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Three things Michigan needs to do to win the Big Ten Tournament

The Wolverines have some work to do to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan v Indiana Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Big Ten Tournament started on Wednesday, and the Michigan men’s basketball team has some work to do to make it to the NCAA Tournament.

In order to get into March Madness with an at-large bid, the Wolverines need to improve their resume with at least two wins in the conference tournament. They’re 3-11 in Quad 1 games, they have an ugly Quad 4 loss to Central Michigan, and they haven’t been able to win most of the close games they’ve played against teams that are easily in the tournament.

As Dan Plocher broke down earlier this week, one bracketologist has Michigan making it in the tournament, but most experts say the Wolverines still need to win a few games to get in.

Looking at the conference tournament bracket, Michigan has the chance to pick up key wins against Rutgers, Purdue, and Michigan State, among others. Of course, the Wolverines can also earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament if they win the Big Ten Tournament.

Here are three things the Wolverines need to do to win it all in Chicago, and secure the conference’s automatic bid.

Get off to a hot start

A lot of Michigan games this season have followed a similar script: the Wolverines start poorly and put themselves in a hole, dig themselves out and take a commanding lead mid-way through the second half, and ultimately fail to execute in the final few possessions before losing a heart-breaker.

It feels like that’s happened to Michigan 15 times this season; that game script is exactly what happened in the overtime Indiana loss on Sunday.

One pattern we’ve seen in Michigan’s wins this season is getting off to a good start. That’s what happened at home against MSU, when Dug McDaniel had seven points early. Hunter Dickinson’s dominance in the first half helped the Wolverines win in OT against Wisconsin. The team as a whole got off to an amazing start in the blowout win over Maryland, holding the Terrapins to 13 points in the first half, the lowest total Michigan has allowed in a half in school history.

Michigan has to get off to a hot start in these BTT games. In high-pressure situations like this, they can’t afford to put themselves in a double-digit hole and expect to escape.

Let Kobe cook

One constant in this roller coaster of a season for the Wolverines has been Kobe Bufkin. If there was a Most Improved Player award in the Big Ten, he’d be a -400 favorite to win it.

The sophomore went from a role player who barely played last year to being one of Michigan’s most reliable players in the second halves of games. He’s averaging 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game while making 47.9 percent of his shots, including 34.8 percent from three, and 83.8 percent from the free throw line. He’s also been one of the most efficient finishers at the rim in the entire conference.

Bufkin is a big reason why Michigan even has a shot to make the tournament in the first place. He’s played incredibly well next to McDaniel in the back court, and he’s officially on the radar of NBA teams and writers. He’s been projected to be a first-round pick by The Athletic.

The Wolverines have relied on Bufkin to make big plays late in these close games, and he’s been up to the task. Michigan needs to get him the ball early and often to make a BTT run.

Get creative at the end of games

It’s no secret that the Wolverines have struggled to finish close games all season, and part of that has been because of how predictable their final plays late in games have been. With the game on the line, the Wolverines almost always run a set to get Hunter Dickinson a post touch, or they run a pick-and-roll with Dickinson and Bufkin.

Those sets make sense; those two guys have been Michigan’s most reliable players late in games. But other teams with savvy coaching, like Indiana, know that these plays are coming and take away the ball at the perfect time.

Michigan can’t keep doing the same thing late in these games — the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

There’s a concept that The Ringer’s Bill Simmons often talks about when referring to desperate teams in football games. Sometimes when NFL teams need a win against a better team, they throw the whole kitchen sink at the other team, running every trick play and creative route in their arsenal to steal a victory.

The Wolverines are officially in kitchen sink territory. I’m not saying they need to run trick plays or anything, but more creative sets late in these games could help quite a bit.

Run some flare screens to get Jett Howard an open three in space. Give Bufkin an entire side of the floor and let him run iso before taking an efficient mid-range shot. Maybe throw in a Spanish pick-and-roll with the two-big lineup, freeing up Dickinson or Tarris Reed Jr. at the rim.

Just try something different late in these games, because the sets Michigan has been running in the final few minutes aren’t working.

Tournament settings like the BTT generate close games. It’s not hyperbole to say that if Michigan doesn’t do something to correct their late-game struggles, they can kiss their NCAA Tournament chances goodbye.