Edson: Why Wolverines Can Win the NCAA Hoops Tourney
When you start to fill out your NCAA basketball tournament bracket next week, keep a close eye on these teams: Michigan, Xavier, Duke, Villanova and Florida State.
But take an extra second to look over the credentials of the Michigan Wolverines, winners of the Big Ten tournament for the second straight season on Sunday.
When the Wolverines dominated Purdue 75-66 in the championship game, there was a different feel about this year’s team.
Yes, it was done in New York’s classic Madison Square Garden. But the special feel had to do with one word: Defense.
Coach John Beilein’s team has always been able to shoot the ball. Now they can defend.
They proved that this past weekend with convincing wins over Michigan State and the Boilermakers.
This is a team on a roll. They are playing with confidence and maturity on both ends of the court.
So what could stop them from making a long run in the NCAA tournament? Only themselves.
One thing that will hurt is the long layoff between the end of the Big Ten tournament and the start of the NCAA tournament. It will either be 11 or 12 days before the Wolverines play again.
The reason? The Big Ten was so intent on having the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden it moved up the games one week. The Garden is spoken for this week.
So that leaves U-M heading back to its practice facility. Does waiting around that long make a difference?
Well, just ask the Detroit Tigers. They were on a roll in the 2006 baseball playoffs and the hottest team in baseball after steamrolling the New York Yankees and Oakland A’s. Then came a long layoff as the St. Louis Cardinals eventually won the National League pennant. The Tigers lost their sharpness and eventually the World Series.
The same could happen to Michigan. But here is why it probably won’t: Defense.
So there is a theme to this Michigan team. It’s not strictly the offensive contributions of stars like Moritz Wagner or Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. It’s not the great bench help from backup sophomore center Jon Teske, who went toe-to-toe with Purdue star Isaac Haas on Sunday.
The one consistent is defense. It never takes the night off or has slumps.
That’s why if Michigan brings its tough-nosed defense to the NCAA tournament it will be tough to beat.
The only other factor the Wolverines have to avoid is over-confidence, especially early in the NCAA tourney.
There are no doormats in the tournament.
In fact, it will be interesting to see how Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team answers the call in the NCAA tournament.
No one would be surprised if the Spartans got on their customary March Madness roll and made a great run.
But now Wolverine and Spartan fans will have to wait another week for the tournament to start.
Sometimes that’s the toughest part of all.
Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.