South Dakota State's Jordan Dykstra, left, defends Michigan forward Mitch McGary in the first half as Michigan defeated SDSU Thursday. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — Seven has turned into something of a magic number for Michigan now.
Despite their 26 victories leading up to the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines are feeling the sense of urgency of knowing that they'll need to add to the win total — and prevent turning the seven in the loss column into an eight.
With that, the season's over — a sobering thought given all they've been through this season.
"There's definitely a sense of urgency now that it's win-or-go-home. We realize if we lose another game, the season's over," freshman Nik Stauskas said. "We're not trying to make any more excuses and not trying to do any more if's or but's. We're just trying to play our game."
U-M was 6-6 in its final 12 games, including a couple of heartbreaking losses in the final seconds to Indiana and Wisconsin.
"When you see the record and you see two or three games we should have won on that record. It's going to be ups and downs and you're going to lose one bad game here and there," Tim Hardaway Jr. said. "If there was any team in the country that didn't make the tournament, they'd want to be in our situation right now, especially with the five freshmen we've been playing all season long."
Despite the disappointing finish to the regular season, Hardaway sees the silver lining in the losses, especially how it could be a benefit going into the NCAA Tournament "I'm glad that we're in this situation and we are where we need to be. Handling the adversity after those losses helped us out in the long run," he said. "The Indiana game at home is the hardest we ever played this season. That game went to the wire and it was great to see the intensity our team had out there. There's another level we can reach and we'll do a great job of getting there."
As one of the few veterans in the rotation, Hardaway knows that the opportunities are few; though he's been to three straight NCAA Tournaments, it's not a given that the team will be back in the coming years. It's a message he's tried to get through to the freshman.
"You might not even get here again; you need to take every advantage and opportunity you can while you're here and you have to make the most of it," Hardaway said.
Even though Michigan is a No. 4 seed and favored by 11 points over 13th-seeded South Dakota State, sophomore Trey Burke isn't looking past the Jackrabbits and what the rest of the Tournament could present — especially given the early exits in recent years.
"It's definitely on our minds; it's too tough not to think about it. If we think about trying to get past this weekend, we're thinking about the next round, obviously," Burke said. "We're just trying to focus on South Dakota State and do what we need to do to try to get a win."
The Wolverines haven't been to the Sweet 16 since 1994 — the end of the Fab Five era. With their high ranking and high expectations this year, they're looking to make a splash this year and erase some of the recent disappointments.
"I think it's a chance to make a statement as a team because a lot of people have doubted us," Burke said, "and see us losing early and not going far at all because of the way we ended the regular season."
Burke learned from last season's loss to Ohio in the NCAA Tournament opener, where he had a featured matchup against the Bobcats' D.J. Cooper . Competing against South Dakota State's Nate Wolters is a similar experience.
"I felt like I did that in the tournament. Cooper had a really good game. He hit a lot of threes when we went zone and he got going early," Burke said. "I never tried to make things personal between me and D.J. I tried to make the plays for my team to win; unfortunately, we didn't."