Now that Michigan has finally made it back to the second week of the NCAA competition, Coach John Beilein will admit that, yes, this was a kind of important step for the Wolverines.
”We were really proud that we could get the team to the NCAA tournament in 2009 and get back there in ‘11. That only can go so far,” Beilein said. ”You’ve got to keep improving. To get past this point was good for our program.”
Before the tournament, Beilein expounded Michigan would keep progressing no matter what happened. The Wolverines play several freshmen and have been recruiting well in recent years.
But for a team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation earlier this season, another early exit from this tournament would have been jarring.
Instead, Michigan (28-7) is in the round of 16 for the 1st time since 1994, set to take on Kansas on Friday in Arlington, Texas, at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Last year, Michigan lost their NCAA tournament opener to 13th-seeded Ohio. It had been a sour way to finish a season in which Wolverines tied for its first Big 10 title since 1986, but when Burke decided to stay in school after considering an NBA jump, expectations were high for 2012-13.
The Michigan earned their first No. One ranking since the Fab 5 era, but after a 20-1 start, Wolverines stumbled a bit down the stretch in an extremely competitive Gigantic 10. Beilein never showed any public evidence of panic, stressing the fact that his team was younger and needed positive reinforcement.
Michigan slid all of the way to a No. 4 seed, but the Michigan Wolverines looked assured in their first 2 NCAA tournament games, dispatching South Dakota State 71-56 and then routing Virginia Commonwealth 78-53.
That 2nd matchup was a true head turner. VCU won its tournament opener by 46, and its aggressive full-court press was meant to be especially hard to make preparations for in a short period of time. Michigan barely looked bothered, playing a brilliant all around game in front of an appreciative home-state crowd in Auburn Hills.
”We know we’ve got to be poised and we’ve got to make smart plays while we’re out there,” guard Tim Hardaway Jr. Announced. ”But Coach Beilein always trusts us to just go out there and have fun, and if you carry on doing that, then we are going a long way.”
Michigan’s ability to take care of the ball was crucial against VCU, but Kansas (31-5) doesn’t need to persuade a large amount of turnovers to play good defense. With Jeff Withey patrolling the area around the basket for the Jayhawks, the Wolverines may have to be sharp from the perimeter. NFL spreads
Naturally, the fact that Michigan is playing in a giant venue like this is a signal that the stakes are growing. Beilein has advanced this far in the NCAA contest before – twice with West Virginia – but this is the Wolverines’ first appearance in the regional semifinals since he took over as their coach.