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Michigan basketball’s path to a Big Ten Tournament Championship

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Michigan Wolverines ended their regular season with a nice 75-69 win over rival No. 23 Ohio State. With a must-win game to keep their NCAA hopes alive, they took care of business on the road without their head coach and star center Hunter Dickinson. The Maize and Blue finished with an 11-9 record in conference play, which earned the No. 8 seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament.

The Wolverines have been in a somewhat similar this position before. Five years ago, Michigan was heading to the Big Ten Tournament in Washington D.C. as that year’s No. 8 seed. As they were getting ready to take off, their plane went off the runway. No one was seriously injured, but the team was well within their right to pull from the tournament. With practice jerseys and a team vote to continue and play, the Wolverines cemented themselves in Big Ten Tournament history after being the lowest seeded team to ever win it.

The Wolverines will face off against the Indiana Hoosiers Thursday morning. Earlier this season, the Maize and Blue traveled to Assembly Hall and came away with a monstrous 80-62 road win. The Wolverines were 1-4 on the road prior to that visit to Bloomington.

This will be a true glimpse into how Michigan will fare in an elimination game. Drawing Indiana could be Michigan’s most ideal scenario, as the Hoosiers went 4-7 in conference play after their loss to the Wolverines. In the Hoosiers’ early stretch in February, they went two weeks without a win, granted four of those five teams were ranked in the top-25.

However, the Hoosiers will look to redeem themselves as they closed out their final two games of the regular season with two losses against Rutgers and Purdue. They lost both games within a three-point margin. The Wolverines will have to watch their backs, as current NCAA Tournament projections have the Hoosiers as one of the first four out. Should Indiana make some statement wins in the Big Ten Tournament, it could find itself in the dance. That will be a tough mental edge to overcome, so the Wolverines better be ready.

Should the Wolverines beat the Hoosiers, they’ll face Illinois in the quarterfinals. Michigan went 0-2 against the Illini this season, so maybe third time is the charm. The Fighting Illini locked in a share of the Big Ten regular season title after their win against Iowa at home for their final game of the regular season. After going 15-5 in conference this season, Illinois earned the No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament. They finished their regular season on a three-game winning streak and will likely carry momentum into Friday as they look to repeat as the Big Ten Tournament champs.

If the Wolverines find a way to get past Indiana and then beat Illinois, they’ll play whoever comes out on top between Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern and Rutgers. The Wolverines went 5-2 against those four programs this season, with split win-losses with Rutgers and Iowa. Illinois poses the hardest challenge for the Wolverines on that side of the bracket but if they can make it past them to the semifinals, they have a decent chance of making it to the conference final.

Michigan, should it appear in the final, will face whoever comes out among Maryland, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Penn State, Ohio State and Purdue. Barring any upsets on the other side, the Wolverines would likely see Wisconsin or Purdue, with an honorable mention to MSU or OSU. Among those four, the Wolverines split games with three of them this season, only facing Wisconsin once.

With no preconceived notion on how this team will be this weekend, it’s hard to guess where they could land. Do they have what it takes to make it to the finals for the fourth time in six years? Sure, it’s hard to discount them when they are so unpredictable. When looking at the reality of this season and how they came across wins, it wasn’t often those wins came in succession of one another. This is the team that barely beat Penn State, obliterated Purdue and lost by double-digits to OSU in a span of four days.

Regardless, Michigan more than likely locked itself into the NCAA Tournament this past Sunday. Current bracketology has Michigan as an 11-seed. That, of course, is subject to change depending on their performance in their conference tournament. Should the Wolverines pull off another monumental feat in the Big Ten Tournament, they very well could receive a nice bump in their seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolverines have a lot to prove and hopefully they have what it takes to make it to Sunday. It might be safe to say that however they fare this year won’t come as a surprise to Michigan fans. They can win it all or be out of Indianapolis before the work week is over.

The Wolverines face the Hoosiers Thursday at 11:30 a.m. on BTN.