As the final buzzer sounded after Friday's 70-61 second-round loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament, there's a possibility that it signaled the end for the Wolverines' chances for postseason play. As of right now, the chances of that happening look fairly grim, but the obvious benefits for postseason play could absolutely aid this team.
For now, the opportunity for the younger players to gain even more valuable playing experience, more practices for Michigan coach John Beilein to conduct and many other storylines are now at the fingertips of the NIT selection committee.
It all comes down to Sunday.
However slim those chances are right now, there is still hope resonating amongst those in the Michigan basketball camp.
"We would go to the NIT. We're not interested in any other tournament," Beilein told reporters on Friday. "It's an NCAA Tournament. It's one that I've fortunately been involved with several times. Two of our teams went to Madison Square Garden, one won the National Championship, won the NIT Championship, and Bob Huggins then took that same team and took them to the Final Four.
"Many times this type of opportunity is a precursor to future games, and if we could get that opportunity in the NIT, we would gladly accept it."
Compared to past seasons, this one in particular has come with growing pains for not only the younger players, but the experienced ones as well. From tough losses to injuries to key players, things don't seem quite as rosy just one year removed from a conference championship.
Adversity and postseason tournament hopes aside, Beilein's players would still like to savor just a couple of more games with this team.
"I would love to keep playing with these guys," said sophomore forward Zak Irvin. "I think especially these last five games we're really starting to come together. We've had to fight through a lot of adversity this year. I'm just proud of how we've stayed connected and hope we through the rest of their season."
Irvin's teammate, junior guard Spike Albrecht, is certainly used to postseason play. He's seen big moments in a National Championship game and an Elite Eight appearance last season. Despite not making another NCAA Tournament appearance this season, he would like the trend of a postseason appearance to continue.
"Yeah, just piggy‐backing off of Zak, I think we're really starting to kind of gel out it," Albrecht said. "It took us a while, it's
been a process with so many young guys, but I think the past couple of weeks we're really starting to figure it out, and I definitely don't want the season to end, and I'd like to finish with a winning record for sure."
All of the struggles the basketball program has had to endure this season will surely culminate into a better team next season. The younger players clearly developed to the point where one could see individual breakthroughs on the court. If Michigan is fortunate enough to continue playing basketball this season, the added time together will be extremely valuable.
There's no doubt that injuries that happened this season played a major factor in the dip in performance, it's something that can't be prevented going forward. Nevertheless, a basketball team having to adapt its play throughout a season is inevitable. One thing is for sure, however, is Beilein's ability to adapt and use what he has, walk-on or not, is inevitable.
Whether the final buzzer has sounded for Michigan basketball or not this season all comes down to Sunday. All that's left for Beilein and his team now is to wait with every nervous breath in hopes that the odds are on their side.