A week ago, Michigan basketball looked to be in dire position and teetering on the brink of a second straight disappointing season. The Wolverines had lost four of five games to end the season, and had just been blown out by Iowa to set up a must-win run in the Big Ten Tournament.
But after attaining two wins, surviving the bubble and securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the outlook has improved.
“I looked at this this thing because I know we had been to such heights before and everybody was down and I said ‘You know what, just given the injuries and the NBA attrition, were just sort of going back up again.’ ” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “We’re not going in the wrong direction, we’re going back up again after last season we had 16 wins, we’re going up to 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 wins, we’re going back up.”
Though the 22 wins look tame compared to Michigan’s 31 and 28 in 2013 and 2014, the figure does stand tall in the context of Michigan’s history. The figure already puts this season’s team as the 20th-best in the program’s 100-year history.
And for a team that lost both of its seniors to injuries, the rise means a little more.
“It’s all good for us,” Beilein said. “Just good for us overall for our kids’ psyche and for our fans to just feel good about the future. These kids are getting better, we’ve got everybody coming back next year that was playing at the end of the year and we’re moving in the right direction.”
Leaked bracket generates whispers, confirmed by TV show
After CBS opted to expand its Selection Sunday show to two hours, many on social media vented frustrations over the elongated and unnecessary coverage.
But less than midway through the show, a tweet surfaced claiming to be an early release of the final bracket. Though no one confirmed its validity until after the show, every pick was right through two regions.
Michigan wasn’t blind to the tweet, and was happy to see it had made it in as an 11-seed, playing Tulsa in Dayton for the opportunity to move on to Brooklyn to face Notre Dame.
“Obviously, it was nice to see the (leaked) bracket hadn’t been wrong yet,” said Zak Irvin. “There were nerves going all throughout the room.
“It kind of helped when we saw the leaked bracket. That kind of calmed the nerves.”
Added Derrick Walton Jr. : “I think it built up the suspense and made the verdict a lot more exciting. It gave guys some suspense. Hearts were pounding. Guys were getting real antsy, walking around and stuff.”
Players said that junior guard Andrew Dakich was the first to find it, and as the show carried on, and the picks proved to be true, the whispers grew louder.
But it still wasn’t official.
“I didn’t believe it,” Walton said. “I don’t believe stuff like that until I actually see it. I’m a visual guy, I need visual proof.”
And of course, the rumors were limited to the players. Beilein, who admitted he was less attached to his phone than his players, was left in the dark until it was revealed on TV.
“Oh no, no,” Derrick Walton Jr. said of telling his coach. “I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t want to know. He’s a guy he just kind of stared at the screen like everybody else. But I know I wouldn’t have told him…. Once I saw it I kind of stayed to myself and whispered to Caris (LeVert.)”
Chatman gets nervous
According to Walton, the most nervous player throughout the Sunday show was sophomore forward Kam Chatman.
The forward showcased ice in his veins when he hit the game-winning shot in the final seconds of a critical win over No. 10 Indiana on Friday, but apparently couldn’t eat or drink as the anticipation built up.
But when Michigan’s name appeared on the screen, its hero was the first to be congratulated.
“Everybody almost tackled him,” Walton said. “His shot still means something for the season.”
Added Beilein: “I went right to him and I said ‘We don’t get in without that shot.’ ”
In addition to being the center of celebration, Chatman also received praise from his coach for his performance overall on the weekend. He was able to provide much-needed relief for Duncan Robinson and Irvin, providing quick buckets, key rebounds and defensive stops off the bench.
“He’ll be in there for us,” Beilein said when previewing the matchup in Dayton. “Everybody knows what that shot meant. To beat Indiana in a very unfriendly environment … He’s so well-liked on this team, and that’s what makes this all so special too.