Michigan hopeful for NIT berth; John Beilein calls tournament a ‘great experience’

Alejandro Zúñiga

CHICAGO, Ill. — Michigan doesn’t want to be done quite yet.

Following the Wolverines’ 71-60 loss to Wisconsin in the third round of the Big Ten tournament, players and coaches alike expressed their desire to continue their season by earning an at-large bid to the NIT.

Michigan is squarely on the NIT bubble, and there isn’t much precedent for a .500 team to earn an invitation, but John Beilein said he hopes the committee looks beyond the 16-16 record.

“I expect that the NCAA and the NIT will be very fair, and they will pick the right 32 teams,” he said. “I think if people look beneath the record and understand what we went through, we’re a very good team. They do a great job. I have great faith in them that they’ll pick the right teams.”

The requirement of a better than .500 record to make the NIT was removed when the NCAA took over organization of the tournament, but no .500 teams have been selected into the field. Michigan’s RPI (77), strength of schedule (7) and even conference record (8-10) could be positives in an argument for making the field, but it would be unprecedented.

Auto-bids also complicate the NIT selection process as mid-major teams that earn No. 1 seeds in their conference tournaments are guaranteed bids in the NIT if they lose in the tournament. There have already been seven auto-bids handed out in the 32 team field.

The NIT Selection Show is Sunday at 8:30 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU. If the Wolverines were to make the tournament, they would play a first-round game on Tuesday or Wednesday (March 17th or 18th). The NIT Championship is April 2 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“That would be good for us to do, to see if we can experience winning,” Beilein said. “The NIT now, it is difficult to win in that. You’re going to go on the road, there’s going to be very difficult teams. Teams like us. If we’re playing a possible Final Four team [in Wisconsin] to a single-digit game where anybody could win with five minutes to go, look what’s out there. It would be a great experience.”

The last time one of Beilein’s team played in the NIT, during his final year at West Virginia, they won the tournament. An experience that Beilein credited toward that team’s improvement and subsequent Final Four run with Bob Huggins.

Michigan’s players agreed the team has improved enough lately to be worthy of an NIT berth.

“I want to play,” Spike Albrecht said. “First of all, I just love playing with this group of guys, and I think we deserve a chance to keep playing. Especially now, when we’re starting to hit our stride a little bit. I just wish the season was 10 more games, or something like that.”

Beilein said the program has submitted a request to host an NIT game. The coach previously announced that he’d turn down invitations to the CBI or CIT.

  • KG

    They are playing well enough to do some damage if they are selected, but I don’t see it happening

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      Great news. Its good to see predictions of us in at least.

      I think if you look beyond the record a bit, we are deserving. If the NIT wants the best 32 teams it can get, we are one of those 32 teams.

      If they focus solely on numbers and not take a subjective view, then we are on the very edge of in/out.

    • scipiodreams80

      There’s a lot of nail biting to do then, if you care about us getting a bid (I do).

      Here are the teams to root for/top seeds, along with the time of their next game:

      America East: Albany, Sat. 11am
      Big Sky: Montana, Fri. 10 pm
      C-USA: La Tech, Fri. 6:30 pm
      MEAC: NC Central, Fri. 6 pm
      MAC: Central Michigan, Fri. 6:30 pm
      MWC: Boise State is probably in no matter what
      Southland: Stephen F Austin, Fri. 6 pm
      Sunbelt: Georgia State, Sat. ?
      SWAC: Texas Southern, Fri. 9:30 pm
      WAC: New Mexico State, Fri. 9 pm

      I think that’s the list. Basically, we have to dodge a bunch of bullets starting in ten minutes.

      I thought you were very premature in dismissing our NIT chances, but looking at this list, there’s a lot of walking through the rain without getting wet.

      • Bad news… La Tech lost, NC Central lost.

        • UC Davis is another I believe. Per NY Buckets, they are up to 10 — the average per year. Still five teams left.

          • scipiodreams80

            Yes, exactly. Apologies for missing UC Davis wrt my list – my tired brain somehow passed over the Big West when I was toggling between conference tournaments on ESPN.com.

            As you note, we’re at the average according to NY Buckets, so, to those who are already giving up, I’d say not so fast. We need the 6 remaining top seeds to get it right (Texas So. clinched its bid already) – we need a much better day, with pretty much no bobbles. I count 6 – not sure where he sees 5.

            Tennessee losing was good for us, as was UTEP’s loss, as was Oregon winning and really making that look like a strong win. I think people are underrating how attractive we are as a candidate. If, by some chance, the team gets to New York, there’s hardly another fanbase with this strong a New York presence.

            The LA Tech loss was excruciating (and NCCU blew a lead late). The LA Tech coach is supposed to have a promising future, but that team blew it in so many ways. They kept hoisting threes when it was apparent that was the *only* thing that wasn’t working and their last shot with the shot clock essentially turned off was a total fiasco. Maybe the tourney committee will at last take pity on La Tech and let them in after blowing yet another 1 seed – and take one more auto-bid out of the picture.

  • A2JD

    If they play like they’ve done in the last week or so, I could easily see them winning the NIT.