Our previews of Tennessee's Sweet 16 opponent begin today with a look at Michigan's schedule this year.
When John Beilein came to Michigan in 2007 the Wolverines hadn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1998, and three of their seven appearances from the 90s had been vacated. Six years of Tommy Amaker in the midst of NCAA sanctions produced several trips to the NIT but no time on the dance floor. Beilein put the Wolverines in the NCAA Tournament in year two, then again in 2011 which we all painfully remember. Then they won the Big Ten in 2012 but lost in the Round of 64. Last year Michigan made it all the way to the championship game as a four seed, taking down Kansas and Florida in the regional and Syracuse in the Final Four before falling to Louisville. This team has been here before.
Michigan lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA, then lost sophomore Mitch McGary (who I keep confusing with Tom Cruise's character in The Firm) in December to back surgery. But the Wolverines have had no problem finding ways to win despite having to fill in all these gaps.
Michigan went 8-4 in the non-conference portion of their schedule. They lost at Iowa State 77-70 on November 17, then had some drama in Puerto Rico with an overtime win against Florida State and a stunning two point loss to Charlotte. You want to talk about strength of schedule? Michigan lost at Duke 79-69 on December 3, lost at home to #1 Arizona by two points on December 14, then beat Stanford in Brooklyn one week later.
Without McGary few gave the Wolverines a shot to win the Big Ten as conference play began. Michigan responded by winning its first eight conferences games, a ten game winning streak dating back to Stanford. The eight game streak included wins over four NCAA Tournament teams, three of them on the road: 71-70 at Nebraska, 77-70 at Wisconsin, 75-67 over Iowa, and 80-75 at Michigan State. All told the Wolverines have played five of sixteen teams left standing in the tournament, and beat three of them in road/neutral games.
In February Michigan's run hit a speed bump, starting with a 63-52 loss at Indiana to break their perfect Big Ten record. It was the beginning of a 3-3 stretch with additional double digit losses at Iowa and home vs Wisconsin. But during that run Michigan also beat Nebraska and Michigan State in Ann Arbor and Ohio State in Columbus. Such is life in the Big Ten.
A 77-76 overtime win at Purdue sparked a four game winning streak to close the regular season over some of the conference's lower tier teams, earning the Wolverines another Big Ten title, then a one point win over Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament made it five straight. Then they beat Ohio State again to earn their second 6+ game winning streak of the year before Michigan State roughed them up in the conference tournament final.
But they've had no trouble on the dance floor: 57-40 over 15 seed Wofford, then 79-65 over 7 seed Texas. It moves the Wolverines to 27-8 heading to their date with us in the Sweet 16. Six of their eight losses came against tournament teams, but in those six games other than the two point loss to Arizona Michigan got beat by an average of 12.4 points. But they also scored nine wins against tournament teams in the regular season.
This is a team that was in the one seed conversation before Michigan State beat them on Selection Sunday, full of players who have danced this dance before. Michigan plays in one of basketball's toughest conferences and saw some of the nation's best in the non-conference as well. They are experienced and they are tested.
We'll continue to preview the Wolverines as the RTT Podcast returns tonight at 8:30 PM ET, and we'll also take a look at Michigan's roster and break down how they match-up with the Vols between now and tip-off Friday night.