Last year at this time Michigan’s Jordan Poole hit a game winner against the Houston Cougars to win 64-63 and advance to the sweet 16. That team went on to make run to the Final 4 and National Championship runner up. But this year is different team and a different feeling coming into the Tournament. Michigan lost two starters and their sixth man from last year but this years team filled the void early on when they jumped out to a 17-0 start. But after winning the Big 10 tournament the last two years Michigan lost to its rival in the championship game marking the third time this year Michigan State beat Michigan, and that’s left a lot of people wondering if Michigan is capable of making a run like last year or are they due for an early exit in March.
When the selection show reached the last region, Michigan’s name had not been called yet, a two seed or three seed, and who they were playing was the only question though. Michigan was named a two seed and will play Thursday March 21, in Des Moines Iowa. Their first game is against the 15 seeded Montana Grizzles. The Grizzles are 28-6 and were the winner of both the regular season and the conference tournament in the Big Sky. Surprisingly these two teams played last year in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Michigan won that game 61-47. Can the Grizzles revenge their lost from last season and upset the Wolverines in the first round, doubtful. Only eight number 2 seeds have beaten a 15 seed in history the last coming 2016 when Middle Tennessee upset the Spartans of Michigan State.
If the Wolverines escape the Grizzles their next match up would come on Saturday March 23, against the winner of Nevada and Florida. While Nevada was ranked very high early in the season they are not as good as they were expected to be but still a tough opponent and Florida is as well even know they went 19-15 in their season. Assuming Michigan plays at least their average games they can make the sweet sixteen somewhat easily. A sweet sixteen match up could be against Arizona State, St. Johns, Buffalo, or the expected three seeded Texas Tech. If they made it out of the sweet sixteen and advanced to the elite eight they could face Florida State, Marquette, Gonzaga, or a surprise team like Murray Sate, Syracuse, or Baylor. The west region is definitely the easiest way for Michigan as a two seed to make a run to the final weekend in Minneapolis MN.
John Beilein has never won a National Championship but has led to Michigan there twice. With Charles Mathews back from his ankle injury, Michigan’s top five ranked defense is at its best. Even though they did not win the Big 10 tournament they played two tournament teams in Iowa and Minnesota and dominated both of them behind their leader Zavier Simpson and the dominant play from “Big Sleep” Jon Teske and the Big 10 freshman of the year Ignas Brazdeikis. While the Wolverines lack depth recently backup point guard Eli Brooks has played solid minutes and the freshman backup center Colin Castleton has as well. While all of those players have been playing good, Michigan will need better play from their star sophomore Jordan Poole if they have any chance at making a deep run in the tournament. The Michigan way is to not foul and not turn the ball over but if they make a run it is going to be because of their stellar defense and their three point shooting. Could Michigan be cutting the nets down and on their way to another final four, I think that is very likely, but its called March Madness for a reason anything can happen.