What They’re Saying: National writers weigh in on Michigan’s NCAA Tournament chances

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan is in the NCAA Tournament, but will have to play its way into the real party. The Wolverines are matched up with Tulsa in a First Four battle in Dayton on Wednesday night for a chance to play Notre Dame on Friday night.

Here are some highlights from around the national media about Michigan’s NCAA Tournament draw and chances.

At least one national personality likes the Wolverines as an upset candidate. Jay Bilas filled out his bracket live on ESPN and named Michigan as his upset pick to knock off Tulsa and Notre Dame.

ESPN calls both Michigan and Tulsa big winners on Selection Sunday.

No one should be happier than Tulsa coach Frank Haith. He escaped an investigation a prior coaching stop, Miami, because of a technicality and then bolted from his former post at Missouri for Tulsa amid speculation he was going to be fired. There were 59 people who submitted mock brackets onBracket Matrix — and not a single one predicted Tulsa to get into the field. The Golden Hurricane, who finished 20-11 and 12-6 in the American, will play Michigan in the First Four on Wednesday.

The Wolverines were just 11-9 without star Caris LeVert in the lineup. LeVert is done for the season and won’t return in the NCAA tournament. John Beilein’s team got an 11-seed and will face Tulsa in Dayton.

Myron Medcalf calls Michigan the dark horse of the East region:

Michigan: If the selection committee had excluded Michigan from the field, few outside the program’s fan base would have complained. The Wolverines went 4-12 against the RPI’s top 100 and suffered a 17-point loss to Purdue in the Big Ten tournament. Now, the Wolverines must win a First Four matchup against Tulsa to earn the right to face Notre Dame in the first round. But let’s say the Michigan team that beat Maryland, Purdue, Indiana and Texas shows up. No reason to believe that right now. But if a Michigan team that shoots 38.4 percent from the 3-point line gets hot, it’s not crazy to think that John Beilein’s squad could be the author of multiple upsets.

Five Thirty Eight published an interactive bracket with their calculated odds by round, giving Michigan a 19% chance of reaching the second round.


Here’s a similar analysis from KenPom which gives Michigan a slightly better chance of advancing and a 1 in 3306 chance of winning the whole thing.


Michigan was two spots away from avoiding Dayton, according to the NCAA’s official seed list. The Wolverines are seeded No. 42 and would have had to pass Vanderbilt (41) and VCU (40) to escape the First Four. Tulsa (45) was the last at-large included in the field.

ESPN’s Giant Killers model actually would favor Michigan against Notre Dame.

1. Notre Dame (6) vs. Michigan (11) 56.5 percent

Yup, you’re reading that correctly: If the Wolverines advance past Tulsa, our model actually favors them to beat Notre Dame. The Irish can’t guard anyone (172nd in adjusted defensive efficiency), while Michigan can light it up from 3-point range (44.5 percent of their field goal attempts).

Sports on Earth also tabs the Michigan-Tulsa winner as the 8th most-likely upset:

8. (11) Michigan/Tulsa vs. (6) Notre Dame
Friday, Brooklyn

Michigan sneaked into the field without injured star Caris LeVert thanks to a buzzer-beater to knock outIndiana in the Big Ten tournament. Tulsa may be the most controversial team in the field, with a 20-11 record and an early AAC tournament exit at the hands of Memphis. Michigan has wins over Maryland, Indiana, Texas and Purdue. Tulsa has wins over UConn, Wichita State, Temple, SMU and Iona. Both of these teams are in the 50s in the KenPom ratings, and whoever wins in Dayton will draw a Notre Dame squad that is among the nation’s best on offense but is highly beatable on the defensive end, making it look like a boom-or-bust NCAA tournament team.

CBS re-ranked the teams in the field and slotted Michigan at No. 37 and Tulsa at No. 50. They also gathered every coach in the NCAA Tournament’s favorite band or musician, John Beilein went with Marvin Gaye.

The coach who had to be the most shocked to be in this field, Frank Haith at Tulsa, is all about that Cooleyhighharmony life, too. Haith is a big Boyz II Men guy.

Haith will go up against John Beilein in the First Four on Wednesday. How about this from Beilein: He’s a huge Marvin Gaye fan. You’ll never look at him the same way again.

These guys are about more than just hoops. In truth, 75 to 80 percent of them loved getting a chance to just talk tunes. Beilein was happily scrolling through his phone trying decide who he wanted to pick after being talked off going with a country artist.

Mike DeCourcy rags on Tulsa and picks West Virginia as the most likely upset of the East region. That sequence of events would require Michigan to pull off one upset and two wins over double-digit seeds to make the Sweet 16 — but is still a long ways off.

Seeded too high: No. 11 Tulsa. Because they’re here.

Upset special: No. 14 Stephen F. Austin over No. 3 West Virginia. The Lumberjacks went 18-0 in their conference. Yes, it’s not the Big 12, but neither was it the Atlantic 10 (77-75 overtime win over VCU in 2014) or Pac-12 (57-50 loss to Utah in 2015). SFA knows how to play in this event.

Only five teams have a shorter commute to their opening round game, but I’m sure Michigan would rather be in an open practice somewhere further away on Wednesday than playing in the First Four. Tulsa will travel 752 miles to Dayton.

Find more interesting material about Michigan in the NCAA Tournament? Share more links in the comments section below.

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  • bobohle

    You guys were discussing whether the committee would intentionally match certain teams to hype interest and ratings. If Michigan gets by Tulsa and Notre Dame they would probably have to face West Va. the next game.

    • MAZS

      I’m pretty sure that would be more of a coincidence. I seriously doubt the Committee cares about a UM-WVa matchup—particularly as Beilein didn’t leave under angry circumstances. Most of the country wouldn’t even make the connection.

  • A2MIKE

    The theme of the tournament is natural geographic rivals that for one reason or another don’t play regularly. Indiana/Kentucky, Michigan/Notre Dame, Texas/Texas A&M, Villanova/Temple, Duke/UNC-Wilmington. They can’t argue that this is by accident.

    • They probably would argue that many of those are setup due to geographic considerations in bracketing.

      • A2MIKE

        Oh I am sure as well, but not buying it.

    • rlcBlue

      Nice observation, but Villanova and Temple play every year; the Philadelphia Big 5 series was revived in 1999 after an incomprehensible seven year hiatus.

  • Mattski

    The pressure is off, and I see a nice likelihood that we play well, and beat Tulsa and ND to get into the second round. Exhaustion kept our 3-point rate low in game after game down the stretch, but with the treys connecting we’d have been in almost all our games. How’s that for optimism?

  • jemblue

    Interesting that Stephen F. Austin has better odds of reaching the Final Four than ND, per Kenpom.

  • Stephen Chang

    It will be interesting to see how Beilein will prepare his team for this tourney, many people believe that their run will end in the round of 32 or 64. I disagree, this is March for goodness sake, anything can happen. A lot of people are talking about North Carolina, Kentucky, Xavier, ND, etc in Michigan’s region, but they are writing off Michigan because they don’t have a lot of size inside and live and die by the 3. Five years ago, VCU went to the Final Four as a 11th seed and they finished that year with a record of 28-12. If VCU made history as an 11th seed, Michigan can do the same. Michigan may not have a lot of size in their frontcourt and they struggle to rebound and defend the paint, but they are a resilient group even with no Levert or Albrecht. This is a bold prediction from me, I predict that Michigan will surprise people in this tourney.

    • bobohle

      I agree. It’s just that first rounder against Ohio U the year before we went to the final four is a bad memory for a lot of us. The best thing was we ended up with Levert because Illinois hired Groce who has not beaten Michigan since.

      • Stephen Chang

        That is true! I remember watching that game against Ohio U and wonder what happened and it left a sour taste in my mouth. But, everything worked out in the end and so far, like you said, Groce has not beaten Michigan. That was also the year that Duke and Missouri was send home.

  • gobluemd16

    This doesn’t have to do with this thread per se, but I just re-watched the second half of the IU game. Zak took some terrible and quick shots down the stretch. He made the nice pass on Duncan’s three on our second to last possession, but I think I’d prefer the ball primarily in MAAR or Walton’s hands at the end of games.

    • Carl

      Agreed.. Irving has been a lot better than people are giving him credit for though. He’s been pretty good defensively and knocked down big shots. I can tell he’s getting healthier and could be a big factor for this team to make a run.

  • Coltrane

    It seems the last few games that Beilein is starting to get a good feel for this team, some confidence in what they can and can’t do along with knowing how he can use those strengths in a game plan. To me that’s been missing most of the season. I don’t think he can overcome Robinson’s continued shooting struggles or Walton and Irvin taking turns to have a good game though. They need MAAR to be MAAR plus…and I don’t think that’s out of the question.