Michigan gets Northwestern in Big Ten tournament

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman tries to get past the Iowa defense on Saturday.

Ann Arbor -- It isn't just the pundits who think Michigan hasn't done enough to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Coach John Beilein seems to agree.

"I think we've gotta make some repairs and we've gotta prove to people we're good enough to play in the tournament," Beilein said. "Who knows what's going to happen from here?"

Michigan lost, 71-61, to No. 16 Iowa on Saturday night at the Crisler Center, seemingly taking the Wolverines off the bracket bubble and moving them into the just-on-the-outside category.

The Wolverines will head to the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis looking for an extended run.

Michigan, the No. 8 seed, opens against No. 9 seed Northwestern at noon Thursday. The Wolverines beat the Wildcats in their lone regular-season meeting, 72-63, at the Crisler Center on Feb. 24.

If Michigan beats Northwestern again, it will get Big Ten champion Indiana in the quarterfinals. Indiana waxed Michigan, 80-67, at Crisler on Feb. 2, using an unfathomable 29-0 run to put that one in the bank early.

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It's the Indiana game that will be of interest to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.

That's the one Michigan (20-11, 10-8 Big Ten), seemingly, would have to win to get into the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, the Wolverines could be NIT-bound; Beilein said the program would embrace "any" postseason invitation.

"It's very disappointing, for sure," said Duncan Robinson, whose Wolverines lost four of their last five regular-season games. "But, you know, every team goes through adversity. We've gotta use it to our advantage and bounce back.”

Said Derrick Walton Jr., after Saturday's loss: "The talk we just had, we know it's not over. We aren't too proud of the losses that we have. I think we've got a few good wins, but we're gonna play this thing all the way out. We're just gonna play it out."

Six Big Ten teams seemingly are NCAA Tournament locks, including Indiana, Michigan State, Maryland, Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin.

A seventh team probably would be Ohio State or Michigan. Ohio State beat Michigan in the only head-to-head meeting and finished in seventh place and with 11 Big Ten wins.

The Wolverines, though, did have the better strength of schedule, and are looked upon more favorably by metrics such as RPI.

If Michigan only beats Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament, it likely would need most of the mid-major conference to have "chalk" champions, or the favorites.

In that regard, that scenario isn't off to a very good start, with Austin Peay, a No. 8 seed, winning four games in four days to stunningly claim the Ohio Valley Conference on Saturday.

"This is not a life-or-death situation," Beilein said. "If it's not enough to get us in the NCAA Tournament, it's not enough.

"We've survived that before at Michigan, and we'll survive it again."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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