Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press Published 9:35 p.m. ET March 17, 2019
The No. 2-seeded Michigan Wolverines open the 2019 NCAA tournament against No. 15 seed Montana. Here’s a quick look at the Grizzlies. Wochit
CHICAGO — The scene in Michigan basketball’s locker room Sunday night was solemn.
Players sat at their lockers, dejected after their third loss of the season to Michigan State.
The Wolverines were caught in a tough spot. Less than an hour after a difficult 65-60 loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game, Michigan found out it will be in Des Moines, Iowa, for the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament with a first-round rematch against Montana at approximately 9:20 p.m. on Thursday night.
Michigan’s Jon Teske (15) and Isaiah Livers (4) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball championship game against Michigan State in the Big Ten Conference tournament, Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) (Photo: The Associated Press)
Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis summed up the mood in one sentence.
“Feels good being a two seed,” Brazdeikis said, “but right now it’s just right after the loss so there’s not too many emotions with that.”
Michigan is in a different situation from the past two seasons, when the Wolverines went into the postseason with a Big Ten tournament championship.
This year, Michigan will enter the tournament off a loss — and a devastating one at that.
Still, the Wolverines understand they’re in a good spot, even if many of them weren’t yet ready to move onto their next opponent.
“I think right now it’ll be tough,” guard Eli Brooks said, “but I think a day after this, tomorrow, once we get back into full practice on Tuesday, we’ll be able to focus more on the tournament.”
Although Michigan was the second-to-last team announced during the NCAA Selection Show, there was little suspense about the Wolverines’ standing in the eyes of the committee.
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The only questions entering the show were how high Michigan would be seeded and where it would end up. And as other teams were revealed on the board, it became clear the Wolverines were destined for a No. 2 seed in the West Region.
“2013-14 we were a 2 seed, so I guess that’s pretty good,” coach John Beilein said. “I do think it’s not about the seed. We’re going to have to go to Des Moines, which is fairly not close but fairly close and play Montana, which won 27 or 28 games again.”
If Michigan wins the opening game against the Grizzlies — who the Wolverines beat, 61-47, in the first round of last season’s tournament — it’ll face either No. 7 Nevada or No. 10 Florida. Gonzaga is the top-seeded team in the region, while No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 4 Florida State round out the top-four seeds.
“I was actually surprised,” Brooks said. “I thought we were going to get a 3 seed. I was happy that we got a 2 seed, and a chance to go back to where my brother’s living (in Anaheim).”
It was difficult for the Wolverines to look ahead to next week in the immediate aftermath of their loss to Michigan State.
But despite the loss, Michigan still feels like it took a step forward at the conference tournament this weekend. And it’ll still enter the postseason with plenty of confidence, no matter how difficult Sunday’s loss was to swallow.
“We’re right there,” center Jon Teske said. “We can play with anybody in the country. Our defense is solid, our offense is solid. We make shots here and there. We got stops here and there. We take care of the ball. We’ll be fine. Offensively and defensively, I know we’re solid and we’ll bounce back.”
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