Monday, February 01, 2010

I'm sayin' there's a chance

The Michigan basketball team has disappointed more over the last decade than Detroit Lions draft picks and that’s no small feat. After starting the season ranked in the top 15, the Wolverines sit at #124 in the RPI just behind Fairfield and just ahead of Long Beach State. The excitement generated by Michigan’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years combined with the return of its top five scorers from last season was expected to yield something much more lucrative than the 11-10 record it currently boasts. It’s not that Michigan hasn’t been competitive. Six of its 10 losses have come by six points or fewer including a one-point loss to Michigan State. Michigan only has its self to blame, however. There is little excuse for a team as talented and experienced as Michigan to lose to Alabama, Indiana, and Northwestern. Even its home loss to Boston College was inexcusable for a team that was picked to challenge for the Big Ten Championship. With just two wins over the RPI 100, Michigan is quickly nearing the end of the runway for a safe takeoff into the NCAA Tournament field. Just one win in its recent three-game stretch against Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan State would’ve put Michigan on a much more manageable performance plan to close out the season. Instead, it dropped all three games setting up a slew of must-win games over the next five weeks.

The good news for Michigan is that its remaining schedule is far from brutal. That bad news is that there is literally no margin for error. It would be crazy to assume that Michigan is going to walk into Columbus (with Evan Turner present) and East Lansing during the last week of the Big Ten regular season and pick up W’s. It’s even crazier to think that “M” will win four games in four days in Indianapolis to win the Big Ten Tournament. That means that, for all intents and sanity, Michigan is already sitting at 13 losses. Michigan would need to win all eight of its other games—including a first round win in the BTT— just to get to 19-13. With that record, it would likely boast seven wins over the RPI 100 with an RPI hovering around the top 60. Considering how well Michigan would have to play just to get to 19-13—it would need to go 8-3 to close out the season—that might be enough to snag an at-large bid. Anything worse than that doesn’t even merit serious discussion. Michigan will not receive an at-large bid with an 18-14 record. So, a team that stands below .500 in the Big Ten after nine conference games has to win six in a row including three on the road just to get into the discussion for an NCAA at-large bid. So, I’m saying there’s a chance!

Based on my totally arbitrary odds for Michigan’s next six games, the chances of winning all six is 2.25%. As if that isn’t unrealistic enough, Michigan would then need to beat Minnesota at home between its brutal end-of-season matchups with Ohio State and Michigan State. Given a 60/40 chance of beating Minnesota, Michigan’s odds of securing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament are a robust 1.35%. Michigan looks to be destined for a 6th or 7th seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That means that it would theoretically need to beat the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st seed in successive days to win the tournament. The odds of that—according to me— are 2.4%. Throw in the 60/40 first round matchup and Michigan’s odds of winning the Big Ten Tournament come in at a stout 1.44%. So, if you’re still holding out hope that Michigan will make the NCAA Tournament, don’t even worry about anything between now and March 11th because Michigan’s best chance at making the tournament is via the Big Ten Tournament by a tally of 1.44% to 1.35%*. I don’t know about you but I’m putting together my itinerary for Indianapolis right now!

*The odds are slightly higher for both scenarios simply because of the unlikely—but still possible—outcomes in which a) Michigan wins in Columbus or E. Lansing and b) one or more of the top three seeds get upset in the BTT creating more favorable paths to the Big Ten Championship game.

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