggling out of the Gate
Michigan fans found out early on in the season just how short handed the program was compared to the two previous seasons. The Maize and Blue slogged their way through their pre-conference schedule. Suffering a pair of bad losses to Western Michigan and Middle Tennessee State, Michigan entered Big 10 play with just a 6-3 record. To compare, the previous two seasons saw Michigan rack up a combined 18-1 record in pre-Big 10 play.
The team continued their ragged and flat play once the league season began, dropping three of the first four Big 10 games. The final game in that run was a heartbreaking loss to Indiana at Crisler. IU had dominated Michigan, carving out a 51-34 halftime lead. Spurred by the hot second half shooting of Joubert and Thompson, both of whom up ended with 20 points, the Wolverines clawed their way back into the game and managed to forge a one point lead in the closing seconds. Hoosier marksman Steve Alford drilled a shot as time expired to drive a dagger through Michigan’s heart. I can still see IU coach Bobby Knight sprinting and laughing his way off the court. He had no love loss for Frieder and the Wolverines, and he knew his charges had stolen a big game on the road.
The loss dropped the club to 7-6 overall. After dominating the Big 10 for two years, Michigan would be in scramble mode the rest of the season just to make it back into the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan did rebound from that killer defeat and reeled off six straight wins to close out January. The highlight of that run was a high scoring 91-88 win over top ranked Syracuse. Armed with Sherman Douglass, Howard Triche and Rony Seikaly, not to mention super freshman and Detroit product Derek Coleman, the Orange came into Crisler Arena right as Michigan’s season was heading south. Behind 23-point games from Grant and Thompson and another 19 from Rice, the Wolverines sprung the upset in one of the best games ever played at Crisler Arena. The win helped spark the winning streak that got the Maize and Blue back into the tournament discussion.
Unfortunately, Michigan found consistency hard to discover that winter. They fell hard in most of their road games. They had spent two full seasons thumping their league brethren, but spent the 1987 Big 10 campaign getting their comeuppance from all those teams bent on revenge. February trips to Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State all resulted in lopsided losses. Even a bad Michigan State team thumped the Wolverines, torching them for 91 points in a blowout victory at the venerable Jenison Fieldhouse. When Michigan dropped a home game to Illinois by 14 points on March 4, Michigan fell to 18-11 overall, and a mediocre 9-8 in league play. The program had lost just six conference games the previous two seasons combined, but fell eight times—with most of the defeats being fairly one sided—in 1987.
How to Clinch a Bid with Style
Heading into the season finale, the season was not dead. The conventional wisdom of the day held that a spot in the NCAA field was Michigan’s if they could secure just one more win. No other Big 10 team with a 10-8 record had ever been denied a bid in the years since the league was allowed to send more than one team to the tournament. Michigan’s path to the tournament was clear. Win and they would be in the field.
One slight problem stood in their way: The Purdue Boilermakers. The Boilers had a sweet team that season. They entered the game with a heady #3 national ranking. They dominated most of the Big 10 with a trio of scorers: Troy Lewis, a deadly long range shooter, Everette Stephenson, a lanky, long player in the mold of Tayshaun Prince and Todd Mitchell, a Toledo, Ohio product with an above-the-rim game to backup his steady mid range jumpers. Behind these three, the Boilers quickly took the mantle from Michigan as the team to beat in the Big 10. Almost two months to day, the Boilers destroyed Michigan at Mackey Arena, cruising to an easy 89-77 win.
Purdue had already clinched a share of the Big 10 Title, but they would not be resting on their laurels in the finale in Ann Arbor. With a loss, they would be forced to share the crown with arch rival Indiana. That was something the Boilers would have liked to have avoided.
Instead, Purdue stepped in front of a Maize and Blue buzz saw. With their season and tourney bid hopes on the line, Michigan played its best game of the season. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, the Wolverines dominated the Big 10 Champs. A 25-5 run during the first half paved the way to a 48-21 halftime lead. Michigan did not let up in the second half and held leads as high as 38 points three different times in the contest. When the final horn sounded, Michigan had a convincing 104-68 win.
A Grand Finale for the Judge
The maestro of the afternoon for Michigan was Joubert. The Judge, playing in his last game at Crisler Arena dropped 30 points on the Boilers.
Joubert came to Ann Arbor amid tons of hype. One of the best scorers in Detroit Public School League history, Joubert was a product of Detroit Southwestern and followed his teammate Rellford to Michigan. With his light skin and curly hair, Joubert carried a suave Creole look. He was unmistakable. Stories regularly flew around that he would enter pubs around Ann Arbor wearing a fur coat. His fashion statement on the court often involved wearing multiple wrist bands up and down his arms.
He had a nice college career, but Joubert struggled to live up to the big time billing people had tagged him with as an incoming freshmen. When he was on, he could fill it up with the best of him. When he was not, he drove Michigan fans crazy with his shot selection and lackadaisical attention to detail relative to the other parts of the game. Do you remember Kelly Tripuka? As a pro with the Pistons, Tripuka often would drop 20-25 points and do so without grabbing a rebound and dishing out an assist. That was Joubert’s game as well. He also was a bit chunky. He famously feuded with Michigan State guard Scott Skiles who once chided him as ‘fat boy’ during one of their games against each other.
In his Crisler Arena Swan Song, Joubert had his game rocking. He drove to the goal finishing with finger roll lay-ups, banked home mid-range jumpers and killed the Boilers from long range draining six three pointers. It was a fitting home finale for one of Michigan’s more compelling players in program history.
A few hours after the Purdue game, the Selection Committee unveiled the brackets. The good news for Michigan was their dismantling of Purdue had indeed put them into the field. The bad news was that as a #9 seed, they drew Navy and David Robinson in the first round. And, with a win, they would play #1 seed North Carolina in Charlotte. It was a tough a draw as anyone else received for the first weekend of play.
The momentum from the Purdue win carried over into the first round game against the Naval Academy. Michigan broke open a close game by dominating the second half en route to a 97-82 win. Thompson drilled 9 treys and Loy Vaught punctuated the game with a thunderous dunk in the final minute that snapped the rim from the backboard. The next morning in class, all the Ohio State fans were crying that Vaught deserved a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Whatever.
North Carolina proved a different story, kicking Michigan out of the tournament with a 109-97 victory. The Heels scored the game’s first 12 points and never looked back. Michigan did get to within 6 early in the second half, but the Heels kicked it up a second notch and the Wolverines never threatened.
Despite an uneven season and a blowout loss eliminating them from the tournament, Michigan had planted the seeds for another great team. With Mills and Robinson in the fold the following year, the Wolverines crashed the Sweet Sixteen. We all know what happened in 1989.
Yet, I have a soft spot for the 1987 crew that bridged the gap between great UM teams. And, I’ll never forget Joubert’s flair or his scoring binge in his final game at Crisler that shot the Wolverines into the Big Dance.
Here’s hoping that the Wolverines get a similar effort tonight as again they try to shoot themselves into the tournament and shoot the Boilermakers out of Big 10 title contention.
The obituary for Michigan’s NCAA Tournament hopes has not been finalized. However, a rough draft sits on the copy editor’s desk.
The loss Sunday at Iowa crippled Michigan’s steady climb up the bubble. Heading into the game, a clear majority of the brackets that had updated when the weekend began had Michigan in the field. They had reached the final cut line in the Bracket Matrix. Michigan appeared to control their own fate as far as winning games and snaring a tournament bid. The road map to ending the tournament drought was clear: cobble together a .500 league mark and don’t lose their first round Big 10 tournament game. Achieve that, and it would be March Madness time.
The Iowa loss changed those dynamics. Michigan’s fall from the graces of the bracketologists was steep. At ESPN, Joe Lunardi dropped UM from the last team in the field to eighth from last out of the field. The Bracket Junkie dropped Michigan 10 spots from a comfortable seventh to last In, to third to last Out. Michigan is back in the Bracket Project’s NIT Field. With 18 days until Selection Sunday, Michigan is getting its sparsest support of the season among the mock bracket crowd. With a total of just six mock invites (a number that certainly will decline today as some of those which still have Michigan on a bracket line have yet to update post Iowa loss), the Wolverines are no longer even in the group of last eight teams cut from the Matrix field.
Basically, the Iowa loss was entering a job interview with your fly down. Or mustard on your shirt. Or liquor on your breath. Something akin to all of that. The result being Michigan’s resume has now been cast aside and all sorts of other at large bid candidates have now seemingly passed the Wolverines.
Michigan’s tournament math has changed. If Michigan wins two of three to close out the season and gets to the magical .500 mark in the Big 10, will that be enough to pass teams now ahead of them? Clubs like Maryland, Kansas State, UAB, Oklahoma St, Temple, Texas A/M are suddenly all ahead of Michigan. Notre Dame, Providence, Cincinnati, Miami and Virginia Tech are in the mix, arguably even or ahead of Michigan at this point. Before the Iowa loss, the thought was Michigan needed three wins to get in. That number may need to be upped to four. Michigan might need a win against MSU in a 1/8 game in the Big 10 quarterfinals in order to pass some of the teams ahead of them in the pecking order.
There has been a smattering of good news since the Iowa loss. Georgetown is more cooked than Michigan after Louisville throttled them Monday night. Florida, a Matrix 9 seed, lost to LSU last night. The Gators close with three straight against fellow SEC bubble teams, and they're staring down the barrel of the NIT gun. Penn St, a matrix 11, fell last night to Ohio State and San Diego State, a matrix 12, lost at home to BYU.
One glaring negative from last night was Providence’s impressive win over top ranked Pittsburgh. That’s as big a win as any other bubble team will get from here on out. The Friars, like Michigan, are trailing the pack, but last night’s win sets them up for perhaps the biggest surge up the chart among all the bubble teams.
That, of course, is not good news for Michigan. It’s unclear if Michigan getting to 9-9 in the Big 10 will put them in any better position than they are today if things around the country do not change. Luckily, the beauty of this chase is that things don’t stay the same. Bubble tracking might be the most fluid situation in sports. So, against the backdrop of a fast drying Wolverine obituary, here’s a rundown of rooting interests for the busiest night of hoops before the weekend.
Kentucky at South Carolina, 7pm, EPSN Full Court. Line, Pick
When a pair of 10 seeds in the Bracket Matrix square off this late in the season, then you know it’s a big bubble contest. Paradoxically, it’s also a game with first place in the SEC East on the line. The Gamecocks have lived on the edge all season, pulling out wins throughout the season (including earlier in the year in Lexington) in their final possession. The Cats, meanwhile, have been carried by Jodie Meeks. I don’t think either team is in trouble with a loss tonight, but consider each of their slates from here on out. UK has LSU, at UGA and at Florida. South Carolina goes at Vandy, Tenn and at UGA. Both teams may be safe by splitting their final four and picking up a win in the SEC Tournament. But, there are traps out there and the loser tonight will walk a fine line on the bubble. Michigan fans should root against the loser tonight the rest of the way.
Rutgers at Notre Dame, 7pm, EPSNU. Line, ND -14.5
By all accounts, the Irish should just roll right past the Scarlet Knights. However, when you’re a sub par defensive outfit, every game has the possibility to be an adventure. If the Irish want to make a late charge into the tournament, perhaps Mike Brey should play Zach Hillestand less. I don’t think they’re in too much trouble tonight, especially if they play like they did against Louisville and Providence. Like Michigan, Notre Dame is not in the final eight cut from the Matrix Field. Unlike Michigan, they’re trending upwards. In the scheme of things, this game might only be important should the Irish lose and absorb a bad loss. Their next two are biggies: at UConn and home against Villanova, Saturday and Monday respectively. If they win tonight, lose those two and win their closer against St Johns, the Irish will be 17-13, 8-10 in the Big East. Does that get them? Discuss.
Dayton at Rhode Island, 7pm, no TV. Line, URI -6
The Flyers look secure, with an 8 seed in the Matrix and a gaudy 24-5 record. However, the Flyers had a dreadful-looking loss to St Louis over the weekend and now face the hardest four game closing stretch in the A-10, beginning with a tricky road game tonight at URI. Dayton has won five games since the start of January by 3 points or less. Can they stay on the right side of ledger tonight followed by Temple, at Xavier, and Duquense? Will the sky start to fall on the Flyer’s tournament hopes? Splitting those games might push Dayton far enough down the bubble that an early exit from the A-10 could be lethal. If they do worse than split, they might have some work to do in that tournament to qualify for the NCAAs.
Virginia Tech at Clemson, 7:30pm, ESPN2. Line, Clemson -10
Somebody needs to throw the Hokies a life vest. They’ve lost three in a row and are about to be drenched in a Tsunami of ACC power teams. After tonight, Virginia Tech takes on Duke, UNC and Florida State to close out the season. The good news for Tech is if they can split those four games, they would have a .500 ACC record and enough late season big wins to surge into the field. The bad news is the run down the stretch has to come against four of the nation’s top teams. Any Hokie hot streak from here on out will drastically change the bubble picture in their favor. However, the Hokies are fading fast, a predicament traced back to their first meeting with Clemson last month.
Duke at Maryland, 9pm, ESPN. Line, Duke -6
When these teams played last month, the outcome was probably the most embarrassing result a Gary Williams-led team ever faced. The storyline is simple tonight for Maryland: Payback and settling an old score. Historically speaking, the Terrapins have a nice history of avenging blowout losses. The Terps are the Cat’s Meow after their take down of UNC over the weekend. After banishment all winter long, Maryland jumped from non contender to a consensus 12 seed in the Matrix. Two out of every three mock brackets place the Terrapins in their field. The question is can they keep that momentum going? If they lose tonight and again over the weekend at Wake Forest, can Maryland keep those mock invites? Not likely, especially if other teams surge this week. Nevertheless a win tonight or against the Deacons will go a long way to cementing Maryland’s position in the field. Considering where this program was when February started, it might be one of Williams’ better coaching achievements.
Kansas State at Missouri, 9:30pm, EPSNU. Line, Missouri -9
Looking for a darkhorse team who could play deep into March? Introduce yourself to Missouri, one of the most efficient offenses in the land. We’ll see where this team gets seeded, but I could see an Elite Eight trip. However, this is bubble talk, so let’s move on to the Kansas State Wildcats. Despite winning eight of their last nine games, KSU still has not convinced a majority of bracketologists. While they’re a 12 seed in the latest Matrix, KSU is clearly the last team in the tournament based on that comprehensive metric. Less than 40 percent of the brackets tracked have KSU in their field. They had to climb out of a 0-4 Big 12 hole and have nothing but weak losses on their OOC slate. A win tonight gives them a sweep of the Tigers and likely cements their spot in the field with a manageable slate down the stretch. A loss, though, might sap up all their remaining support and without any obvious big ticket scalps out there, who knows if they will reappear on anybody’s radar? The Cats have won four league road games in a row for the first time in 30 years. Tonight, that streak goes up against an undefeated team at home. Time to break out the something has got to give cliché.
Mississippi St at Tennessee, 9pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, Tennessee -9
The Vols play at South Carolina and at Florida in their next two games, so they could find themselves in a boatload of trouble if they fail to hold serve tonight against the Bulldogs. The Vols have backed themselves into a corner.I can offer one tip to the Vols. If you want to swing yourself out of said corner, try the novel approach of actually listening to your coach. If they can’t get by MSU tonight, they’ll be on a three game losing streak and staring at consecutive road games against teams ahead of them in the standings. While they’re a consensus 9 seed in the Matrix right now, where will they be if this is just the middle of a losing streak? Michigan and other bubble teams could use a Volunteer losing streak.
UNLV at Utah, 10pm, no TV. Line, Utah -5
All winter, four Mountain West Conference teams have belligerently stuck around in most bracketologists fields. Maybe, just maybe, the worm is finally turning on this one. SDSU’s loss last night was big for teams on the bubble. The same could be said should UNLV lose this evening in Salt Lake City. The Rebels are an 11 seed in the Matrix, but a loss tonight drops them to 8-6 in league play. I still don’t think a MWC team hovering near a .500 league mark will merit at large consideration. If they lose tonight, the Rebels will have to sweep their final two (home vs. Air Force and at SDSU) to get back into the at large mix. If not, they’ll need to win their league tournament. The good news there for Rebel fans is, like every year, they’re the tourney host.
Bumped to the front page for those of you wondering who to cheer for/against this weekend.
Events broke perfectly for Michigan throughout the week in the college basketball world. In addition to a pair of good wins since last Sunday, the Wolverines found an ally in the out of town scoreboard. Every night has brought carnage to the bubble. Many of Michigan's bubble brethern fell, some twice, and lost key swing games.
The upshot? For that answer, we'll break out the latest Bracket Matrix chart. A total of 19 brackets, nearly one-third of the now 60 brackets tracked, have been updated since the close of day Thursday and Michigan's resounding win over Minnesota. Of those, 15 pushed the Wolverines up the chart and into the field of 65.
The overall numbers still dont look to great, but consider Michigan's surge just in the last 48 hours. When the week began, Michigan was only in nine total fields. The Wolverines saw their support dwindle throughout the week until only six mock brackets had placed Michigan. The Wolverines had fallen to eighth from last out of the comprehensive matrix. When Michigan tipped off Thursday night against the Gophers, the Temple Owls were in more fields than Michigan. Temple? Really? I didn't realize a fourth place team in the Atlantic 10 was that impressive. Were Pepe Sanchez and Mark Macon granted more eligibility and nobody told me?
All bracketologists needed to see was a big Michigan win, and the Maize and Blue delivered resoundingly Thursday night. It was cool to see Michigan elevated into Lunardi's ESPN field, where he has the Wolverines a 13-seed. This guy annually nails the field on the spot, so as long as we stay in his bracket, Michigan fans ought to feel confident on Selection Sunday. The Bracket Project has steadily moved Michigan up its NIT bracket lines and finally leapt the Wolverines into the field, where they check in as an 11-seed. The Bracket Junkie still has UM as an 11-seed, but Michigan saw themselves promoted up four spots to seventh from last team in the field. RPI's Jerry Palm, who is trying to predict what the field will look like on Selection Day, as opposed to giving us a snapshot of what the bracket would look like today, has Michigan in the field for the first time this season since he started doing his projections. Even in updated fields leaving Michigan out, there is good news to report. College Hoops Net did not list UM as even one of their final eight teams out earlier in the week. But, today, Michigan sits on the cusp as the last team cut from his Friday afternoon update.
The surge in support pushed Michigan up to second from last in the Matrix complete look. But, 41 brackets, many of which do not have Michigan in yet, have not updated since the win and won't update until after this weekend is in the books. A win tomorrow with some strategic losses across the country today and Michigan will likey see enough comprehensive support to get into the Matrix field. In case you think thats too many minds to change, consider of the 15 brackets that have UM in the field post Minnesota victory, only two had them in their field prior to that game. And, they now have more than twice as many bids as Temple, helpfully shielding readers here from a hateful Temple rant.
All this transpires on the eve of one of the more compelling weekends of the season for teams sitting on the bubble. Games between bubble mates litter the schedule today. If Michigan can take care of business tomorrow, one reason to assume an even greater movement in the Matrix is the fact that with so many head to heads, plenty of teams elbowing for room will fall by the wayside. By Monday morning, we may have our clearest bubble picture yet in this goofy season. We know the outcome of Michigan's game will go a long way in painting that picture. Here are some other games to keep a rooting interest today.
Notre Dame at Providence. Noon, ESPN Full Court. Line, Prov -2
It ought to be fun watching these schools attempt to play defense. There are 5 games in the NBA tonight. I set the total at 2.5 for number of those games this matchup between the Irish and Friars will outscore. Any takers? Sign on up!Michigan is farther ahead of Notre Dame than Providence in the pecking order, so I actually think Michigan fans should pull for the Irish, even if it opens the door for their rise up the bubble.
Boston College at Miami. Noon, no tv. Line, Miami -7
According to the Matrix, this is a consensus 9-seed (BC) versus the consensus fourth team out (Miami). Time is running out on the Hurricanes. Without a win today, you have to wonder if the Canes can do enough from here on out to merit consideration outside of a deep run in the ACC Tournament. This has to be considered a must win.
Tennesseee at Kentucky. 1pm, CBS. Line, UK -3
Again using the Matrix as a barometer, this is a #8 vs a #11. Kentucky is the lesser seed here and in desperation mode. They've lost four of six and are in real danger of being kicked out of a majority of brackets if they dont stop the bleeding. Michigan in the NCAA field, but not Kentucky? Yeah, right. That's a joke. What's next, the Cats on a longer bowl streak in football than Michigan? Oh. Wait. Nevermind.
Baylor at Oklahoma State. 1:30pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, OSU -4.5
Without really doing anything all that impressive, the Cowboys are making a move up the bubble. They've lost all their key games it seems in both league and OOC play. But, if they keep winning, they could sneak in there. This team is young, and probably more talented right now than Michigan. But, their defense is suspect, so they are vulnerable today to Baylor's similar up the floor tempo. The Bears are a disappointment this year, but if they can conjure up a winning streak, they could be a strong bubble team by the time league tournaments roll around. In the end, this game could give the Providence/ND game a run for their money as far as total points goes.
Louisville at Cincinnati, 2pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, L'Ville -5
The Bearcats surprising run to a bid faces a make or break game this afternoon. Seeded 12 in the latest Matrix, CU is the shakiest of at-large teams. A home win against top-10 Louisville legitimizes them and they will leap a couple of seed lines. A loss pushes them out of the field, with a limited road map for re-entry at their disposal the rest of the way.
Marquette at Georgetown. 2pm, ESPN. Line, G'Town -3.5
The Hoyas are the sixth to last team cut from the Matrix field. But, they have played a tough schedule and have enough quality wins where they wont need a good looking record to sneak into the field. But, they have to start stringing together some wins. A win over Marquette today cures a lot of the ills plaguing the Hoyas. It will put them on the right track and in line for a bid as long they can a get a couple more wins down the stretch. A loss forces them to sweep their next two games against Louisville and Syracuse, or else get ready for an NIT home game.
Vanderbilt at Florida. 3pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, Florida -8.5
Florida is a near unanimous selection across the bracketologist spectrum, landing as a Matrix 10 seed. They already have 20 wins. But, they're trending a bit downward and have lost three of five. With five games left, if they repeat the number the Gators might find that a lot of teams are passing them. The slate is rough. After this game, they play each of the four other likely SEC bid candidates. Does a Gator loss today open the door for a collapse?
SDSU at New Mexico. 3pm, no tv. Line, NM -5
Nothing has been able to displace Steve Fisher's club from their mock invite. Now, they face a tough test against the Lobos this afternoon. I dont think the Aztecs can afford too many more losses and still get consensus support in mock brackts. They're an 11 in the Matrix and a loss, despite on the road to a decent league foe, might turn a lot of double digit seed projections into NIT invites.
UNC at Maryland. 3:30pm. ABC. Line, UNC -12.5
Good news Terps fans, if you can win one or two of your final three homes games, then the squad could be a road sweep of two bottom feeders away from getting a bid. The bad news, those home games are against UNC, Duke and Wake. Good luck. That trek begins today against the Heels. I know from a SOS standpoint, UM could spin a Terrapin win positively. But, then again, does Michigan want to be on the bubble with a team that has such high end, recent scalps, not to mention a head to head win over them? I say no. I'm pulling for the Heels here.
Kansas State at Iowa State. 6pm, no tv. Line KSU- 3.5
Kansas State has been yo-yoing in and out of the field for about a month now. Right now, they're on the wrong side looking in, placing third from last out of the field, right behind Michigan, in the Matrix. At one time, Hilton Magic ruled, and Ames was an impossible place to get a win for road teams. However, Jamaal Tinsley, Marcus Fizer and Fred Hoiberg are not walking through that door. Its sad to see Iowa State irrelevant, but hopefully for one night they can conjure up the ghost of Johnny Orr and Hilton Magic can rule again. A loss here cripples KSU the way a possible loss tomorrow to Iowa would to Michigan.
Texas AM at Texas Tech. 6pm, no tv. Line, TAMU -1
Just once, I wish the folks on Game Day would ask Bobby Knight how he feels about his son turning Tech into a high scoring, no defense outfit. It would make good TV, seeing him take a swing at, I dont know, how about Jay Bilas? Are we into that? Sweet! What we're not into is a resurgent Aggie squad. Their easy win the other night against Texas puts them back on the map. The Aggies are cruising towards something like 22 wins and with OOC victories over LSU and Arizona, they can make a compelling case for a bid. With a handful of winnable games down the stretch, they can easily take care of the sub par league record marring their resume. A loss to a second division Red Raider team, though, might derail their surge enough to neutralize it entirely.
Washington at USC. 7pm, no tv. Line, USC -2
With 23 bids, the Trojans are the only team left out of the Matrix with more mock invites than the Wolverines. USC has not played in a week since being swept on their Arizona tour. Only the bubble chaos around them kept them in as many fields this week as they're in. They wont survive any of the next cutdowns if they lose again, even to a quality foe like UW. At the least, a USC loss and UM win tomorrow will enable Michigan to surpass the Trojans.
Florida St at Virginia Tech. 8pm, no tv. Line VT -3
According to the Matrix, this is a 6 (FSU) vs 11 (VT). On the surface, these clubs are trending in opposite directions. The Noles have been climbing, but the Hokies thanks to consecutive losses to Maryland and UVA are hanging on by a thread. Both of these clubs face treacherous schedules over the final two weeks. Wins for either might be hard to come by after today, so the loser faces the real possibility of a losing run that will extend into March. That's not a good thing. I think a road win by FSU would benefit Michigan more. Remember, we've been tracking 5 ACC bubble teams and hoping that three would fall by the wayside. Maryland and Miami are already out. Tech is almost out. If all three lose today, we'll have been granted one of bubble wishes as the final weeks begin.
Oklahoma at Texas. 9pm, ESPN. Line, Texas -1
The marquee ESPN game of the night. In one corner a title contender with one of game's best players. In the other corner, Texas, a team spiraling in the wrong direction. In the Sooners they have the wrong opponent to try and get out of this funk. The Horns have lost four of their last six, a la Kentucky. A loss tonight drops them to .500 in league play. They appear to be a solid 8-seed according to the Matrix, but for how long if they keep losing?
BYU at UNLV. 11pm, no tv. Line, UNLV -2
This late night game in the desert is between a #10 (BYU) and #11 UNLV) according to the Matrix. How does the loser stay in anybody's fields come Monday morning? At worst the loser will fall behind Michigan, provided the Wolverines can take care of business tomorrow.
The WCHA is to college hockey as the SEC is to college football. This decade, like the SEC, the WCHA has generally been considered the best conference in college hockey. But this season it doesn't actually have the strength to match up with tourney-worthy teams from other conferences.
The WCHA currently has 7 of the top-20 teams in the [irrelevant] USCHO poll and 7 of the teams ranked in the [relevant] Pairwise Rankings, which basically determines who makes the NCAA Tournament. However, in the USCHO poll, only Denver (8) and North Dakota (9) rank in the top 10, while only Denver is in the top 10 of the Pairwise Rankings (t-5 as of 1:21 AM on Saturday, and yes I'm writing this at a ridiculously stupid time of night). One belief held by members of the College Hockey media (rather small, as you might imagine), is that the WCHA is so deep that teams keep knocking each other off, an argument that is backed up by having 9 out of 10 teams in the top 30 of the RPI. While the general consensus is that the WCHA isn't necessarily as strong as years previous, many (and when I say many, I mean many relative to people who follow college hockey) believe that the WCHA is still the strongest conference in the nation, or at least competing for the title with Hockey East.
In my opinion, the idea that the WCHA is the strongest conference in the nation is utter crap. To back it up, I am going to look at the records of WCHA teams in the Pairwise Rankings against out-of-conference opponents in the Pairwise Rankings. To put it simply, I'm going to look at the records of "good" teams in the WCHA against good teams from other conferences.
Denver: 2-2-0 (2-2-0 home) (t5 Pairwise)
Minnesota-Duluth: 1-1-0 (1-1-0 neutral) (t12 Pairwise)
North Dakota: 1-2-0 (1-1-0 home, 0-1-0 road) (t12 Pairwise)
Wisconsin: 1-2-0 (1-2-0 home) (14 Pairwise)
Minnesota: 2-1-1 (2-1-1 home) (15 Pairwise)
Colorado College: 0-0-0 (COWARDS!!!) (t17 Pairwise)
St. Cloud State: 0-1-0 (0-1-0 neutral) (21 Pairwise)
Overall: 7-9-1 (6-6-1 home, 0-1-0 road, 1-2-0 neutral) Win%=0.46875
As a straight record, 7-9-1 against quality opponents isn't bad, but certainly doesn't lend credence to the idea that the WCHA is even close to the best conference in the country this year, especially when you consider that the vast majority of these games were home games.
A fair criticism of the analysis above is that the 7-9-1 record is the result of having 70% of the conference being evaluated against the top teams in every other conference. However, I can refute this critique with two points: a) the only team with a winning record against quality competition is Minnesota (all at home too) and b) the reason that so many teams are up there is that they feasted on highly mediocre competition.
The WCHA combined non-conference record is 41-23-10 (Win%=0.62162). The combined non-conference record of the 7 teams above is 30-16-9 (Win%=0.62727). This means that the combined non-conference records of the top 7 teams are about as good as those of the bottom 3 teams. The reason for this is that the weak bottom 3 teams beat up on the worst teams in the NCAA, and the top 7 teams also racked up a positive winning percentage by beating up on the worst teams in the NCAA. This led to a high overall conference RPI because the RPI does not take individual games into account, but focuses on the overall records of teams. This means that a win over a bad team and a loss to a great team means the same thing as splitting two games against an average team. The result of this system is that the WCHA teams played a number of terrible teams, whose records do not compensate for the disparity of talent in NCAA hockey, while producing a mediocre performance against actual good teams, to give the conference a heightened RPI, putting more teams into the Pairwise Rankings (of which RPI is a component).
In conclusion, the WCHA is not that good and as it's 2:25 AM, I'm going to bed and not getting up until 2.
Not sure why it hasn't been posted yet, but here's the official "WE WON!" thread, which I've now turned into a diary due to the length of what I wrote. Of course UMHoops has all the analysis of the actual game, so go there to read a professional's (or quality amateur's) take on our play. I'm going to examine what this victory means in terms of our competition in the Big Ten standings and our tournament chances based on those standings.
Big win for us. Minnesota is a team with a resume very comparable to ours. They went 12-0 in non-conference play with their only OOC marquee victory coming against a then and now top 10 Louisville team. They have experienced the same difficulties we have in conference play, and now our conference records are even, and with our marquee victories and respectable loses in non-conference play*, our resumes are nearly even. Even though their record is better than ours, the fact that they've won only 3 of their last 9 games might give Michigan the edge.
*That depends on how you view the Maryland loss, FWIW their home record is good. Plus, besides Louisville, Minnesota took on a bunch of cupcakes
There are still games to play though and Minnesota has a favorable remaining schedule of NU, @Ill, Wiscy, and us. (Michigan's is, as we all know, @Iowa, PU, @Wisc, @Minn.) Minnesota has the ability to win 3 of these last 4 games, heck they certainly have the ability them to win all of them if you look at the fact that they beat Illinois by 26 at home (that is a tough road game though) and beat Wisconsin in Madison. But, given their recent struggles it's hard to make a prediction.
Michigan, of course, also has PSU, OSU and Wisconsin to work against in the Big10 standings (the only teams we could potentially pass or tie, at least).
Indiana couldn't pull off the upset tonight against Wisconsin (not that we could expect them to), and Wisconsin could easily go 2-2 in their last remaining regular season games assuming they lose at State, get a win either against us or at Minnesota, and beat Indiana. So, assuming they go 2-2, with a 10-8 conference record, we'd be hard pressed to pass or even tie them.
Ohio State has some tough games coming up against Illinois and Penn State at home, then at Purdue. Their season ends with some games they should win: at Iowa and home against NU, but an away game in the Big Ten is always losable, and they lost at NU last night, FWIW.
I think that no matter who they're playing we root against Ohio State (and not just because they're Ohio State), because Joe Lunardi has Ohio State as a 5 seed right now, and if we were able to pass them in the Big Ten standings that would be HUGE (we're only a half game back). Even if we ended up with the same record, I think our resume might have a slight edge, despite their two victories over us.
Penn State has two toss ups (@OSU and Illinois) and two likely victories left (Indiana and @Iowa), so I don't really know what to say about them. We'll know better in a couple of games who we'll be rooting for in the final two games.
There are obviously many other factors that determine whether we get in the tournament and we're not just fighting Big Ten teams for a spot (see jamiemac's diary for a well-written scoop on all that jazz). I chose to focus on Big Ten teams because A)Being 8th in the Big Ten does not look good on our resume, B)Though a team above us could get passed due to our good Ws, a better position in these rankings is the biggest step towards a bid, and C)A better placement in the rankings gives us a better seed in the Big Ten tournament, which winning at least one of these games is VERY important and a good seed (while we will have extreme difficulty getting a bye) obviously puts us in a better position to go deep there, which could all but secure us a spot in the dance.
It's well known what our team has to look forward to. While we all know that Minnesota can have a tendency to make us look good (see: football at Minn 2008), there is no reason we can't be optimistic after this game. Despite a quiet night for Manny (he did only play 22 minutes), we found weapons everywhere, and our 3-PFG% was much improved over its usually meh number--usually in the 20s, it was a respectable 46.4% tonight. We should all be only cautiously optimistic, though, as we've seen these types of games from our team before and still found a way to struggle afterwards, but this is the first game in recent memory that I (and maybe I'm alone here) feel came from purely outplaying our opponent and not us being more or less handed the victory. Minnesota did struggle from beyond the arc, but both teams' overall FG%s are similar. It came down to us taking advantage of nearly every opportunity they gave us and, as I said, 3 point rain making. It also seems Beilein is getting a good grasp on when and where different players are effective, and that might be the big key to winning more games.
A 2 win streak is good momentum going into Iowa where we will be favored, but where we will have to work to win. Then, of course, is the home game against Purdue where a W, if we win at Iowa, could be the final win on our resume that gets us to the tournament, since that would secure a .500 Big 10 record and add to our list of quality victories.
Well, I've wasted too much time on this, and I have a paper to finish for tomorrow (hopefully I can find inspiration to write as much there). I'll be leaving for Florida tomorrow where internet is sparse (the place I'll be staying, at least) so I may not be around here much, if at all, for the next week. So even if you won't miss me, I'll miss you guys.
Thanks for reading my novel if you made it all the way here.
Watching Michigan B-Ball win tonight gave me a possibly false sense of optimism about our tournament chances. Going 2-2 to finish the regular season would give us a very strong resume and doing any damage in the conference tournament on top of that would make us a near lock for the tournament. I don’t even remember the last time Michigan made the tourney, which is quite sad. I believe it was ’98 when I was only 6 years old and I didn’t even follow sports then. This got me thinking about another point. I would almost rather see U-M make the tourney than have the football team make a good bowl game (note that I said GOOD bowl game).
Many reasons could be why I feel this way. It could be that since its basketball season right now I feel more of a connection with basketball than football. Probably not, or could it be that since we haven’t made it in a decade I am desperately clinging on to the fact that we actually have a chance to go somewhere with our basketball team, which lest you forget, is nothing short of a miracle. Possibly this could be the reason, but I don’t think so. Or possibly that the OOC wins vs. Duke and UCLA gave me a false sense of hope that no doubt led me to think we can be a contender. Once again, no…
So that must mean that I like the basketball team more than the football team. Right? No, once again. In fact I love football much more than basketball and follow the football team more closely than the basketball team. I play varsity football, not basketball. So why then would I rather have U-M make the tourney than the football team win 9 games instead of 6 or 7, which in fact is the most likely scenario for this upcoming season.
This leads me to pose my actual question. Which postseason is better: College Football Bowl Season or March Madness? I would have to go with March Madness as I alluded to already. It is a much better atmosphere than the bowl season with Dick Vitale screaming about how UNC will go all the way this year and seeing multiple games on my TV at once during the first couple rounds and plus its overall a better format than the bowl system. Yes, I’m ragging on the BSC system, but that’s not the only reason why it’s better. By having a single elimination bracket with 65 teams you get the absolute best team in the nation when it matters most. In college football there may be a better team that wins the Rose Bowl or The Sugar Bowl than the team that brings home the title (true to this year). Also, watching Cinderella teams such as Davidson or George Mason provides such great storylines for the tourney and makes me feel good inside. I also enjoy filling out brackets and desperately rooting for Duke to win their Sweet 16 game, when in reality I hate them with all of my heart, just for the off chance of winning the extra 20 bucks. Oh yeah and did I mention the atmosphere of the whole process. Everybody gets pumped up about the tourney and I couldn’t say the same about bowl season.
Once again, I like football way more than basketball, but I just really that U-M makes the tourney. So, which postseason do you like better? Discuss