Michigan seen as NIT bubble team

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Zak Irvin disputes a call during Friday's loss to Wisconsin.

Chicago — After Michigan's loss to top-seed Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals on Friday, there was a sense that the season wasn't over just yet.

The Wolverines (16-16) are thought to be on the bubble for the NIT, which doesn't typically take teams without winning records. Within UM's .500 record is a nonconference win over Hillsdale, which wouldn't count in its resume with the NIT, if it uses the same selection criteria as the NCAA Tournament.

That means that Michigan's plight already might be determined and its season could be over.

But one NIT projection website, NYCbuckets.com, has Michigan still in the NIT field — as an at-large No. 6 seed — even after Friday's loss.

Pending the final conference tournaments today and Sunday, the Wolverines could sneak into the NIT and play on the road. In the most recent projection, Michigan would play at No. 3 seed Richmond — one of UM coach John Beilein's former coaching stops — in the opening round. The other potential No. 3 seeds are Buffalo, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Judging by the way the NIT projection is put together, with automatic bids and at-large teams in the No. 7 and No. 8 seed spots, Michigan likely would have three or four at-large teams seeded lower, giving some buffer room for upsets in conference tournaments.

Beilein lobbied for an NIT spot following Friday's loss, looking to get more games for his young team, despite the tumultuous season.

"That would be good for us to do, just to see if we can experience winning. The NIT is difficult to win," Beilein said. "You're going to go on the road, there's going to be difficult teams you're going to play — teams like us."

The 32-team NIT bracket will be revealed on a selection show on Sunday night after the NCAA field is announced.

Beilein is optimistic that the Wolverines could be among those chosen.

"I expect that the NCAA and NIT will be very fair and will pick the right 32 teams," he said. "If people look beneath the record right now and understand what we went through, we're a very good team. I have great faith in them that they'd pick the right teams."