and... i like them? I think I like them.
Michigan and all the other teams on the NCAA bubble saw some chips fall their way last night with the Irish losing on their home court to Villanova. The 17-point loss likely drops ND out of any serious at-large contention save for a major run in the Big East Tournament that involves upwards of three wins when the field convenes in New York City next week. According to the latest BE Tourney projections, those wins would have to come against, in order, Rutgers, Syracuse and Louisville, with those last two foes both coming off a bye. Impossible? No. But, it would still be improbable.
The only negative of the outcome was to my bank account. My prediction of an ND win went down in flames, as did the profit I made on Michigan's pointspread cover Sunday afternoon. Sigh. At least I took one for the cause. Kinda like Brian and the abololition of the Live Blogs, right?
That brings us to tonight. While there are several games that will impact the bubble, it's bound to be a frustrating night for Michigan fans. Their fellow bubble mates tipping off tonight are mostly playing second division teams or favored in their game. Or, both. If form holds, Michigan won't gain much traction in the chase.
But, its March. The possibilities are endless, and there is no better time than now to be pulling for the underdog.
Ohio State at Iowa, 9pm, BTN. Line, OSU -1
What happens if Ohio State keeps losing? They’ll be hosting a NIT game, that’s what. For the second straight season, the Buckeyes tournament hopes come down to the final week of play. The Bucks, a solid NCAA pick all winter, are finding their bid in jeopardy as they slump to close the season. After losing four of five games, Ohio State can’t really afford to drop too many more and stay in anybody’s good graces. Winning at Iowa should be a cakewalk, right? Tell that to Badger and Wolverine fans. If OSU can’t take care of business tonight, they will be facing a must win home game this weekend against a Northwestern them that just beat them. Ohio State is a 9-seed according to the Matrix, but they need to do the same thing Michigan needs to do in order to get into the field: Win 2 more games between now and the end of the league tournament.
Cincinnati at South Florida, 7pm, ESPN U. Line, Cincy -2.5
Georgetown at St. John's, 7:30pm, ESPN 360. Line, GT -6.5
I link these games together because of how similar the situations are to one another: Favored Big East bubble team hits the road to play a league lightweight.
On one hand, I recall USF upsetting Marquette and handing the Eagles their first league loss. On the other hand, I see the Bulls have not won a game since. And, in all those games, the margin of defeat exceeded double digits. If the Bearcats lose tonight, it would be much worse than Michigan’s loss to Iowa last month and a fatal blow to their at large hopes. After being run out of the Carrier Dome two days ago, the Bearcats are out of excuses and need to start impressing the tournament committee. As of now, the Bearcats are fifth-to-last out according to the comprehensive Bracket Matrix, one slot ahead and in two more brackets overall the Michigan.
With Georgetown, a deeper look into the Matrix reveals how valid a threat the Hoyas are to steal an at-large from Michigan or any of the other bubble teams. While the Hoyas are only placed in six total brackets (putting them at eighth-to-last out and two spots behind Michigan), all six of those brackets have been updated since the weekend. Compare that to Michigan and Cincinnati which remain in just 6 and 5 respectively of the most recently updated brackets. Translation: The Hoyas aren’t yet getting the overall support of the Bearcats and Wolverines, but they are getting at least as much more recent support. They wont gain any additional support in their game tonight against St. John’s, but they lose all that they do have with a loss.
Both CU and GU close at home against more league patsies (CU hosts Seton Hall, GU hosts Rutgers) this Saturday. Finishing 2-0 to close out probably won’t elevate them into the field, unless massive bubble chaos ensues. However, winning both games this week sets both schools up to advance only as far as the Big East quarterfinals to likely get a bid. Taking a look at the projected Big East Tournament brackets shows both playing more lightweights in the opening round. Wins there would advance both in the second round to play in the afternoon session next Wednesday with the Hoyas playing Villanova and the Bearcats playing West Virginia. Could those be play in games for both schools? I don’t know. But, I do know that each has to win out until that game for it to happen in the first place.
Wake Forest at Maryland, 9pm, no TV. Line, Wake -1.5
Somebody needs to explain to me why this game is not on television? http://www.testudotimes.com/2009/3/2/778436/maryland-wake-forest-previ
“>Deacons vs. Terrapins should be a blast and worth tuning in to, if only to see if Greivas Vasquez can continue to shoot the Terps to a tournament berth. Without him, the Terps don’t beat NC State the other night, let alone their show stopping upset over UNC 10 days ago. But, because of those efforts, Maryland not only controls its own tournament fate, but probably does not need to notch this win tonight to make the Dance. A win might lock them in, but even with a loss, the Terps have a chance at a .500 ACC record with a win at Virginia on Saturday. Like Michigan, two more wins from here on out may do the trick. Maryland is a 12-seed according to the Matrix consensus, but unless they get completely embarrassed tonight, I don’t think they’ll fall out of too many brackets with a loss.
Kansas State at Oklahoma State, 7:30pm, ESPN2. Line, OSU -6
The Bubble Game of the Night takes place in Stillwater when Kansas State hooks up with Oklahoma State. The Cowboys currently sit as a 10-seed in the overall Bracket Matrix. Kansas State, meanwhile, is one spot behind Michigan as the seventh-to-last team out. I tend to think Michigan fans need to pull for KSU in this one. The Wildcats do close with a lay-up at home against Colorado this weekend, but by every metric available, I think Michigan’s resume remains stronger. A win in Stillwater would be impressive, but Michigan can match that by winning at Minnesota later in the week. The Wildcats would still have to advance farther in their own league tournament than Michigan does in theirs to pass Michigan. The Cats will need a big game out of Denis Clemente if they want win this one tonight. Oklahoma State is a different situation. They play at Oklahoma on Saturday. Folks, they are not winning that game. A loss tonight will mean a 0-2 final week. That’s never good for a bubble team. Its senior night in Stillwater, and its hard to believe they’re highly touted 2005 recruiting class is about the . A win tonight will go a long way in preventing that from happening.
Blantantly stealing a trick from Brian and his football game previews, but here goes......Three things to make me look stupid in the morning:
*Iowa beats Ohio State
*Oklahoma State beats KSU, but closer than the experts think.
*And, in a game not featured above, take Florida State +12.5 over Duke. Dont sleep on FSU. They've won twice for me in recent weeks in games against Miami and Clemson. They will give Duke all they can handle this evening. The games tips at 8 and is on ESPN Full Court.
Alright, I still intend on breaking down the roster of the more historically accurate brackets and where they place Michigan as we head into the final week of the regular season. However, something called a job got in the way of serious bracket crunching this afternoon. I'll spend some time tonight sorting through more mock brackets.
However, allow me a few words to prepare you for basketball action tonight as it pertains the the bubble. It won't take long. There's only one game of true import. But, its a biggie.
Nineteen days ago, the Irish sat at 12-10, losers of seven games in a row. Five of those losses were by double digits. Staying above .500 looked like it would be a challenge, let alone any hopes for the Big Dance. Nobody was playing defense, and, only one could score.
Rather surprisingly, the Irish picked themselves off the mat and, as March starts, according to some, have a fairly manageable road map into the NCAA Tournament. I guess that's what wins in four of six games, including dominating efforts against Louisville and at Providence can do for you, especially in a weak bubble year.
For example, lets turn our eyes to Bracketology 101. Why him? The folks at the Bracket Matrix claim B101 to be the most accurate mock bracketologist over the last three years. He already has Notre Dame in the field. Forecasting tonight as the start of a four game winning streak, B101 has the Irish on the 12 line right now. If that winning streak comes to fruition, expect Notre Dame in the field when pairings are officially announced in two weeks.
After their game tonight, the Irish close the season Friday night in South Bend, against league lightweight St. John's. As the Big East Tournament bracket projects right now, the Irish would open with Rutgers. A win advances them to a 7 vs 10 game against the Syracuse Orangemen. That's the road map that conventional wisdom figures Notre Dame has to navigate in order to get an at large.
Villanova and Syracuse are challenging bookends, but, considering this team was dead in the water less than three weeks ago, Irish fans have to be happy about the fact they're still alive and kicking, right? I mean, they'll be favored to win the first three games of this closing kick, so things are just ducky in DomerVille, correct? Um, not so much. Some are too busy raking Mike Brey over the coals for coaching a team with such promise into such a shaky bubble position with a week to go in the season.
Notre Dame fans think they have coaching problems, but perhaps they should be thankful they dont have Viilanova head man Jay Wright pulling the strings. His violations against Nova Nation have been enumerated in the Wildcats ugly demise against Georgetown over the weekend.
One thing I do know is that the final 10 minutes of that game on Saturday rivalled anything as ugly we've seen come out of the Big 10 this year. That includes that 38-33 classic that Penn St and Illinois spit at us a few weeks ago. At least in the game, some folks scored clutch buckets down the stretch. The Hoyas and Wildcats were stuck at 52-50 for much of the final five minutes of the game with the Hoyas chucking up air balls, which the Wildcats matched with hurried and careless turnovers.
Maybe the Wildcats are beginning the run out of gas. From what I saw out of them over the weekend, plenty of doubt exists that they can go into South Bend tonight and put an end to the Irish threat. In fact, I expect the Irish to cover the -2.5 this evening and do so emphatically.
Let's quickly compare the resumes of Notre Dame and Michigan as it stands now:
Notre Dame, 16-12, 7-9
Best wins: Texas, Georgetown, Louisville and Providence
Bad losses: at St John's......otherwise, the Irish have not lost to a club that's not either in the field or strongly competing for a bid.
W/L vs RPI: top 25, 1-7; 26-50, 2-3; 51-100, 1-1
Michigan, 18-11, 8-9
Best wins: UCLA, Duke, Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue.
Bad losses: at Iowa. Probably not as damning as losing to the Johnnies.
W/L vs RPI: top 25, 3-5; 26-50, 3-4; 51-100, 4-2
Compare and contrast those resumes. Play it forward with ND winning four straight, then losing in the Big East quarterfinals. The Irish would be 20-13, with wins over Villanova and Syracuse (likely) added to their resume along the way. If Michigan takes care of business and gets as far as the Big 10 quarterfinals, they would have an identical 20-13 and add a second win--on the road, no less--against Minnesota.
Whose resume is better in each situation? Is there room for both Notre Dame and UM in this field? What if ND advances an extra round, beyond the above road map, in their league tournament and Michigan does not?
According to the earliest returns from the latest straw polls, Michigan’s yo-yo on the NCAA Tournament Bubble continues.
The Wolverines probably had the most neutral week of any of the bubble contenders, evening out a great win over Purdue with a good-looking loss to Wisconsin. They did not surge like Providence, nor did they crater a la Kentucky and Florida.
A total of 36 brackets on the Bracket Matrix have been updated since Michigan’s win last Thursday night over Purdue. The good news: Half of those brackets include Michigan. The bad news: Most have not updated yet to include yesterday’s loss at Wisconsin. In fact, only five brackets have been updated since last night and the Wisconsin loss. None of those include the Wolverines. Michigan is on their final cut lists and, at least in their minds, Michigan is much closer to being in the field this morning than they were a week ago in the wake of the Iowa debacle.
JN at the Basketball Forum places just six Big 10 teams and chooses Georgetown over Michigan by virtue of their longer list of quality wins. Michigan has the scalps of UCLA, Duke, Purdue, Illinois, Penn State, and Minnesota. Georgetown, meanwhile, owns wins over Memphis, Maryland, UConn, Syracuse, Providence, and Villanova. Discuss.
Going behind enemy lines, the Columbus Dispatch has Michigan in the ‘barely out’ category. At least they’re being honest about Ohio State, seeding the Buckeyes as an 11 while noting the hometown team is on “thin ice.”
Paymon takes a novel approach detailing the final bids he would dole out. He has Michigan as one of his final teams out. All four of his final teams in the field—Notre Dame, Arizona, Kansas State and Florida--have huge games between now and the time the Wolverines next play.
Rush the Court has the deepest analysis of any of the earliest returns, including cliff notes for the upcoming week. He has Michigan second-to-last out of the field.
Michigan needs to win a lot more to get into Fully Sports Field of 65. Michigan is not even among the last four cut, but St. Mary’s, Rhode Island (WTF!) and Cincinnati (Double WTF!!) are. Seriously, how did the Bearcats look more impressive yesterday than Michigan? They were non competitive against Syracuse. There’s no way Rhode Island gets an at large unless they reach the A10 finals, so we won’t discuss the Rams until they get four more wins.
It’s only a thumb nail sketch of what the Matrix may eventually look like. I’ll report on a deeper look into the Matrix, including how Michigan is being treating by the more historically accurate bracketologists (here’s a hint: not well), later in the day when more brackets are updated.
Until then, here’s a nice breakdown on how the “new” RPI formula is impacting teams in the chase this year. It does not look like the revamped formula is impacting Michigan, but plenty of other bubble teams are seeing their rankings altered in this often cited metric used to help separate teams from the pack.
One thing worth noting: It’s mentioned the best way to keep a strong RPI afloat is to schedule one of those preseason tournaments. Michigan has done that for next year as they’ll take part in the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving weekend in a field that includes Xavier, Florida St, Baylor, Creighton and Marquette. Taking part in that tournament this season has really helped keep Siena and Oklahoma State’s RPI higher. Both the Saints and Cowboys played each other in the last place game, but their SOS from taking part in the field has been a feather in their RPI caps all season long.
Happy March, everyone!
We're beyond the traditional winter months on the calendar and chatter of Spring Training promises warmer and longer days ahead.
For me, the arrivial of March really only means one thing: A cavalcade of intense college hoops dramatics. They call it March Madness. I am certain you've heard something about it before.
Over the next three weeks, a buffet of bubble battles, conference tournament elimination games and the opening rounds of the tournament itself will cut the game down from 343 to 16 teams.
Actually, we're below 330 teams right now as some hangers-on in the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Ivy leagues have already been eliminated. Sorry, Southeast Missouri State, but you didn't qualify for the OVC Tournament. You can stop any contigency plans for a parade in downtown Cape Giradeau. Of course, since you went 0-18 this year in the league, those plans probably weren't that far along anyway.
There will be a ton of hoops crammed in this a short period of time as we sort out who will be left standing and deemed #1 (not to mention, who will be named #66). As a college hoop junkie, I will be in Heaven. I shudder to think just how many games I will gamble on between now and St. Patrick's Day. And, then the NCAA and NIT tournaments will actually begin. Wow. Hold on Tight.
For Michigan fans, the arrival of March brings both great excitement and dread.
On one hand, the program is playing relevant hoops again. A year removed from one of the worst seasons in program history, Michigan sits squarely on the bubble with an obvious, and not impossible, road map into the NCAA Tournament. Doing so would break a decade-long qualifying absense from the final field of 65. That quest begins today at Wisconsin, in the first of at least three games remaining for Michigan of which the Wolverines need to scrape up two wins to likely make the field.
However, March has not been kind to the basketball program this decade. That's where dread sets in for Michigan fans. They've been dragged to the NCAA cut line before, only to see their hopes clipped in the end. Did you know that since their last NCAA appearance, Michigan is just 18-24 in the month of March?
Oh, that's no shock. I'm surprised it's not worse. We've had some lean times
Ok, so it's not that awful. It's not awesome, either. But, how about removing the 10-2 NIT mark compiled during those years? We're left with a brutal 8-22 record, all of which is against Big 10 foes either in regular season or league tournament games.
Ouch. Crap, that blows donkey.
Michigan has lost five regular season March games in a row and 11 of their last 14.
March Madness is to the basketball program as Pasadena is to the football program.
Triple Ouch, and thats a blow smart guy. You're On Notice
What's worse is how many of those March contests would made Michigan tournament bound had the result gone the other way.
In 2003, Michigan entered March tied with Wisconsin in the loss column for first place in the league. Late scoring droughts doomed Michigan in home losses to Illinois and Purdue. That was the last season Michigan was on probabtion, but its final 17-13 record would not have passed the grade anyway.
Eh. Who cares? It was good to be winning again. The probabtion being lifted was the biggest win of the season anyway. We we finally on the way back.
Which stomach punch loss to Indiana was worse? The 5-point road loss in Bloomington in 2004 to a sagging Hoosiers club with a losing record. Or, the 2006 season closer where the Wolverines vomitted a couple different double digit leads allowing lame duck Mike Davis to steal its tournament bid.
2006. Epic Fail. I wanted to tear of Tommy's head that day and feed it to zoo animals. How do you never beat Mike Fucking Davis in your entire coaching career? You have to work hard to blow that many games to that guy.
Courtney Sims missed dunk.
Is it too early to drink?
All those losses flipped UM from a tournament-looking team to the NIT or worse. And, it does not take into account any of the woes in the league tournament where Michigan has had plenty of chances to overcome those regular season gaffes. Mission Never Accomplished.
What's your point, I thought you said Happy March Madness?
What can Michigan do to break the cycle? I think they've already done it. They hired John Beilein. Beilein took over a complete rebuilding project last year. It's a feather in his cap that he rebuilt the program in his image and already has at least returned the Wolverines back to the level where his predecessor peaked. Getting Michigan to the brink of the tournament was the limit for Amaker.
I think we learned that Amaker is not that good of a head coach. He's a career #2 guy, best left to managing certain aspects of the team. As a head coach, he never was able to discover that new wrinkle or push that extra button to get the team those critical March wins. Its a different brand of ball this month, and you need a different brand of coach.
Beilien fits that bill. Chew on these numbers as we approach the tip today in Madison. During Michigan's stretch of futility, Beilein is 33-22 SU, 34-19-2 ATS in the month of March. While Michigan has been losing critical March games for the last decade, Beilein has been winning them.
That above record includes the 1-3 marks from last year when Beilein arguably faced his widest talent gap between his team and the bulk of its schedule. Last season was the first year that a Beilein team had a losing record in March against the spread since his second year at Richmond. That was also the first year of Michigan's NCAA drought.
The talent gap has clearly shrunk, evidenced by the fact the Wolverines are on the brink of doubling their league wins from last season and, more importantly, ending their long tournament absence. The club still is not loaded with talent. But there's enough skill and smarts on the team, that I trust it in a game like we have today, specifically because Beiein is behind it prepping and prodding them. I expect this March to deliver results that we're more accustomed to from Beilein squads.
The battle of coaching wits between Beilein and Bo Ryan today will be fascinating. Of course, it might create a game played in the 50s and not look aesthetically pleasing. But, it will create a game than ends closer than the experts in the desert (Wisco is an 7-point favorite) think.
Michigan has the chance to have the two best players on the court throughout the game. I like C.J. Lee's chances to lock up Travon Hughes so he doesn't kill Michigan like he did back in December. Manny Harris will not shrink from this moment.
I've seen enough of the Badgers this year to know that despite what defensive stats are out there, this is not one of Bo Ryan's vintage lock down units. I've seen teams from like Long Beach State and Iona carve out quality looks against this defense, convert and nearly pull off upsets. The Badgers have had worse moments against the league's bottom three than Michigan. At home this season against likely tournament and bubble teams, the Badgers are just 1-5 ATS. Michigan is one of those teams. I dont think they'll be able to shake free from Michigan all day.
The Wolverines will have their chances today. If they can convert a few more open looks than usual, they will be there in the end and we'll have another dramatic Sunday afternoon of basketball on our hands. Just in time for March.
I'm relaxing and watching hoops this afternoon. I'm feeling like a slacker, however, and I am not putting together a 2,000-word plus Bubble News, even though relevant action abounds today relative to Michigan's tournament chances.
I don't know if folks wanted to rap about hoops or not, but, if you do, let's chat.
Here are a few opening salvos:
If you need a complete list of games and rooting interests,Dylan at UM Hoops has compiled one for you. Some nice discussions ensued in the comments section, the latest being insights on an intriguing bubble exercise the folks on GameDay did involving Michigan. By all means, chat hoops there too. If you can't handle two different hoop discussions, you are soft. And, you wont survive the next two weeks.
One simple win over Purdue completely redirected opinion on Michigan's chances. While the Wolverines are still a long way away from being a consensus invite from the Bracket Matrix, 20 brackets have updated since the convincing win over the Boilers and 12 of them have Michigan on a bracket line.
One of those brackets is Joe Lunardi at espn.com. Lunardi has Michigan seeded 11 and the last team in his field. He has them matched up with LSU and a date with #3 seed Duke looming. Any thoughts on that draw? Also, check out this interview he did yesterday after releasing his update. It's a solid perspective on the national landscape, but he saved his most intriguing observsation for last: next Saturday's game at Minnesota might be an at large elimination game.
As the noon games begin their second halves, there is really only one bubble game going on and that's Georgetown at Villanova. At 14-12, 5-10 in the Big East, it's hard to say the Hoyas have a chance and keep a straight face. But, they close with a pair of league lightweights and currently have the nation's #1 SOS. If they can steal a road win in Phily today, they will likely finish at 17-12. They could sneak in with a pair of league tournament wins. A loss today forces them to go much farther in the Big East Tournament to get a bid, with perhaps winning it all being their only way to entry. The Hoyas are up 5 at the half against the solidly favored Wildcats. I still think Villanova comes back and wins this one. So much so that I just put some coin on them -6.5 on the second half time.
I'm also keeping my eye on Cleveland State at Butler, over on ESPN2. Butler will get an at large bid even if it cant win its league tournament, so next week we'll be pulling very hard for the Bulldogs. In the regular season closer today, they're facing one of the teams that might pick them off. I'm really just pointing the game out because way back on December 3 when these teams first played, I suffered unquestionably my worst beat of the year. In a pick 'em, I had the Vikings, and Butler drained a 25-footer as time expired to come from behind and win. I swear it took 10 seconds from release to swish. That was almost three months ago. Its hard to believe its even from the same season. This afternoon, Butler is going for the outright crown and up 6 at the break. If you want a complete look at how the mid majors are currently impacting the bubble, Joe Cribbs Car Wash has you covered.
In the next set of games, the big bubble game is Notre Dame at Uconn. The Irish have won four of five to rope themselves back into contention for a bid. The next 50 hours will tell a lot about Notre Dame's ultimate tale. After today, they host Villanova Monday night. Conventional wisdom in DomerVille is that a 2-1 record to close the season and a 2-1 BE Tourney record will get them in the field. That sounds like something worth rooting against.
And, I will be watching Clemson at Florida State. The game is a pick 'em, and I really, really like Florida State. Oh boy!
I'll have a few updates as the day goes on. Let's talk hoops.
The heavy action of the day is about to begin. If you're controlling the remote today, here's what to keep an eye on:
Arizona at Washington, 3pm, FSN. Line, UW -8.5
Arizona has lost two in a row and now they play the best team in the league. The Cats need this one. They're a solid looking # 8 in the Matrix, but of the 20 brackets updated since Thursday, 12 have Arizona as a double digit seed. They'll be on the edge of the cut line if a third straight loss occurs today. They close at home against Cal and Stanford. Observers said the Cats looked disinterested in their game at Wassau Thursday night, so it will be interesting to see how they come out today.
Duke at Virginia Tech, 330, ABC. Line, Duke -6.5
Virginia Tech picked themselves off the mat with their win over Clemson this week. The Hokies are the final team cut out of the Matrix and are in one more field than Michigan of the 20 updated since Thursday. They close with Duke, UNC and at FSU. How many of those do they need to feel solid about a bid. Perhaps just one, if they dont got 0-1 in the ACC Tournament. The Hokies have a history of playing Duke tough and with close to half their games this year decided by 5 or less, expect this one to be dramatic and down to the wire.
LSU at UK, 4pm, CBS. Line, UK -4.5
I'm going to pat myself on the back right here. Throughout all the Bubble News editions, I touted LSU as the most talented team in the SEC. This week, they clinched the league title. Monsiour Jamie Mac, Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler! Here's hoping it stays that way as a road win in Lexington today would be a huge dagger through the heart of Kentucky's NCAA hopes. I cant shake the feeling that of UK, Florida and Tennessee, only two will make the field. The Gators and Vols square off tomorrow, so a Wildcat loss today would probably give bubble teams a pair of vulnerable SEC teams to pick off during the final week. The Cats are a soap opera. Gillespie is coaching like Rick Moranis. All I know is I dont want to be in Billy Clyde's shoes if UK ends up in the NIT. Unless LSU is still celebrating their crown I dont think UK has the chops today to get it done.
Ohio State at Purdue, 4pm, ESPN. Line, PU -9.5
Lets consider the Big 10 standings, and not the NCAA Bubble, for this one. With a Michigan win tomorrow and an Ohio State loss today, Michigan would rise to fifth in the league standings. Throw in a Penn State loss to Indiana (I saw a Crean and Crimson shirt at the gym this morning. Gotta be a good omen, right?) and Michigan would be in fourth place. Intriguing.
Temple at Dayton, 5pm, no TV. Line, DU -3
Temple had been steadily climbing the bubble until their awful loss to LaSalle on Thursday. They're fifth to last out according to the Matrix, but none of the 20 brackets since Thursday have included the Owls. Dayton has been in the field the whole way and the most recent bracketology straw poll has them as a double digit seed. The loser falls to fourth place in the Atlantic 10. Can you see an at large coming from that position? Dayton closes at Xavier and home vs. Duquense. I'm not trying to be a Chicken Little, but the Flyers cant afford a losing streak here at the end of the season.
Utah at BYU, 5pm, no TV. Line, BYU -6
Both these teams are solidly in the field at this point. BYU is the only vulnerable one of these two. If the Cougars lose today, once more in the final week and flames out early in the league tournament, they could get bounced. I would actually expect that happen under those circumstances.
Texas at Oklahoma State, 6pm, ESPN. Line, OSU -1
One of the biggest bubbles games of the day. The Cowboys sit as a #12 in the Matrix. A big win tonight could move them so far up the bracket lines that only a tailspin to close the season can get them out of.
Nebraska at Kansas State, 8pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, KSU -8
Like the Cowboys, the Wildcats are on the Matrix 12 line. They cant afford a loss or else teams will pass them. KSU players seem to writing their own at large bid obit, after getting blown out by Missouri the other night. The Big 12 schedule makers should get a cookie for this one. One Tuesday, KState travels to Oklahoma State in one of the most important bubble games of the final week. That game becomes more desperate if either the Pokes or the Cats lose at home today.
USC at Stanford, 8pm, no TV. Line, Stanford -2
Michigan sits solidly ahead of the Trojans in most people's minds. But, the Trojans close with a pair of layups at home against the Oregon schools. A win today could lead to a three game winning streak to end the season. Add a fourth win in the Pac 10 and you've got a hot, 20-win team. You see where I am going with this, dont you? Go Cardinal. Pretend it's football and 2007.
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.