It wasn’t the way the coaches, players or fans wanted the season to end. But then again, no one expected the 11-seeded Michigan Wolverines to be dancing into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament after a disappointing regular season and going one-and-done in the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan’s NCAA Tournament clock struck midnight on Thursday, as it fell to Villanova, 63-55, in the Sweet 16 in a game that was oddly reminiscent of the Elite Eight game last year against UCLA. Against the Bruins last season, the Wolverines shot 20-of-51 from the field, one of their worst performances of the 2020-21 season.
Last night against Villanova, it was even worse for the Wolverines as they only hit on 21-of-61 shots overall. On dunks and layups alone, they were 12-of-29. They were also only 7-for-14 from the free-throw line. It was brutal to watch from start to finish, and it was even more difficult for the players and coaches to see shot after shot not go in.
“It just wasn’t our night out there,” Hunter Dickinson said after the game.
“We left a lot of points out, like you guys said,” Eli Brooks added. “We got good looks, we just didn’t capitalize. We got the looks we wanted — we just didn’t make the shots.”
The Villanova game was a real-time version of Michigan’s entire 2021-22 season. There were the highs early on when the Wolverines jumped out to an early lead, and then there were the lows when the shots weren’t falling and no matter what they did, it wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit they were up against.
But regardless of how it all progressed, Michigan never quit fighting both throughout the regular season and against Villanova.
A five-game suspension for head coach Juwan Howard lit a flame under the team. Led by Phil Martelli, the Wolverines went 3-2 during that stretch, including two huge wins over Michigan State and Ohio State to help propel them into the NCAA Tournament.
The doubters were still alive and well when Michigan made it into the tourney without having to be a part of the play-in games. Dickinson spoke on that earlier in the week at the press conference leading up to the Sweet 16, and Howard talked about that very topic in the postgame press conference.
“When I walk away from this season and I look back, no reason but to hold your head up high on how our team banded together, competing throughout the Big Ten season and then leading to the NCAA Tournament,” Howard said. “There were times when we were counted out and there were times when people didn’t feel we deserved to be here, and these guys rose to the occasion and proved that they earned the right to be in the NCAA Tournament. Hats off to my players and staff.”
For a season with so many ups and downs, the Wolverines were still able to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight season. Not many people thought entering the tournament they would even get a single win, especially with Jones out for the first game due to a concussion. But they overcame the odds and adversity and had a fighting chance until the end.