BROOKLYN — Put your season on the line at 9:15 p.m. in the NCAA Tournament play-in game, win that game by 11:00, fly out of Dayton at 12:30 a.m., touch down in Brooklyn by 2:30 a.m., make it to your hotel room by 3:30 a.m., asleep by 4:00 a.m., wake up and get ready for the day at noon, eat lunch by 1:00 p.m., learn everything you can about Notre Dame by 4:00 p.m., eat dinner, get to the Barclays Center for media interviews at 6:00 p.m., open practice at 6:40 p.m., then breathe.
You have another game tomorrow, after all.
After a late-night win Wednesday and traveling to another city the same night, Michigan is once again preparing for a tough opponent on short notice. This time its No. 6 seeded Notre Dame, a group which boasts the 10th best offense in the country.
But at this point, quick turnarounds are becoming the Wolverines’ specialty.
“We’re getting used to it now at this point,” said junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. . “We don’t have a lot of time to prepare, but we do as best as possible, and I think we do a good job.”
For the most part, Walton’s analysis is fair. Last Thursday, Michigan was 20-11 facing a likely date with the NIT. Today it’s 23-12 and readying for its second game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
The Wolverines succeeded when they played three games in three days in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament, and are now looking to replicate that in Brooklyn.
“These last few games, we’ve been playing well on short notice,” said sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. “I think it’s commemorative to our team and what we can accomplish.”
Though it was still learning about the Fighting Irish on Thursday afternoon, Michigan felt comfortable in what it had learned so far. Both teams run four-guard sets, have high-performing offenses and have shown lapses defensively.
It isn’t the traditional two or three-day gameplan that the regular season allows, but until proven otherwise, it gets the job done for the Wolverines.
“It’s a unique challenge for us, and luckily we’ve been successful at it so far,” said redshirt-sophomore forward Duncan Robinson, referring to Michigan’s 2-1 runs in the Big Ten Tournament and in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas Nov. 26-29. “The coaches do a great job with all the pregame stuff and it’s pretty comprehensive, but as (Michigan assistant Bacari Alexander) puts it, it’s the meat and potatoes mostly.”
In addition to the meat-and-potatoes scouting report, the Wolverines also felt they were advantaged by having already played a game. Nerves, rust and any other mental obstacles were sorted out Wednesday, and Michigan is aiming to enter Friday’s matchup ready to simply play basketball.
“In a short prep, whether it’s one or two days, you’ve just got to go play this time of year,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, who decided to cancel a lengthier practice today to give his team their latest wake-up call ever.
For the fifth time in eight days, the Wolverines will tip off against Notre Dame Friday with their season on the line. And for the fifth time in eight days, Michigan won’t care about how tired or unprepared it is.
“It helped that we had the game under us, we’re used to the floor and we’re kind of in a game mindset,” said junior forward Mark Donnal. “I think the same thing applies to this upcoming game: We played yesterday, we’re ready to go.”
Rival reunion … sort of
Though hardly as well-known on the hardwood, Michigan’s matchup against Notre Dame does reunite two athletic powerhouses. Both programs are among the greatest programs all-time in football, but had a longstanding rivalry cut short when the Fighting Irish joined the Atlantic Coast Conference. Since the rivalry ended, the programs have yet to face off in any big-four sport. That separation will end Friday.
“I have a lot of respect for Notre Dame and the institution itself and the athletic teams that they have,” Beilein said. “So football’s been a great rivalry for years. Maybe it will be again. But I think if (Notre Dame coach Mike Brey) and I, if we didn’t have schedules that were so fixed right now, it would be a great game in basketball as well. It probably will be in the ACC-Big Ten challenge at some point.”
Though Michigan players downplayed the significance of the rivalry matchup in basketball Thursday, Beilein sees plenty of parallels between the programs.
“It’s two great schools,” se said. “They have a lot of Midwest kids, we have a lot of Midwest kids. They’ve all played against each other. I think those rivalries probably were formed way before anybody thought it would be a Notre Dame-Michigan game. It might have been eighth grade they played against each other.
“So it’s a great basketball game. I know that there will be a lot of people tuned in.”
Grad transfers still an issue to Beilein
Though Thursday was primarily focused on Michigan’s NCAA Tournament hopes, Beilein didn’t hold back when asked about graduate transfers. The rule is that college basketball players can transfer wherever they want for their fifth and final year of eligibility if they have graduated and redshirted at some point in their first four years.
“I think we’re in a dangerous area there where you have the graduate transfer, and then where he can go afterwards and things like that, like we actually have one in our league,” Beilein said. “Those are difficult things, I think, that we have to look at in the future, and what is the real purpose that have? Is that young man going there just to play basketball? Is he going there to get his Masters degree? How many are getting their Masters degrees? There’s got to be some legitimacy to that rather than just another year of eligibility.”
The one Big Ten graduate transfer, of course, is former Wolverine Max Bielfeldt. Now at Indiana, Bielfeldt averaged 8.0 points and 4.5 rebounds per game his senior season, earning the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Though Bielfeldt’s departure was in large part Beilein’s decision, Michigan’s coach didn’t like that his former player was able to join a rival opponent for his fifth season.
“There’s a reason a guy has a fifth year, that somewhere during that year he was injured, he had doctors, he had trainers, he had people looking after him at his home school,” Beilein said. “And now he’s going to take everything they did to another school, right? That’s not necessarily fair to anybody. Or fair to the home school that did all that work, the coaches that worked with them.”