The Wolverine

March 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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MARCH 2022 THE WOLVERINE 97 T he next month will decide if Michi- gan will experience one of the most disappointing basketball seasons in the decade. Fresh off a Big Ten title and Elite Eight berth, the Wolverines were looking to run it back with their sights set on a na- tional championship. They were ranked No. 6 in the preseason Associated Press poll, and for good reason. They returned preseason All-America center Hunter Dickinson and super se- nior guard Eli Brooks. They landed the Sun Belt Player of the Year in point guard DeVante' Jones in the transfer market. They hauled in one of the two best fresh- man recruiting classes in the country, headlined by five-star prospects Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate. No one was considering if the Wolverines would miss the dance. It was only about how deep they would go. Not the case anymore, however. As of Feb. 14, the Wolverines were 13-10 over- all and 7-6 in the Big Ten, and that is af- ter winning six of their last nine contests. Although they have clawed their back into the NCAA Tournament picture, they would most likely still be out of the field today after suffering a home loss to Ohio State Feb. 12. Less than half of the 110 published brackets that Bracket Matrix tracked as of Feb. 14 have Michigan in, and as a result Bracket Matrix has U-M as the first team out. If that holds, Michigan would be the first team to miss the NCAA Tournament after being ranked as high as sixth in the preseason AP poll since No. 3 Kentucky missed it in 2012-13. The Wolverines are not looking to join that company. The good news for Michigan, though, is that, even if it most likely would be out of the field if the selection committee was picking the NCAA Tournament par- ticipants Feb. 14, U-M is still more prob- able to make it than not come March. Each day, T-Ranketology, which uses an algorithm to calculate a team's adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies and assess that program's chance of win- ning against the average Division I team, runs 10,000 simulations to project every squad's chances of making the NCAA Tournament. As of Feb. 14, notwith- standing that Michigan is currently out in most brackets, T-Ranketology projects that Juwan Howard's team has a 64.2 percent chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, T-Ranketology projects that the Wolverines' average seed would be 8.1, which would put them safely in the bracket without sweating. How can Michigan be that safe when the Wolverines are currently out of most brackets? There are two components. First, U-M is still a solid team despite its up-and-down season and lackluster record. T-Ranketology lists them as the 23rd-best team in the country. Michi- gan has shown flashes of being the elite group that it was projected to be. No better example of that is when the Wolverines pantsed then-No. 3 Purdue by 24 points Feb. 10. But it has only been flashes, because U-M's three-point shooting has been too inconsistent (35.0 percent, seventh in the Big Ten) and two- point defense too vulnerable (13th). Second, Michigan will have many chances to boost its résumé. The Wol- verines' remaining schedule is littered with high-quality opponents. Of the seven regular-season contests left on their slate, six are currently projected to be a Quad 1 matchup (at Iowa, at Wis- consin, Illinois, Michigan State, Iowa and at Ohio State). The only one that is not Quad 1 is versus Rutgers. Quad 1 victories are essential to any at-large team's hopes because the selection committee gener- ally favors a program that has shown that it can win big games. Quad 1 wins are absolutely pivotal. Although Michigan has only two Quad 1 wins right now, the Wolverines may have more than double that number within in the next month. T-Ranketol- ogy projects that U-M has between a 31 percent and 63 percent chance of win- ning in each of these upcoming six Quad 1 contests. The Wolverines are not a heavy favor- ite or underdog in any of them. They are all up in the air. As a result, T-Ranketol- ogy calculates that Michigan's expected wins in these six games are 2.74. Round up to three, and that would give Michi- gan a 17-13 (11-9) record with five Quad 1 wins. Five Quad 1 wins are important. Last season, Marquette was the only program with at least five Quad 1 wins to miss the NCAA Tournament — and that was because they had an overall losing record. Michigan cannot get to five Quad 1 wins with a losing record. If the Wolver- ines beat Rutgers and split their six Quad 1 games, they are all but in the NCAA Tournament. If Michigan can pull that off, it still likely will have an underwhelming sea- son, since no Big Ten Tournament or national title is expected. But that is the beauty of March Madness. Michigan could string some magic together and make a run in the postseason that ends on a high note. But if Michigan flubs these prime op- portunities and misses the Big Dance, there will be nothing to hid the disap- pointment. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Bubble Bound Or Bubble Burst? Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Juwan Howard's squad was 13-10 overall and 7-6 in the Big Ten as of Feb. 14, but was projected to face six Quad 1 opponents over its final seven games to help strengthen its NCAA Tournament résumé. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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