ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan basketball team got back to its winning ways on senior night, blasting Nebraska by 29 points and honoring an injured Charles Matthews in likely his last game at the Crisler Center.
Most importantly, the Wolverines locked up a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
The win improved Michigan's record to 25-4 overall and 14-4 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are in third place in the conference, a half game behind Michigan State and Purdue, both 14-3.
Though Michigan has a two-game lead for the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, its final two games are tough road challenges against Maryland and Michigan State. That's why it was so important to win Thursday and lock up a top-four finish.
The No. 5 seed plays the winner of the No. 12 and No. 13 seeds, which could have set up another matchup between Michigan and Penn State. The Nittany Lions have won four out of five games, including a win over Michigan and a 17-point blowout of No. 17 Maryland. That wouldn't have been a surefire victory.
Why Wisconsin can't pass Michigan
If Michigan loses to Maryland and Michigan State and Wisconsin wins its final three games against Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State, the two teams would finish tied at 14-6.
Due to tiebreakers, Wisconsin couldn't pass Michigan, though.
The Big Ten tiebreaking procedure works like this: If two teams are tied and their head-to-head record is 1-1, their records against each Big Ten team is compared, starting at the top of the standings and working their way down until the tie is broken.
Wisconsin could only have the advantage over Michigan when it comes to Iowa and Penn State. The Badgers could finish 2-0 against both of those teams, while Michigan went 1-1 against Penn State and 0-1 against Iowa.
But since the tiebreaker starts at the top of the standings, Michigan's 1-0 record against Purdue would prevent the tiebreaker from getting down to Iowa or Penn State. That's because Wisconsin finished 0-1 against Purdue.
Wisconsin's 0-1 record against Michigan State -- compared to a possible 0-2 mark for Michigan, in the worst-case scenario -- won't make a difference because the Badgers are 0-2 combined against Purdue and MSU, while Michigan would be 1-2. That eliminates Wisconsin even if Purdue and Michigan State finish in a tie for first.
How Michigan can finish No. 4
This feels like a possible outcome: Maryland wins its last two games against Michigan and Minnesota, Michigan loses to Michigan State, and MSU and Purdue tie for first in the Big Ten.
Since Michigan and Maryland would have split their head-to-head meetings, the next tiebreaker would be their records against the top team in the conference. If Michigan State and Purdue are tied, the combined records of Michigan and Maryland against those teams would be compared.
In this scenario, both Michigan and Maryland would be 1-2. Michigan beat Purdue and would have lost twice to MSU. Maryland would have lost once to MSU and split with Purdue.
The tiebreaker would move down to the next team in the standings, which would likely be either Wisconsin or Iowa. Both teams are 1-1 against Wisconsin, but Michigan lost its only game against Iowa, while Maryland went 1-1 against the Hawkeyes.
That would give Michigan the No. 4 seed, an unfavorable outcome since Wisconsin would likely be the opponent in the Big Ten quarterfinals.
How Michigan can finish No. 3
If Michigan beats Maryland and loses to Michigan State, it will automatically be the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, as long as Purdue doesn't lose two or three of its final three games.
Michigan could also be the No. 3 seed if it loses to Maryland and beats Michigan State. As long as MSU takes care of business against Indiana and Nebraska, the Spartans would only have four losses compared to Michigan's five losses. Again, this is contingent on Purdue winning at least two of its last three games.
How Michigan can finish No. 2
If Purdue completely collapses and loses twice or three times, Michigan and Michigan State will be the top two seeds in the tournament, with the order being decided March 9 in East Lansing.
Michigan could finish 16-4 with wins at Maryland and at Michigan State and receive the No. 2 seed if Purdue doesn't lose another game. The Wolverines would win the tiebreaker with MSU in that scenario because of their 1-0 record against Purdue (MSU went 1-1 against the Boilermakers).
How Michigan can finish No. 1
Michigan likely has to win its last two games to have a chance at the No. 1 seed because neither Michigan State nor Purdue has a tough road to the finish line.
If Michigan wins out and Purdue loses one more game, the Wolverines would be the No. 1 seed because of their 2-1 combined record against MSU and Purdue. Both Michigan State and Purdue would be 2-2 in the combined head-to-head games.