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.
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.