BY BENJAMIN SZILAGY, Staff Writer
After a less than impressive showing in the Big Ten tournament, Michigan will now set its focus on the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan entered the Big Ten tournament as a two seed, the highest it has ever received since the tournament started in 1998, with high confidence and a first round bye. After Minnesota beat Northwestern in the opening round, Michigan knew its path to a Big Ten tournament championship.
Michigan, who beat Minnesota on New Year’s Day 61-56, struggled again against the Gophers on Friday. Michigan found themselves down nine with four minutes to play. Huge three pointers from Senior Zack Novak and Sophomore Evan Smotrycz allowed the Wolverines to scratch and claw to put the game into overtime, where they’d eventually beat Minnesota. The rubber match against Ohio State was next.
The game against Ohio State was even less entertaining. The Buckeyes man handled Michigan, 77-55, by playing exceptional defense. The poor effort from Michigan made the selection committee think twice about giving the Wolverines a three seed in the NCAA Tournament, a seed they were previously a lock for.
On Sunday, Michigan, along with the country, learned its fate. Instead of the three seed, Michigan was given a four seed in the Midwest Region by the selection committee. According to Hardcore Brackets, which aired on truTV at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Michigan is the highest four seed and is ranked 13th overall in the entire field of 68. Not a bad way to come off a shared Big Ten regular season title. However, the draw is not an easy one.
The battle cry, ironically, for Friday will remain the same it has been all season, “Beat Ohio.” Well, no not that “OHIO.” The other one. The Ohio Bobcats earned the 13 seed after winning the MAC Championship. While their resume isn’t really all that impressive, the team’s size and agility is.
Led by junior D.J. Cooper, 5’11”, the Bobcats’ starting five averages about 6’ 5” across the floor. The Bobcats’ size allows them to play a three guard set which will help them dictate the pace against a taller Michigan squad. Despite its size, Ohio’s Reggie Keely and Ivo Baltic average more rebounds than Michigan’s Jordan Morgan and Smotrycz. Michigan has shared this trend with most of its opponents this season, no matter the size difference.
The Athens News beat writer Adam Flango saw how active Ohio’s front court is.
“The MAC Tournament went up against two guys–a seven-footer in Zeke Marshall from Akron and MAC Player of the Year, 6’10” Mitchell Watt, from Buffalo. They had 6’6” T.J. Hall on them. He’s a good defender in the post, and he did a pretty decent job against them. Especially Marshall–they really limited him. They have a lot of guys who can defend different areas of the court.”
In the MAC Championship, Akron’s Marshall was held to eight points in 31 minutes. Watt went off for 32, but the Bobcats managed the win while limiting the rest of the team to 42 points.
The good news is that history favors the Wolverines as a four seed. According to Bracket facts on NCAA.com, the four seed has won 85 out of the 108 games played since the tournament expanded. The four seeds traditionally out-rebound the 13 seeds with a differential of more than five.
While upsets do happen, don’t expect Michigan to be the victim of one in the second round of the tournament. Michigan earned their seeding and ranking with a number of quality wins. And, come Friday, expect much of the same.