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What it may take for Michigan Basketball to cement its NCAA Tournament resume

The Wolverines are going to need to stack some wins that may be hard to come by.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines let another golden opportunity for a victory slip away on Tuesday night with the loss to Ohio State, which was another projected KenPom win that did not come to pass. In the last month or so, the Wolverines have dropped winnable games to Minnesota, Iowa, Penn State, Illinois and now the Buckeyes. As a result, they are firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Michigan, who sits at 13-9 on the season and 4-7 in Big Ten play, probably would still be in the field if the selection committee had to do its job today. They have wins over Creighton (No. 19 on KenPom), Gonzaga (No. 5), Iowa (No. 13) and Rutgers (No. 28). The resume overall is still strong in what is a fairly wide-open year for the field of 68 as a whole.

It feels like Michigan can get out of the regular season with 17 or 18 wins and still have a good shot to make the tournament with another win in the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

Here is what the current road ahead looks like:

Feb. 8 — vs. Michigan State

Feb. 12 — at Northwestern

Feb. 16 — vs. Indiana

Feb. 19 — at Rutgers

Feb. 22 — at Purdue

Feb. 27 — vs. Wisconsin

Mar. 1 — at Ohio State

Mar. 5 — vs. Nebraska

Mar. 8 — at Maryland

There are certainly a few wins here. One would have to assume that Northwestern and Nebraska are games that — Isaiah Livers or not — Michigan is good enough to prevail in. There’s 15 wins total right there. All of their non-Northwestern road games here are quite tough, and given their struggles on the road this season, they could easily lose all four of those, but stealing one of them might put them in good shape. Two would be enormous.

Michigan State has shown some cracks in the armor recently and the Wolverines will be hungry for revenge there after dropping an 87-69 decision in East Lansing earlier this year. But the Spartans have had their number the last few seasons, making Saturday’s contest even more fascinating given where both teams are at right now. Both Indiana and Wisconsin are very winnable home games.

Of course, there is always plenty of room for surprises in here. When the Wolverines have their outside shooting going (which has proven to be a bit of an anomaly when it actually does happen) they can play with anyone in college hoops. But shooting as poorly as they have at home recently gives anyone that comes into Crisler a chance to beat them. Still, for as underwhelmed as some might be by a potential 4-5/5-4 finish to the season, that might still be enough to get them in.

If the Big Ten Tournament were today, Michigan would be playing on that Wednesday night round of games in Indianapolis as the 12-seed, where they would be taking on Nebraska. In that scenario, a win would give them a shot at fifth-seeded Iowa, which is a team they were able to beat at home and compete against on the road. A win there would send them to Friday in Indy, where fourth-seeded Penn State on a double-bye would be waiting.

The Wolverines are only two games back of the seventh-spot in the conference rankings, which is where Wisconsin currently sits. Ahead of them is a logjam of four teams with a 5-6 record in conference play, so there’s certainly a lot to be decided in the last month or so.

It has been a wild year in the Big Ten that just so happens to coincide with a reboot and transitional year for Michigan basketball. How the Wolverines have played on a given night has been about as volatile as the conference standings are this year, so in many ways this group is chaos incarnate. There is a lot of basketball to be played, but it is not hard to see a path for how this team can still reach the preseason expectation many had set for them.