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.