ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It’s hard to truly know what a college basketball team is made of until it deals will a bit of adversity.
That’s why winning in hostile road environments is so highly regarded. It’s the reason teams that prove they can bounce back in the regular season enter the NCAA Tournament best equipped to succeed.
We’re about to find out exactly what Michigan is made of.
Right now, the Wolverines are dealing with some adversity of their own making. Head coach Juwan Howard struck a Wisconsin assistant coach in the head after Sunday’s loss, and that will force his team to play the rest of the regular season without its leader.
Michigan will also have to battle red-hot Rutgers without starting forward Moussa Diabate and reserve guard Terrance Williams. They were both given one-game suspensions for their involvement in the fight.
The team is teetering on the brink of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Will this heavy dose of adversity spark a late-season run, or will it put a final nail in the coffin of Michigan’s tournament hopes?
In a bit of a scheduling oddity, the Wolverines will play each of their next four games at the Crisler Center. That’s the good news. The bad news is that all four opponents are NCAA Tournament teams and Michigan has already lost three home games this season.
Michigan is a bit of an enigma. Fleeting moments of greatness have almost immediately given way to frustrating ineptitude. For example, after an 18-point road win against Indiana, the Wolverines nearly lost to Northwestern and then got blown out by Michigan State. Wins over Purdue and Iowa were followed by offensive no-shows against Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively.
That’s not going to get the job done if Michigan wants to go to the Big Dance. Early losses to the likes of Central Florida and Minnesota have put the Wolverines in a precarious spot. They’ve done just enough to stay alive, but nothing more.
There couldn’t be a worse time to lose a head coach and a top player, but Michigan can only blame itself for what happened. Now it boils down to whether or not the Wolverines can gut out a few wins when nobody’s expecting them to. Do they have that in them?
If not, they didn’t deserve an NCAA Tournament bid anyway.