ANN ARBOR — The Michigan Wolverines can rest easy this week.
Michigan players celebrate after beating Purdue 75-66 to win the NCAA Big Ten Conference tournament championship college basketball game, Sunday, March 4, 2018, in New York.
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Their spot in the NCAA tournament is secured, thanks to a Big Ten Tournament championship. And after playing four games in as many days, they literally need rest.
The only remaining question is, where will UM play next week in the NCAA tournament?
“If they’re a 4 [seed], they’re probably going out west,” CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm said. “If they’re a 3, it depends where the teams ahead of them are.”
There are three first and second-round sites within driving distance of Ann Arbor. Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena is just 43 miles from Crisler Center, Pittsburgh is 284 miles, and Nashville is an eight-hour drive. But the Midwest and East are loaded with highly-ranked teams, meaning someone will be left out.
Each tournament site will have two higher-seeded teams. second-ranked Villanova (27-4) is a lock for Pittsburgh, experts believe No. 4 Michigan State (29-4) is a near certainty for Detroit, and No. 3 Xavier (27-4), No. 8 Cincinnati (27-4), and No. 10 Purdue (28-6) should also occupy spots in the aforementioned cities. The Bearcats’ performance in the American Athletic Conference Tournament will have the biggest impact on Michigan this weekend.
“Cincinnati losing early could impact Michigan positively,” Palm said. “It’s more likely they go to a 3 than go to a 5. But all these teams around them are still going to play. So who really knows how it’s going to shake out?”
Palm currently projects Michigan as a No. 4 seed in San Diego. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has UM as a 3 seed in Wichita.
The distance between the city of Cincinnati, where Xavier and UC are located, and Nashville is equidistant from Detroit. Detroit is only 60 miles closer to West Lafayette, Ind., home of Purdue, than Nashville. One caveat is the No. 1 overall seed is allowed to pick which site it’s placed. If Xavier is the top seed, it could pick Detroit and effectively shut out Michigan.
The Wolverines (28-7) are currently ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25. The polls are not part of the selection committee’s criteria, though Palm said there’s reasonable correlation. When the committee released its top 16 in February, it sent a clear message to Michigan State that the Spartans’ nonconference schedule was thoroughly unimpressive — they were ranked 11th.
Michigan is ranked 13th in the RPI, two spots ahead of Michigan State. Villanova, Xavier, Cincinnati, and Purdue are all ranked in front of the Wolverines, who have six Quadrant 1 wins. (Quadrant 1 wins are home games vs. teams RPI ranked 1 through 30, neutral games vs. 1-50, and away games vs. 1-75.)
North Carolina leads the country with 11 Quadrant 1 wins. Villanova has eight, Xavier and Purdue have six, Cincinnati has five, and Michigan State has three.
“If Michigan gets seeded behind both Purdue and Michigan State, [they probably won’t be close to home],” Palm said. “It wouldn't be the biggest surprise in the world if they got seeded ahead of Michigan State. It would be surprising if they were ahead of Purdue. It would be an overration to seed them ahead of Michigan State. Even as a 3, they might end up in Dallas, Charlotte, or Wichita.”
Because the Big Ten moved its conference tournament up one week, Michigan will have a 10 or 11-day layoff, depending on when it plays its first-round game. It’s a situation coach John Beilein isn’t entirely unfamiliar with. During coaching stints at Canisius and Richmond, his teams had similar gaps before NCAA tournament appearances.
“I can remember the teams playing Wiffle ball one day,” Beilein said. “I took the team fishing one time. Just anything to change things up.”
Perhaps the Wolverines can run the bases at Comerica Park if downtown Detroit is in their future.
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