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Juwan Howard, players to discuss postseason plans

Several teams have declined to play in the tournament, but extra practices have been cited as a reason to accept.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s call a spade a spade — the Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team will not make the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

After a devastating 62-50 loss to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in their first Big Ten Tournament game — their third straight loss to close the season — the Wolverines’ bubble has been well and truly popped. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean their season is over. When the field for the 2023 National Invitational Tournament is revealed Sunday evening, Michigan will undoubtedly have a place in it.

The question is — will the Wolverines even want it? Head coach Juwan Howard seems to think so, but acknowledged no plans had yet been set in stone.

“Yes, they want to continue to keep playing,” Howard said Thursday. “I want to see them playing, and I want to be out there coaching them in the postseason. We’ll go back home, we’ll talk about what’s the plan for the future and we’ll go from there.”

When asked for a follow up, Howard reiterated the team would wait to come to a concrete decision — a line also repeated by Hunter Dickinson.

“We talked about it in the locker room that we’ll wait until we get back (to Ann Arbor) to talk about it as a group.” Dickinson said.

The last time the Wolverines found themselves in this situation was 2015, when the NIT passed them over. Though then-head coach John Beilein expressed disappointment at not being included in that year’s field, many teams have declined to participate even when they made the field.

The most recent declinations came in 2021, when a record of five teams — Duke, Louisville, Xavier, Seton Hall and St. John’s — all passed on extending their seasons after being left out of the NCAA Tournament.

There are, of course, practical reasons for a team to accept an invite regardless of their personal feelings on an NIT berth. An extended practice schedule gives Michigan the chance to take one last push at development for several key players, even if potentially draft-bound stars like Jett Howard, Kobe Bufkin and Dickinson decide not to participate.

Regardless of the Wolverines’ decision, it’s clear a tinge of disappointment looms over the program for not achieving the big goal — getting into the Big Dance for the seventh consecutive year.