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Michigan likely needs 3 more wins to clinch NIT berth

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Champaign, Ill. — With a 64-52 overtime loss at Illinois on Thursday, Michigan's already-slim NCAA Tournament chances suffered another blow.

The Wolverines lost their fourth straight and fifth in six games, luring the proverbial vultures to peck away at the entrails of a season derailed by injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr.

"We're not great at anything right now and that gets exposed sometimes in games," coach John Beilein said Thursday.

Michigan's best — and likely only — chance of a fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament: Win the Big Ten tournament.

But, relying on four freshmen in the rotation could make that difficult. In two of the last three overtime losses, the Wolverines scored two points in 10 minutes.

"We don't have that type of roster right now that's going to blow people away," Beilein said. "We're going to be in this every single game and part of our issue is these late-game adjustments that we have to make. All these young kids shouldn't be in those situations and they're forced to be — and we have to get better at it."

With five games remaining in the regular season, the growing might be too little and too late.

Beilein said he had considered scenarios where Michigan still could make the NCAA Tournament, but hadn't broken it down into must-win games. After Thursday's loss, they're all likely must-wins.

"It is more game by game, but I have to tell the team what's up because the key to our great seeds over the time has been the top-50 wins," he said. "That hasn't happened, so now you have opportunities with some of the games we have coming up. I haven't looked at it as we have to win this (game) or that, but we have to win."

At 13-12 overall, 6-7 in the Big Ten, and no victories over teams in the top 50 of the RPI, Michigan's resume is barely worthy of the NIT. But with its remaining schedule — home against Michigan State and Ohio State, at Maryland and Northwestern and home against Rutgers — Michigan is a long shot to warrant NCAA Tournament consideration.

Michigan is 2-2 against its remaining schedule, which includes double-digit losses at Michigan State (overtime) and Ohio State.

But, nonconference losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan hurt significantly.

Even with a sweep of its remaining five games, an 18-12 record might not be enough for the NCAA selection committee. It would, however, put Michigan around a No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the Big Ten tournament.

As Michigan's resume is trending downward with a four-game losing streak, it's also possible it could play itself out of the NIT.

Although a .500 record or above isn't required for the NIT tournament officials could choose not to extend an invitation to Michigan if it's below that threshold. Since the NCAA took over the NIT in 2006, only teams with .500 or better records have been selected to the field. The extra practices for a young roster would be an attractive benefit of being selected for the NIT.

If the NIT passes, Michigan could be relegated to the CBI or CIT tournaments.

Those events are significantly less prestigious, but again would provide extra practice time for a young roster.

Closing out

A look at Michigan's remaning games:

Tuesday: vs. Michigan State, 9 p.m. ESPN

Sunday, Feb. 22: vs. Ohio State, 1 p.m. CBS

Saturday, Feb. 28: at Maryland, noon or 2 p.m. ESPN or ESPN2

Tuesday, March 3: at Northwestern, 9 p.m. BTN

Saturday, March 7: vs. Rutgers, 2:15 p.m. BTN