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How to Watch: Michigan makes its (unfortunate) return to the NIT

The Wolverines are not quite done yet, welcoming Toledo to open up postseason play.

Toledo v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

To no surprise after blowing opportunities against Illinois, Indiana, and Rutgers (sigh), the Michigan Wolverines were well off the NCAA Tournament bubble. Despite its exclusion from the primary bracket, the season is not quite yet over for Michigan. The Wolverines received a three seed in the NIT and will open up the Round of 32 on Tuesday night.

One thing different about this tournament is that the first rounds are held on campus with only the final four teams making it to Las Vegas. That means that, at least for the opener, Michigan will play at Crisler Center once again, which could be the final game in Ann Arbor for many players on the roster.

Up first for the Wolverines are the unseeded Toledo Rockets, the 87th-ranked team in the country per Kenpom. These neighboring schools have only met once in the past 35+ years, a quick Covid replacement game that Michigan won 91-71 in December 2020. The Rockets won the MAC regular season crown but fell to Kent State in the final of their conference tournament.

Toledo Rockets at No. 3 Michigan Wolverines

Date & Time: Tuesday, Mar. 14, 7 p.m.
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
TV/Streaming: ESPN2
DraftKings Odds: UM -7.5, O/U 162

It would be easy to dismiss the NIT as an unfulfilling consolation prize (like I did in my season postmortem), but no sense is dwelling on the past here. The reality is that Michigan has a great chance at making it to Las Vegas and bringing home some hardware despite the modest seeding. There is no one in this bracket that should cause too much fear, and if the Wolverines take this competition seriously, they could make a deep run.

Toledo is no joke, winning a conference which gave Michigan plenty of (read: way too much) trouble this season. The Rocket’s have a bizarre profile, ranking in the top 10 offensively but near the bottom of the country defensively, meaning this could be quite the high-scoring affair. There were not any Power Six teams on Toledo’s schedule, so some strength of opponent factors should be considered, but it is pretty clear how this team wants to play.

The Wolverines have to watch out for the second-best three-point shooting team in the country, but even inside the arc the Rockets hit over half of their shots. In fact, they prefer to take twos over threes anyway and offer a quick tempo, meaning the defensive miscommunications and low-effort possessions cannot show up again. The last thing Michigan needs is for an underdog opponent to string together a quick 10-0 run.

On the other end of the floor is where the huge advantage lies, starting with Hunter Dickinson, who should have a field day. No singular Toledo defender will be able to contain him — and even double teams might not completely stop him — but the rest of the Michigan offense is going to get plenty of good looks. Dug McDaniel has suffered some growing pains, but against this opposing roster he will not be so overmatched.

Early this year, Michigan struggled against MAC competition, but the team has grown up since then. Toledo will score its points, but this mediocre defense should be no match for Dickinson and the Wolverine athletes. This game really just comes down to how locked in Michigan looks after a disappointing regular season, and the only true fear is a lackluster effort and energy.