Michigan Basketball: NCAA Tournament hopes in jeopardy

(Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
(Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports) /

Michigan basketball is off to a tough start to Big Ten playing after losing to Rutgers on Tuesday night. Now, their NCAA Tournament hopes are in jeopardy.

Juwan Howard, who is in his third season as the head coach for Michigan basketball, is on the cusp of missing the NCAA Tournament despite having one of the most talented rosters in the country.

In year one of the Howard era, the season was cut short due to COVID-19, so there was no NCAA Tournament that season. Last season, in year two, Michigan made a run to the elite eight before falling to a talented UCLA team.

But now, in year three, after bringing in the third-ranked 2021 recruiting class in the country (the next Big Ten team was 12th (Michigan State)), the Wolverines are 1-2 in Big Ten play so far, only beating the worst team in the conference, Nebraska.

They lost to Rutgers for the first time in school history on Tuesday night. I know they were missing five players, but none were starters. I also know it is hard to win on the road in the Big Ten, but Michigan will have to find a way to do so if they want any chance to turn this season around.

Michigan basketball might not make the NCAA Tournament

With only Big Ten games remaining on the schedule, the Wolverines are 7-6 after thinking they could be the #1 team in the country. Of the 17 games remaining, Michigan plays seven games against current AP Top 25 teams. Of the seven games, four games are on the road.

I was told earlier this season, “the Big Ten isn’t kind to teams figuring it out.” That statement is exactly right; the Big Ten conference, when it comes to basketball, is one of, if not the toughest conference in the country. From top to bottom, every team is capable of beating on another, with the exception of Nebraska.

A .500 team, or even a team with two or three wins over .500, will not make the NCAA Tournament. With such a record, Michigan wouldn’t have a top seed in the Big Ten Tournament, making their road even harder to get the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

If the Maize and Blue want to find their way into March Madness, they need to turn in around quickly. There is plenty of time to do so with two full months of basketball left, but as I said before, the Big Ten isn’t the best conference to play in when you’re trying to figure it out.

The Wolverines are struggling on both ends of the floor. Offensively, they can’t get into a rhythm which leads them to force the ball into places it shouldn’t be going. The Wolverines consistently turn the ball over.

As far as the other end of the floor goes, the biggest thing I have seen is that Michigan allows teams to get hot from three. They have given up a lot of three-pointers over the last couple of games, and when your offense is struggling, that is something that can’t happen.

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Michigan has an ample opportunity to get back on track on Saturday afternoon as they host #10 Michigan State. Tip-off is set for 2:30 pm on FOX. If the Wolverines can pull out an upset win, they might find a path back to making the NCAA Tournament.