There is only one week remaining in the regular season and the Michigan Wolverines are playing their best basketball of the year at the right time. Significant improvements from Caleb Houstan and DeVante’ Jones have helped the team look more like the team they were meant to be at the year’s start.
Michigan is now 8-5 in their last 13 games after beating Rutgers and losing to No. 15 Illinois this past week. The win over the Scarlet Knights was secretly a big one. Even though they were No. 80 overall in the NET Rankings prior to the game, they were red hot and quickly became a favorite by many experts to be a team going dancing. A loss in that game for Michigan may have been detrimental.
The loss to Illinois hurt, as it was Michigan’s best chance to lock in a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but this was as good of a loss that could have come. The Wolverines staved off an insanely hot shooting night from the Fighting Illini and hung with them to the very end of the game. At one point, they brought it to a one-score game after being down by 14 with under 10 minutes to go. Earlier in the season, this is the kind of game that would have gotten ugly quickly, but this Michigan team has grown since then. It feels like they are proving they belong, and they will have the opportunity to do so again this week.
Michigan State, No. 25 Iowa and No. 22 Ohio State await the Wolverines this week. If they win all three, they are in without a doubt. Go 2-1 and odds are pretty high, too. Anything other than that leaves them susceptible heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
Here is how the experts across the board are viewing the Wolverines heading into the final week of the regular season:
CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm: Last Four In
Last Four In: Memphis (17-9), Michigan (15-12), Wake Forest (22-8), and Florida (18-11)
First Four Out: UNC (21-8), Oregon (18-11), VCU (20-7), Loyola Chicago (22-7)
Palm has Michigan as a No. 11-seed facing Memphis in a dual of two underperforming teams with top recruiting classes. Jalen Duren and Ypsilanti-native Emoni Bates were hyped to be one of the best freshman duos in a long time in college basketball. Instead, Bates hasn’t played in a month and many question if he will even return while the NBA looms ahead. Duren, meanwhile, leads the team in scoring, but at just 11.9 points per game.
With the play of Houstan, Jones, and the freshman guards maybe not living up to the early expectations this season either, it would be fitting for these teams to meet up come tournament time.
The winner would go on to face No. 6-seeded USC in San Diego for what would surely feel like a game on the road. Texas Tech is the No. 3 seed in the region while Illinois is a No. 5 for a potential, but unlikely, Sweet 16 matchup. Iowa also enters the fold as a No. 9 seed in the South Region with Arizona being the top seed.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi: Last Four Byes
Last Four In: Loyola Chicago (22-7), San Francisco (23-8), Indiana (17-10), Memphis (17-9)
First Four Out: SMU (20-7), SDSU (18-7), BYU (21-9), Dayton (20-9)
As of Friday morning, Lunardi had the Wolverines outside of the bubble and facing the No. 7 Marquette Golden Eagles in the first round of the tournament in the Midwest Region. A Round of 32 matchup with the No. 2-seeded Kentucky Wildcats would be a difficult one for Michigan to get past.
However, if the Wolverines could, the top seed in the Portland pod of the bracket is the No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers, which would be a rather interesting rematch. Kansas is the No. 1 overall seed in the Midwest Region.
Overall, Lunardi has nine Big Ten teams in his bracket, more than any other conference. He still has Rutgers as one of the Last Four Byes, like the Wolverines, but opinions may have changed after the Scarlet Knights lost to Wisconsin on their home court. I’d expect a bump back to the bubble for Rutgers when Lunardi updates things.
Fox Sports’ Mike Decourcy: First Four Out
Last Four In: UNC (21-8), SMU (20-7), Florida (18-11), Dayton (20-9)
First Four Out: Indiana (17-10), Michigan (15-12), BYU (21-9), Belmont (25-6)
Decourcy remains very low on Michigan. Since tracking this the past five or so weeks, he has yet to include the Wolverines in his bracket. The Fox Sports analyst updates his bracket every Tuesday morning. So at this point, Michigan had yet to beat Rutgers who Decourcy has as a No. 11 seed. Check out his bracket:
@tsnmike's latest Bracket Forecast is here!— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 22, 2022
What do you think about his tournament field? pic.twitter.com/GBIYohdVSW
Things haven’t looked good for Decourcy’s bubble teams this week. SMU lost to No. 14 Houston by 14 points after the Cougars jumped to a 33-14 early advantage. It was never really a contest.
Then Dayton fell to 8-18 La Salle in a stunner that will surely knock them out of the bubble conversation for the NCAA Tournament barring anything crazy. Its only hope now will be winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Michigan should be right in the conversation yet again, but will need to do a bit more convincing to get Decourcy on its side before Selection Sunday.
SBNation’s Chris Dobbertean: No. 10 seed Michigan vs...
Last Four In: SDSU (18-7), SMU (20-7), Wake Forest (22-8), San Francisco (23-8)
First Four Out: Memphis (17-9), (Dayton (20-9), BYU (21-9), Oregon (18-11)
Dobbertean is the first in weeks to no longer have the Wolverines higher than an 11 seed. After beating Rutgers, he believes Michigan did enough to just get off the bubble and be the No. 10 seed in the East Region, facing No. 7 seeded Iowa State. Kentucky is the No. 2 seed in the region that would likely await a Round of 32 matchup with the Wolverines.
The No. 1 seed in the East Region in Dobbertean’s bracket is Kansas who could face Iowa as the No. 8 seed in the second round. Michigan is one of nine Big Ten teams going dancing with Rutgers and Indiana being two of the Last Four Byes in his bracket.