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.
Color me frustrated with the Bracketology World this morning.
Catching up with the mock brackets last night, I expected Michigan to surge a little bit. I had convinced myself they might find their way into enough fields to build a consensus spot in the Bracket Matrix. If not that far, they would be no worse than on the cusp of the field.
Yeah, um, about that, ah, well funny thing, it seems my analysis was a wee bit off.
Ironically, Michigan, despite a great road win and plenty of fellow bubble teams falling around them, actually lost ground in the last comprehensive Matrix update. Before the weekend, Michigan was third to last out of the field, according to the full view of the Matrix, which tracks upwards of 55 mock brackets. Monday night, however, they had been downgraded to sixth to last out.
Looking deeper into the Matrix eased only some fears. Only 28 brackets were updated today to include games played through the weekend. So, not all the "votes" are in. But, still, Michigan was only in five of those 28 brackets. I expected that number to be at least twice as much.
Michigan does not appear to have separated themselves at all from the group of teams just left out of the field. Michigan is one of the final eight teams on the outside looking in, according to the Bracket Matrix.
Of those teams, Michigan, at least, passed Kansas State as they're in one more bracket than KSU of those 28 fields updated yesterday. Rather surprisingly, Michigan only received the same amount of invites as Penn State and Providence. Georgetown, Creighton and USC, meanwhile, remain in more of these 28 fields than the Wolverines.
Spinning some of these numbers positively, you do notice that seven of the eight final teams out, Michigan included, basically have been given equal accord. They're all scattered in just enough brackets across the entire 55-bracket spectrum to make a dent in the Matrix and be included in the final group out. It is within Michigan's grasp to out perform all of those teams from here on out.
Southern Cal, the team in this first eight out group with the most bids, has not paid in full for their loss late Sunday night. The Trojans are in 28 fields (compared to the average number of fields from the other seven in this group ,9.5, with UM in 9 fields), however more than half of those bids came from brackets that have yet to be updated to include the weekend's results. The Trojans should lose support as more mocks come in. Who will get those bids?
Michigan's losing record in league play right now might be the one thing that’s keeping UM from sweeping onto one of the final bracket lines.
Michigan has a decade's worth of mediocrity to overcome as far as perception goes. Coming to the table with a losing league mark is something you only want to do if you're a tournament regular and folks are already conditioned to giving you the benefit of the doubt. Michigan is not in either category. Despite improved play from the Big 10, Bracketologists dont seem inclined to include a team from the league that’s below .500. And, most appear to be having a hard time talking themselves into granting seven bids to the league.
Not all Bracketologists feel this way. One, The Bracketeer, whose mock field is affiliated with, of all things, a Creighton Blog, sneaks the Wolverines in the field. He explains that in each of the last two seasons a team with a losing record from a BCS league netted an invite. As of now, he feels Michigan will benefit from that gift. Mr. Bracketeer, the Mgoblog Community salutes you for going to extra historical research mile on behalf of the Maize and Blue.
Michigan needs to force everyone else's hand this week with a pair of conference wins. It will push UM to 8-7 in the Big 10. In the updates one week from today, I would be more than interested in hearing arguments for keeping UM out of the field, considering they would have a winning league mark, big time OOC scalps in Duke and UCLA and as many wins against the RPI top 100 as anyone else on the bubble.
What surprised me when looking into the fields that updated yesterday was the fact that for every field that had Michigan just missing the cut, there was a field where Michigan didn't seem to be in contention and left off of whatever 'final group left out' list thrown out there. There is a fairly wide range of opinion on the Wolverines. And, the more prominent brackets out there are among those driving the inconsistent judgment on the Maize and Blue.
Michigan is on the up tick according the Matrix administrators. In their own field at the Bracket Project, Michigan remains excluded from the field. They don’t list who their final teams out are, but in the mock NIT Field, Michigan is a top seed, moving up from a 3 seed last week. Moving up on the NIT Bracket lines is progress, right?
Michigan was the last team out of Lunardi's field at ESPN. He also pointed out in an interview on the WWL that the Wolverines could easily play themselves into a bid. The Wolverines were also the biggest mover of the week in the Bracket Junkie's field, going from 7th to last Out to 3rd to last In. Those two are annually considered among the most accurate Bracketologists. Those are good signs.
You know who else gets acclaim for their accuracy and brilliant mock brackets? Bracketology 101 and College Hoops Net, both of whom continued to downgrade Michigan. In B101, Michigan's fall mirrored their overall decline in the Matrix with UM going from third to last out to sixth to last. Siegel at CBH had been a long holdout for UM's chances, but in his bracket Monday, he doesn't even have the Wolverines listed among the final eight teams left out. I dont feel comfortable about Michigan's standings if both of these guys have Michigan falling farther out of range for bid.
Bottom line, it's up to Michigan to gain people's support. If they have a winning record in their final regular season games, they will notch at least two more wins against teams currently in the field. They will also notch at least one road win. With more bubble carnage also expected between now and then, its still safe to assume that three more wins, enough to clinch a .500 league mark, will be enough for Michigan to earn an at large bid.
Looking elsehere along the Bracket Matrix, here a couple of other observations:
Bracketologists gave Cincinnati a mulligan for their road loss to Pitt over the weekend. That's fair enough considering the Panthers might be the best team in the nation. Of the 28 brackets updated Monday, CU remained in 18 of them. The Bearcats recent run up the Big East standings gave them enough capital to absorb a loss to an elite team. Can they afford two? Most of the brackets have them clinging to a 12 seed. The Bearcats next play Saturday afternoon at home against Louisville. I dont think they get a second mulligan with another loss.
The Miami Hurricanes are in jeopardy of being swept out of most fields. There were more new brackets Monday, by a 15-13 count, that had Miami out of the field. By that metric, the Canes are the team most in danger of falling out the Matrix. They travel to Florida St Wednesday night and host Boston College Saturday afternoon. Those are two games that might be as important as any other games along the way for Michigan's eventual chances. The Wolverines are decidedly anti-Da U from here on out.
The Mountain West Conference continues to receive four bids. I promise to no longer get worked up about this though. In the Matrix, BYU, SDSS and UNLV remain in a vast majority of fields, but all three are on the 11 line. I dont think any of those teams can afford losses at that projection and not fall by the wayside if other bubble teams perform well. After spending the last couple of weeks collecting wins against the bottom half of the league, we finally see a run of head to head matchups that might end up being elimination games relating to next Monday's brackets. New Mexico at BYU, BYU at UNLV, SDSU at NM, UNLV at Utah, BYU at SDSU are all on the schedule from now until the end of the month. The league could cannabolize its at-large bids between now and the end of the month. It will be hard to keep the losers of those games in mock brackets as we get closer to March, especially if other bubble teams perform well.
Beware Creighton. The Bluejays suddenly are in more updated fields than Michigan. The Missouri Valley Conference had been on a six-year run of receiving multiple bids into the dance. That ended last year. But Creighton and league cohort Northern Iowa are trying to start a new streak. What's intriguing about the Jays position is that, unlike most mid majors this time of year, they can really improve their resume in their final four regular season games. They play MVC fourth place team Evansville tonight. On Saturday, they have a marquee Bracket Buster game against well known George Mason, where a win will impress. After a road game against last place Missouri State, the Jays close the season on ESPN playing third place Illinois St. If they win those games, they will be in the tournament as long as they dont flame out early in the MVC tournament. How many losses will it take to implode their at large hopes. One? Two? This is a storyline to watch between now and the end of the month.
Did Texas A/M just breathe new life into their season? They have a poor man's Michigan resume with a pair of OOC wins over LSU and Arizona sparkling their profile. But, they are three games below .500 in conference play in a league regarded to be below the Big 10. Yet, getting lost in the Bracket Matrix for some time reveals the Aggies in a surprising amount of final groups left out of the field. And that was before last night's resume win over Texas. They have one of the easiest slates of all the bubble teams from here on out, although they do have three league road games to play. Still, the Aggies have to be considered a threat again.
While we're exhaling after that nail biting Michigan win, dont forget there are other hoops going on tonight that will impact Michigan's spot on the bubble.
Boston College, Miami and USC are just ahead of UM, grabbing some of the last few at large spots ahead of Michigan in most mock brackets. All three have games today against big time opponents. Its a triple header on FSN with Duke at BC, UNC at Miami and USC at ASU. They all are significant underdogs.
Here's why these games are important to UM:
*Right now, UM has the second best result of the weekend of all teams that are just in the field, or just out of the field. I put Arizona's throttling of UCLA as the best result, by far. Still that allows Michigan a chance to move up and get on more bracket lines. The perception of the win can alter drastically if one of these bubble teams pull a huge scalp tonight. In resume head bumping, for example, do we want Michigan to go up against a BC team with wins over UNC and Duke? Um, no. We'll probably lose that argument.
*What if chalk holds form? According to the Bracket Matrix that would be mean that two consensus 10-seeds, two 11-seeds and one 12-seed will all have gone down this weekend. Michigan is the only 'Final Four Out' team to notch a win, a road win vs an RPI top 100 no less. Michigan is currently in nine fields in the matrix, but only one that's been updated since the MSU loss. If chalk sweeps tonight, expect both of those numbers to increase.
*Lets look at the bubble dilemma bracketologists will have in reshaping their latest mocks. We're going to use the Bracket Junkie's mock bracket, last updated Friday, as a barometer. Its a pretty good read and offers up a different commentary from the usual suspects we see in the traditional media. Its obvious he knows his hoops and the selection process.
Notice his last 10 in the field. Three of the last seven in--Va Tech, Cincy and KSU--have already lost. Three more--BC, Miami and USC--are expected to lose tonight.
Among the large group he includes that just missed the cut, plenty others along with Michigan won. However, the Wolverines win was the best of that bunch. Michigan winning at Northwestern is beter than Providence beating Rutgers and the MWC hopefuls UNLV and SDSU smothering of second division teams. Its even better than Creighton thumping SIU on the road.
I'm throwing this bracket out here to illustrate how big of a move Michigan may yet make in this week mock brackets. This is one that's a regular read of mine where Michigan has a chance to go from seventh to last out of the field to being on a bracket line when it updates Monday.
So, Michigan still has a lot to gain today. If you're inside watching sports and NASCAR is not your thing, find your local FSN. You have a rooting interest in all three games: Duke over BC, UNC over Miami and ASU over USC.
Duke up 31-20 with 5 to go in the first half.
So any thoughts on Michigan's game today, the rest of the season and its tourney hopes? Any takes on the national landscape?
Thanks, and I will hang up and listen.
Three of the game's marquee players, Blake Griffin, Hashem Thabeet and Jody Meeks, gave college hoops fans enthralling performances for Valentine's Day. Take a bow, gents. Their performances yesterday were the college equivalent of the Kobe-Lebron Madison Square Garden games a couple of weeks ago. I could not take my eyes off them yesterday, they were fascinating efforts. Consider that Meeks, following up his unreal buzzer beater against the Gators, dropped 45 points carrying his depleted team to a key SEC road victory. And, yet, it wasn't even the best performance of the day. Or even the second best. Toss in the scramble for information on the Stephon Curry injury and a strong buzz of college hoops hovered in the news morning. Bubble talk has ramped up. The regular season is drawing to a close. Selection Sunday is four weeks from today. The scent of March is in the air.
Its with this backdrop that Michigan faces an immeasurably crucial day of hoops, beginning with their game at Northestern (Line, NW -4.5) in a few hours. I wont say its the most important game of the season, because haven't we already said that twice this month? We all know the storyline. Michigan needs to start winning some games or risk falling off the tournament rader. You get the feeling the Wolverines are a loss from kissing away any hopes for an at large bid. I dont think those feelings are all that innaccurate.
However, somewhat paradoxically, Michigan also finds itself perhaps a win away from convincing a majority of bracketologists that they're worthy of being in their fields. Yesterday's out of town scoreboard broke positively for Michigan. The Wolverines are in position today, with a road win against a team in the RPI top 100, to pull close, or even pass, many teams allegedly ahead of them in the chase for bids.
Kansas State and Georgetown are two of the teams among the final four out. Both lost heartbreakers yesterday. BYU doesn't play this weekend. Michigan, with a win, takes a big step forward from this mini pack. While Creighton, St. Mary's and Penn State, from the next pack of four out, all won games, Michigan arguably would stay ahead of that trio with a win today.
How about the teams in the field according to the Matrix? Cincinnati, a 12-seed and pretty much the last team in most people's field, got waxed by Pittsburgh. Virginia Tech, a 10-seed, lost to Maryland and enters a nasty gauntlet of ACC foes from here on out. Kentucky and South Carolina won on the road, the Gamecocks at the buzzer, but Michigan's win today would be mathematically stronger than those. A win today and Michigan gains ground on all those teams. They probably outright pass Cincinnati.
I realize that's not a ton of carnage for Michigan to take advantage of, but remember I labelled this a crucial day for the hoops program, not just a crucial game. Consider the rest of the schedule this afternoon. Three teams, just ahead of Michigan and in the field, face long odds this afternoon. Boston College, USC and Miami--all double digit Matrix seeds--play top-15 teams and each are decided underdogs in games later today. Duke at Boston College (Duke -7.5), UNC at Miami (UNC -8) and USC at Arizona St (ASU -7) are all lined up in convenient triple header fashion (Woot! Fox Sports Net) beginning a few minutes after the final buzzer in Evanston today.
Obviously, Michigan winning its game first is the most important piece of today's puzzle. But, if they manage to get by the Cats, it could be a red letter day of scoreboard watching. Heck, you could make a case that if Michigan losses, the scoreboard watching becomes even more important today as then a win by any of those other teams could make the gap for an bid between them and UM too wide for the Wolverines to overcome in the regular season.
Screw that, though, we're tyring to think positive here. None of this win or lose BS, lets just win and then bring down the hate with a fury onto the Eagles, Trojans and Canes. Lets get our voodoo dolls out, unleash the WLA attack dogs and embark a full scale, whistle stop, skull cracking tour. I know its just hoops, but you're capable of hate against the Trojans and the U, right? Perfect. I knew you'd understand.
So, you're saying Michigan might a team in the field when the day's over
I'm not saying that for sure, but there's a strong possibility that Michigan would still get one of the 34 at large bids if the season ended.
Really? C'mon you're joking. Is that a runner's high you have going or did you wake and bake and forget to go the church this morning?
Hey, thats a low blow man. You know I'm injured and cant run right now. And smoking pot is illegal. All I am doing is coldly breaking down mock brackets and truth reporting.
Anyway, lets go right on and get ahead of ourselves and project the landscape if Hoops Karma deals Michigan blackjack, meaning a win and a sweep by the favorites later on. That would mean two 10's, two 11's and one 12 in the Bracket Matrix with at large bids will have lost over the weekend. Michigan, meanhile, would be the only team in the Matrix final four out that won. Putting it in those perspectives, there's a heavy stack on the table today. The Wolverines will take a big step either towards or away from the tournament field this afternoon.
Are we focusing too much on the Saturday sample size? Perhaps. But, more than half of the Matrix updated as the weekend began. Those brackets alone will be vulnerable to the immediate results of this weekend.
My bet is that Creighton finds its way into many new brackets. But, their inclusion could be a straight up swap with one of the hangers-on from the Mountain West. I am more than fine with that result. St Mary's, now that it proved it could win a big game without start Patty Mills, might also reappear in most brackets after a one week excile.
Those results would only take in partial account of the full bubble shakedown if results break the right way for Michigan. Remarkably, they could find themselves in the field tomorrow afternoon. If it all breaks for Michigan, I actually expect that to happen. At worst, I would expect Michigan to be in more fields during the next rounds of updates than they are in today.
Scoff all you want about fretting Michigan's place in a fake bracket projection. The top end ones worth tracking regularily nail the entire field or, at most, miss just one entry. The competition they have between themselves has more to do with picking a teams correct seed, not whether or not they're actually in the field. Where a team stands in relation to these brackets has served as a much better indicator of where a team sits on the bubble than any poll.
As for the making the real tournament, whether or not that happens, we'll likely be looking back to the results of today as a day of bellweather results.