Michigan freshman Mitch McGary gets his pocket picked by Wisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals Friday in Chicago. (Dale G. Young/Detroit News)
Chicago — Michigan's short trips in the Big Ten tournament continued Friday, as the Wolverines failed to win more than one game yet again.
For the seventh straight season, U-M won one game in the tournament and lost the next day. After losses in three straight years to Ohio State, Michigan fell to Wisconsin, 68-59, in Friday's quarterfinals.
They have won two games in the same conference tournament just once since its inception in 1998: the inaugural title, which was vacated because of fallout from the Ed Martin scandal.
Now, U-M (26-7) is down to its last loss of the season — and looking like a team that could either make a run in the NCAA Tournament or another inexplicable early exit.
"It's disappointing but we have another prize ahead, which is trying to get the Final Four," said Trey Burke, who had 19 points and seven assists against Wisconsin.
The Wolverines are 3-3 in their last six games and have struggled defensively, giving up at least 66 points in five of those matchups. The allowed 51 points to Wisconsin in the second half on Friday, after giving up just 17 in the first half.
"We'll fix it the best we can. We have been trying all year long," coach John Beilein said. "There's a process that we all have to go through to get better at it and hopefully we can shore up enough to continue playing for a long time."
One silver lining in preparing for the NCAA Tournament is that Michigan likely won't face another Big Ten team for a while. After a grueling 20-game grind against what many experts deem the best conference in the country this season, U-M could benefit from playing some unfamiliar foes.
"Now that we're out of the Big Ten tournament and out of playing Big Ten teams, we may be able to run some type of sets or do certain things that we're not able to execute as well against other Big Ten teams because they're scouting us pretty much every single night," Burke said.
Michigan is expected to be a No. 3 or possibly a No. 4 seed and could open its tournament path at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Time to regroup
After playing in back-to-back games on consecutive nights, Michigan is getting a taste of what the quick turnarounds in the postseason will be like.
But after losing in the quarterfinals, the Wolverines will have time to review their mistakes; with a few more days between the Selection Sunday draw and the opening game on Thursday or Friday, they'll have time to regroup and prepare.
"I think we're going to be all right; we have a fresh start and we're going to do a great job going into the tournament," freshman Mitch McGary said.
For Burke, it's an opportunity to erase all the bad losses and start fresh — against fresh faces.
"This is a new season now. It's a lot of teams that wish they were in our position and that's a bright spot that we can look at it from," Burke said. "We have to get ready for whoever we draw in the tournament."
Beilein said after Jordan Morgan struggled in Thursday's win over Penn State he would look at whether he would make lineup changes and possibly insert McGary as a starter.
He stayed with the same starters in Friday's game, though Morgan played just eight minutes, McGary played 23 and Jon Horford 10 in the rotation at center.
Morgan had a turnover at the beginning of each half and Beilein showed frustration with Morgan not being able to hold onto the ball. Morgan credited Wisconsin's defenders with creating the deflections that led to loose balls.
"It's just some situations where they had active hands today and were able to get their hands on the ball," he said.