Michigan Basketball: Analyzing Wolverines' Big Ten Tournament Path

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IIMarch 12, 2014

For the first time in the history of the Michigan basketball program, it will be the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Conference tournament. Despite being the top dog of the league, its path to the title game is far from an easy one. 

A bye on day one of the event will give the Wolverines some extra time to rest, but they will be pushed by whoever advances from Thursday's Illinois-Indiana matchup.

Good thing Michigan is currently playing its best basketball of the season. 

This weekend may not mean as much to the Maize and Blue as winning the Big Ten title in the regular season, though, there is plenty left for them to play for. Against all odds, a No. 1 seed appears to be in play for the Wolverines. Their chances are still very slim seeing as Villanova, Kansas and Wisconsin are currently ahead in the pecking order for the fourth spot on the one line.

Depending on how much stock the NCAA tournament committee chooses to place on a head-to-head game played way back on Dec. 3, Duke could be out in front of Michigan as well.

Regardless of what those folks decide on Selection Sunday, there is no taking away everything Big Ten Coach of the Year John Beilein's club has accomplished this season. 

The award that our guys care most about is this one! #Champions pic.twitter.com/pcv0GtEl6c

— LaVall Jordan (@LaVall_Jordan) March 11, 2014

@umichbball ended up leading the Big Ten in Field Goal %, 3 Pt % & FT% - Wolverines 1st B1G team to do that since MSU 10 years ago.

— Dave Revsine (@BTNDaveRevsine) March 11, 2014

Michigan wins the Big Ten by 3 games. That's the largest margin by a Big Ten champ in five years. It's the 2nd largest margin since 1997.

— Scott Bell (@sbell021) March 10, 2014

Those things cannot be taken away by anything that happens in the postseason. However, adding an exclamation point to another banner year would give Michigan a rush of confidence entering March Madness.

Here is what the team will have to go through in order to break out the scissors and cut down some nets for a second straight week.



Michigan fans should be rooting for Illinois to smother Indiana in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament. 

In their pair of games against the Hoosiers this season, the Wolverines eked out a four-point win at home and struggled mightily inside the unfriendly confines of Assembly Hall. Second team All-Big Ten point guard Yogi Ferrell can light it up from beyond the arc on any given night, while the conference's top newcomer, Noah Vonleh, could be a force in the paint, if someone ever figures out he needs more touches.

A rematch at a neutral site would not be something to dread, though, facing Illinois for a second time seems like a more favorable proposition.

The only time Michigan faced the Fighting Illini this year, it thrashed them in their own building. The same Illinois defense that held three straight opponents under 50 points surrendered 84 points and allowed the Wolverines to shoot 56.9 percent from the field in a 31-point loss.

Stealing a win at Iowa last Saturday proved the Fighting Illini are still in the midst of their best stretch of basketball. Not even a red-hot Illinois group managed to slow down Michigan.

Expect the Maize and Blue to advance to the semifinals no matter who they draw, but the Fighting Illini are the preferred opponent for the quarterfinals.



This is where things have the potential to get dicey for Michigan. 

Barring a most-unlikely upset, Ohio State will face Nebraska in the quarterfinals. Despite the fact the Wolverines swept their series with the Cornhuskers this season, seeing them for a third time would not be an ideal situation.

Nebraska is playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten, including Michigan, right now. Since starting 1-5 in league play, the Cornhuskers have gone 10-2. During that stretch, they managed to win at then-No. 9 Michigan State and beat No. 9 Wisconsin in Lincoln. Very impressive wins to say the least.

In case anyone forgot, the Wolverines barely escaped Pinnacle Bank Arena with a win back on Jan. 9.

Michigan may have drubbed Nebraska the second time around in Ann Arbor, but home-court advantage played a major role in that game. 

The lethal combination of Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields have combined to average 36 points over the past six games. Essentially, the two are playing as well as any duo in the Big Ten. 

Stylistically, the Wolverines should be able to outgun Nebraska in an up-and-down game. Facing a team riding a tidal wave of momentum is not exactly a favorable matchup, though. Michigan fans should be a bit concerned if they see the Cornhuskers top Ohio State.

As for the Buckeyes, the tournament may help breathe some new life into them. Unfortunately, that will not help their shooting woes, which has been head coach Thad Matta's biggest problem all season long.

Ohio State ranks No. 133 nationally in field goal percentage and often fall into long scoring droughts at inopportune moments. 

It only makes sense the more favorable matchup would be against a team prone to missing an abundance of shots. The Wolverines should advance to the title game, but be wary if the Buckeyes cannot dispatch of Nebraska in the quarterfinals.


Championship Game

This is the hardest matchup to project, but the most likely team to reach the title game out of the bottom half of the bracket appears to be Wisconsin. 

Prior to their loss to Nebraska last Sunday, the Badgers reeled off eight straight wins, including one at Michigan. 

First team All-Big Ten center Frank Kamkinsky and big man Nigel Hayes, who earned the league's Sixth Man of the Year award, are a matchup nightmare for the Wolverines. Glenn Robinson III will be forced to guard one of the two, which is an advantage for Wisconsin.

Caris LeVert and Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas can give the Badgers plenty of problems as well, but the mismatch on the interior may be too much to overcome. Wisconsin's size across the board has the potential to frustrate Michigan and create a lopsided affair on the glass.

The Badgers are the last team the Maize and Blue faithful want to see in the title game.

Iowa and Michigan State seem to be the two teams with the chance to derail Wisconsin's run at a No. 1 seed. Both could give Michigan some problems in the championship game, however, neither poses as much of a threat as the Badgers.

Seeing as the two have combined to go 6-10 in their final eight games of the regular season, neither is streaking into the postseason like Wisconsin and Michigan are. 

Bet on a Michigan-Wisconsin clash in the title game. It should make for great theater, but Badger fans will probably be grinning by the time the clock runs out in Indianapolis. 


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