Michigan's postseason hopes are on life support. Michigan is 13-15 against D-I competition, and, not only is Michigan not an NCAA Tournament bubble team, Michigan may be out of the NIT field right now. Though there is no longer a requirement that a team must be .500 or better against D-I schools to participate in the NIT, no team with a losing record ever has been asked. Michigan may need at least two more wins to be considered for an invitation to the NIT, but, because there is only one more regular-season game, Michigan needs wins in the Big Ten Tournament. Therefore, only the Big Ten Tournament can resuscitate Michigan's postseason hopes.
So let's break down the teams Michigan may need to beat in the Big Ten Tournament:
Beat Rutgers and Michigan's in the No. 8/No. 9 Matchup: Plain and simple. If that happens, Michigan will have an 8-10 record. This means that there's no chance for Michigan to jump into the No. 7 spot because the two teams above the Wolverines in the standings, Indiana and Illinois, can't finish with a record worse than 9-9. On the other hand, there's only one team below Michigan that could match Michigan's 8-10 record: Minnesota. However, because Michigan beat the Gophers, 62-57, in their only meeting this season, Michigan would win the head-to-head tiebreaker and secure the No. 9 seed.
Lose to Rutgers and Michigan's Still Most Likely the No. 9 Seed: Even if Michigan suffers a home loss to a Rutgers team that's dropped 13 straight games, the odds still heavily favor Michigan holding onto the No. 9 seed. For Michigan to fall to the next rung, one of two other things would need to transpire. One is Minnesota sweeping its final two games, which would give the Gophers an 8-10 record to Michigan's 7-11. But, because one of those wins would need to be against Wisconsin tonight, this is unlikely. The other is Northwestern beating Iowa in Iowa City and Wisconsin bashing Ohio State in Columbus. The Wildcats' win would create a tie between Michigan and Northwestern at 7-11, while the Badgers' win over the Buckeyes would be the decisive result that helps Northwestern win the tiebreaker. However, KenPom projects that there's only a 6.4-percent chance of both Northwestern and Wisconsin winning those respective games. This is why that, win or lose against Rutgers, the Wolverines have 96.2-percent odds to secure the No. 9 seed.
Start Scouting Illinois (But Get Out Some Indiana Film Just in Case): Illinois most likely will be Michigan's first opponent in the Big Ten Tournament because Michigan's almost a lock for the No. 9 seed. There are only two teams competing for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds: Indiana and Illinois. Both have 9-8 records, but, because Indiana beat Illinois in their lone meeting this season, the Hoosiers have the advantage in seeding. Thus, the only way for Michigan to be the No. 9 seed and not face Illinois in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament is Illinois upending Purdue in West Lafayette while Indiana loses its third straight game -- this time to Michigan State in Assembly Hall. Though KenPom gives this only a 16.8-percent shot, this seems quite doable to the eye test. Nonetheless, Michigan fans should prepare for heart palpitations because Michigan is on track to face Illinois first in the Big Ten Tournament. Why heart palpitations? The last three games between Michigan and Illinois have been decided by one point or in OT.
Wisconsin in the Quarterfinals Could Decide Michigan's Postseason Fate: Given Michigan's current record and resume, wins against Rutgers and Illinois (or Indiana) would not be enough to secure an invitation to the NIT, I think. Those two wins would give Michigan a 15-15 record vs. D-I teams, but a loss in the next game would mean a losing record vs. D-I teams. And we know how the NIT feels about that. This means that Michigan needs to win its quarterfinal matchup in the Big Ten Tournament to place itself in a solid position to participate in the NIT. The problem? The team Michigan most likely would need to beat is Wisconsin -- the team that's head and shoulders above everyone else in the Big Ten. Though Michigan gave the Badgers a scare in their only game, forcing overtime, Michigan will not have the benefit of hosting Wisconsin in front of a frenzied crowd at the Crisler Center in primetime. Rather, this game would be played at 11 a.m. local time on a Friday in Chicago. Yikes. Talk about a dead atmosphere. The good news is that a win would propel Michigan into the NIT field. The bad news is that it's a long shot.
Dropping to the No. 10 Seed Could Lead to a Longer Run: Though it'd mean losing to Rutgers and killing its chances to earn an invitation to the NIT, Michigan dropping to the No. 10 seed could be its best shot to make a magical run to a Big Ten Tournament title and the Big Ten's auto-bid for the NCAA Tournament. If it's the No. 9 seed, Michigan most likely would need to beat Illinois and then Wisconsin to reach the semifinals. As we just discussed, facing Wisconsin is bad. But, if it's the No. 10 seed, Michigan most likely would need to beat Indiana and then Maryland to reach the semifinals. Which one of those paths sounds like a much better deal for Michigan? Exactly. The latter. Though it's unlikely, if Michigan could win those first two games while someone on the other side of the bracket knocks out Wisconsin, Michigan could be in business. You just never know.
A First-Round Bye Isn't Guaranteed Yet: All of this talk about No. 9 and No. 10 seeds, and, yet, there's still the tiniest of chances that Michigan doesn't receive a first-round bye. Remember when I discussed how Michigan could drop to a No. 10 seed if it lost to Rutgers and either Minnesota won out or Northwestern beat Iowa while Wisconsin beat Ohio State? Well, if all three of those events come to life, then Michigan will tumble from the No. 9 seed to the No. 11 seed and battle Penn State on the very first day of the Big Ten Tournament. Given that Michigan lacks depth due to an assortment of injuries, that Michigan would play as many five games in five days wouldn't be ideal. Michigan needs that extra day of rest and preparation before playing in the Big Ten Tournament that will decide whether it appears in the NCAA Tournament or NIT. And Michigan should earn that extra day because the odds of Michigan falling to No. 11 are only 0.2 percent.