Michigan has plenty to play for in regular-season finale
Ann Arbor — In some years, a 13-5 conference record would be good enough to contend for the Big Ten regular-season title.
While that’s not the case for Michigan this season, the Wolverines still have plenty to play for in Saturday’s regular-season finale at Maryland, including postseason momentum, a possible fourth-place finish, and the program’s most conference wins since 2013-14.
“This is the most wins I’ve ever gotten in the Big Ten at this point and we aren’t even done yet,” junior center Moritz Wagner said Friday. “I would say that’s definitely an achievement, especially since the league is so weak this year, which I disagree with. I think it’s a very tough league to play in and every game is a tough game, whether it’s on the road or at home.
“I think it’s an incredible achievement to have 12 wins, maybe even 13 in the Big Ten. I haven’t had that feeling yet because I went 10-8 both years. So, I’m incredibly proud to be at this point.”
But that doesn’t mean the Wolverines are satisfied. They remain in the hunt for the No. 4 seed and the last double-bye in next week’s Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden, which will start Wednesday.
Michigan is tied with Nebraska at 12-5 but since the Cornhuskers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Wolverines will need a win over the Terrapins and a Nebraska loss on Sunday to move up in the standings. Wednesday’s win at Penn State guaranteed Michigan would at least land the No. 5 seed.
However, Wagner said he’s not sure how much of an advantage advancing directly into the quarterfinals would be, while Michigan coach John Beilein noted it could end up turning into a disadvantage based on the opponent.
“You could play yourself right into that bad matchup even though you finished better,” Beilein said. “We’re always looking for whatever we can find that is motivating this time of the year because you coach their hearts this time of the year. You just don’t go out and be a tactician. You got to coach their hearts and give them motivation.”
With March right around the corner, that provides the ultimate motivation for a team that’s focused on growing and still doesn’t believe it has hit its stride as it gears up to make a run in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
“What’s good about this team is we’re never not hungry and we’re never not satisfied. We just keep on playing and focus on the next game,” Wagner said. “We’re very committed towards that goal. So, we’ll see how it pays off.”
As a veteran of the postseason and all the glitz and attention that comes with, Wagner said the only tips he’s going to give his younger teammates is to focus on the important things and not get caught up in all the hoopla.
“Don’t believe the bling bling because the lights, all the excitement, all the media, all that stuff — if you’re young and not as experienced, I fell for that,” he said. “You focus on your Instagram followers more than how to guard the next opponent and that’s something you can control and we should control.”
Wagner added while it’s the best time of the year and it’s the type of experience any basketball player lives for, it’s an opportunity none of them should take for granted.
“This is something you can have at most four times in your life and there’s a lot of people out there that can’t have this,” he said. “So, enjoy it and be grateful for it.”
Beilein said freshman forward Isaiah Livers has been taking the tip-off in recent games instead of Wagner because Livers simply gives Michigan a better chance at getting the first possession.
… Beilein said despite redshirt sophomore wing Charles Matthews’ recent offensive struggles, he doesn’t see any reason to take him out of the starting lineup.
MICHIGAN AT MARYLAND
Tip-off: Noon Saturday, Xfinity Center, College Park, Md.
Records: No. 17 Michigan 23-7, 12-5 Big Ten; Maryland 19-11, 8-9
Outlook: Michigan won the first meeting this season, 68-67, and can clinch the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament with a win and a Nebraska loss. … Sophomore G Anthony Cowan Jr. leads three double-digit scorers for Maryland with 15.7 points per game. The Terrapins are 15-2 at home this season.