The Path to the NCAA Tournament

With Michigan’s basketball team attaining a new standard of relevance, it’s easy to see how Wolverines fans are already prognosticating a run to the NCAA tournament. Wins over UCLA and Duke are certainly a stepping stone towards achieving that goal, but there is still work to be done. Let’s see what Michigan has to do to make it into the Big Dance. Sagarin Ratings are little more than a rough draft at this point, but they give us some idea of the relative strengths of the teams.

Completed Schedule
Date Opponent Sagarin Result Record
11-11-08 Michigan Tech (DII) 77-55 1-0
11-12-08 Northeastern 151 76-56 2-0
11-20-08 (n) UCLA 20 55-52 3-0
11-21-08 (n) Duke 4 56-71 3-1
11-25-08 Norfolk State 321 83-49 4-1
11-29-08 Savannah State 230 66-64 5-1
12-3-08 @Maryland 39 70-75 5-2
12-6-08 Duke 4 81-73 6-2

The wins over UCLA and Duke were certainly not expected, and one could easily maintain that Michigan has done better through the first part of its schedule than could possibly have been expected. Salvaging the win over Savannah State was key. Had Michigan been able to top Maryland on the road (and, in all honesty, they should have), we’d be looking at a pretty highly-ranked team right now.

Remaining Non-conference Schedule
Date Opponent Sagarin Projection
12-13-08 Eastern Michigan 261 W
12-20-08 Oakland 124 W
12-22-08 Florida Gulf Coast 317 W
12-29-08 NC Central 345 W
2-7-08 @ UConn 7 L

The remaining four games before the start of the conference schedule are all must-wins. Even with some good victories under their belt, the Wolverines would be devastated by a loss to any of these teams. The mid-year tilt with UConn looks like a loss this early in the year, but who knows where the teams will be come February?

Conference Schedule
Date Opponent Sagarin Projection
12-31-08 Wisconsin 31 W
1-4-09 Illinois 25 T
1-7-09 @ Indiana 146 W
1-11-09 Iowa 65 W
1-14-09 @ Illinois 25 le=”border:1px solid rgb(0,0,102);”>L
1-17-09 Ohio State 5 L
1-20-09 @ Penn State 80 W
1-24-09 Northwestern 36 W
1-28-09 @ Ohio State 5 L
1-31-09 @ Purdue 33 L
2-5-09 Penn State 80 W
2-10-09 Michigan State 37 T
2-15-09 @ Northwestern 36 T
2-19-09 Minnesota 57 W
2-22-09 @ Iowa 65 T
2-26-09 Purdue 33 T
3-1-09 @ Wisconsin 31 L
3-7-09 @ Minnesota 57 T

Going into the conference schedule, it loks like Michigan will have a 10-2 record (and will and with a 10-3 non-conference record overall). The conference predictions are little more than guesses at this point, because it’s hard to tell this early in the season exactly how good all these teams are. Regardless, I project Michigan to be 17-8 (7-5) with 6 in-conference toss-ups. They would likely need to win at least two of those toss-ups, but preferably three to bring them to 20-11 (10-8). This would nearly assure them a bid to the NCAA tournament, especially if combined with a win or two in the Big Ten Tourney. 19-12 (9-9) would likely necessitate a couple wins in the Big Ten Tournament to warrant an NCAA bid.

Of course, Michigan will overachieve at times, and likely underachieve at others. The key is to minimize bad losses, and win most of the games that they should. Combined with the possibility for an upset or two, they should be able to make the tournament.

Another key will be closing the season strong. Unlike college football, finishing the regular season strong is an established criterion for selection to the NCAA tournament. With a likely loss and three tossups in the final four regular-season games, Michigan will have to find a way to win a couple of those tossups to warrant strong consideration.

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2 Comments so far

  1. I know nothing says...

    Tim, are you that high on osu, or have the football beatdowns just made you give in to all that is osu. I think, having only seen them twice, that while a win in cladumbous may be a reach, I think a T is deserved in AA. We play msu once, that sucks. They should address the ‘rivalries’ in BB as they do in football.

  2. Tim says...

    I based the predictions mostly on the Sagarin ratings (which, as I admitted, are a poor indicator at this time in the year). I think as the games against the Buckeyes approach, we’ll be slightly high and they’ll be slightly lower, and the home game at least will be upgraded to a tossup.

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