After a pair of bitter overtime losses to end the regular season, Michigan will take the floor Thursday inside the United Center with its NCAA Tournament fate on the line. Win against Rutgers, and the Wolverines live to see another day. Lose and Michigan will miss the Big Dance for the first time since 2015.
When asked if he dwells on the larger implications, Juwan Howard maintained that he doesn’t.
“I haven’t even thought about the NCAA Tournament,” Howard said. “All we’re focusing on is the Big Ten Tournament. Looking forward to having a great practice today.
“… I focus on one game. The message will be Rutgers. That’s all the focus will be — Rutgers.”
The matchup is slightly ironic, considering that Michigan’s best win of the season occurred at Jersey Mike’s Arena, a convincing 58-45 win over the Scarlet Knights on Feb. 23. That game helped spur a late-season surge that vaulted Michigan back onto the bubble.
Howard remembers being most impressed by his team’s defense, which held Rutgers to a meager 38% clip from the field.
“We just wanted to make every possession not easy for them,” Howard said. “… Our guys wanted to make them work for every bucket. We did a really good job of holding them to one-shot opportunities. Overall, every shot was contested.”