Michigan basketball undecided on NIT berth, postseason goals after ...
CHICAGO — The Michigan men’s basketball team almost certainly saw its NCAA Tournament hopes end with a loss to Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday afternoon.
As the hours count down to Selection Sunday, though, the Wolverines’ season is not necessarily over. The team should earn an invitation to the NIT, which begins March 14 with games on campus sites. But there’s precedent for teams — particularly larger programs whose goals included deep NCAA Tournament runs — to decline NIT invitations.
Michigan, which has become among the nation’s most successful teams in March, has a decision to make — and they haven't made it yet. Players and coaches say they’ll discuss as a program once they return to Ann Arbor from Chicago.
“Yes, they want to continue to keep playing. I want to see them playing, and I want to be out there coaching them in the postseason,” U-M coach Juwan Howard said following the loss to the Scarlet Knights.
“We’ll go back home. We'll talk about what's the plan for the future, and we'll go from there.”
Pressed on U-M’s postseason plans, Howard answered: “I just said it: We’ll talk about it when we get home.”
The Wolverines are 17-15 overall, and they went 11-9 in the Big Ten before dropping their Big Ten Tournament opener to the Scarlet Knights.
After leading for most of the first half and taking a three-point advantage into the break, U-M made only one of its first 17 field goal attempts in the second half. While Rutgers didn’t light things up offensively, their 51.9% field goal clip in the closing 20 minutes was more than enough to build a double-digit advantage.
Hunter Dickinson led all scorers with 24 points, and he made half of U-M’s four field goals after halftime. Bufkin added nine points, seven rebounds and five assists, but his seven turnovers encapsulated a difficult day for the Wolverines.
“We talked about in the locker room that we'll wait until we get back to talk about it as a group,” Dickinson said of Michigan's postseason aspirations.
The Wolverines have made five consecutive Sweet Sixteens, and until Thursday afternoon, that standard remained in play. While an NIT bid would be a disappointment contrasted to Michigan’s preseason aspirations, Juwan Howard has spoken throughout the year about his team’s youth and its growth through game competition.
“I'm just so proud, and I'll say it again, of how our guys competed all year,” Howard said Thursday. “Yes, we have a young team, but we did not make excuses. That's how you grow, by getting the opportunity. We've had four freshmen that start, Kobe being one of those four freshmen because he didn't play last year. We also have Tarris Reed, who's another freshman that comes off the bench, and he gets a lot of minutes as well. This is a growing opportunity for our young men, and I think they grew up a lot this year.”
The 68-team field for the NCAA Tournament will be released Sunday at 6 p.m., and the NIT bracket will be announced later that evening.