An 11 seed in the NCAA tournament should always be considered a Cinderella; no matter how disappointing they were in the regular season after being granted a high preseason ranking, and no matter how much a blue blood program they are.
The double-digit seed Michigan Wolverines are that strange, blue-blooded Cinderella team this March. After a major letdown against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament in head coach Juwan Howard’s first game back with the program, Michigan is a force to be reckoned with two games into the NCAA tournament after taking down No. 6 seed Colorado State and No. 3 seed Tennessee.
Michigan was the favored team on DraftKings Sportsbook against Colorado State, but it took a 15-point comeback to take down the Rams and move on in the tourney. Tennessee was favored by 7.5 points over the Wolverines before that game started. The line continued to shift in favor of the Volunteers, especially when DeVante’ Jones, who missed the CSU game with a concussion, left the game and never came back.
The Wolverines have been up against some major adversity this year, but they have been able to overcome it all up to this point. After being ranked No. 6 in the preseason, the Wolverines struggled all season long. Once they went unranked in the polls for the first time in December, they were never ranked again. A star-studded freshman class couldn’t get it going and upperclassmen who were expected to be major contributors weren’t playing like how they had in the past.
With early season losses to Minnesota, UCF, Seton Hall and Rutgers, it began to settle in that maybe, just maybe this Michigan team could miss the NCAA Tournament. But the Wolverines picked up a couple really nice wins in the month of February against Purdue and Iowa, two wins the program could really build some momentum from.
Then the Wolverines traveled to Madison, Wisconsin.
Howard was suspended five game and associate head coach Phil Martelli was tasked with guiding the team for the last five games of the year. Martelli he was able to go 3-2, including wins over Ohio State and Michigan State.
That win against the Buckeyes was likely what got Michigan in the NCAA tournament in the first place. If it weren’t for that game — a game in which the Wolverines were not only without their head coach, but also their best player in Hunter Dickinson — they would probably be playing in the NIT at this point.
But the Wolverines got in, and that’s all that matters. Everything was looking good, that is, until Jones’ head injury. He suffered a concussion in practice before the start of the NCAA Tournament and did not travel with the team for the Round of 64. Freshman point guard Frankie Collins stepped up in a big way, going for 14 points and six rebounds against CSU.
Jones came back for the Tennessee game, but eventually had to leave that game due to an illness (which may have stemmed from his concussion, since he was hit in the head by Moussa Diabate early on in the game). Collins replaced him again and even though he only went 1-of-4 from the field against Tennessee, he provided meaningful minutes by playing stout defense, collecting tough boards and creating separation with his shiftiness.
This team has been through hell and back all season long, but they are somehow 2-0 in the NCAA Tournament. Anything can happen in March, which is what makes the tournament so incredible every year. They may be one of the normal premier programs in college basketball, but there is nothing normal about Michigan basketball this season.