ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Michigan basketball team is in an unfamiliar spot this week, as the Wolverines sit and watch the final week of the season unfold before the NCAA Tournament.
With the conference tournament moved up a week at Madison Square Garden in New York, Michigan and the rest of the Big Ten got an additional week off ahead of the postseason. John Beilein's team is coming off its second straight Big Ten Tournament championship, so the question isn't whether or not the Wolverines will be in the field of 68.
Now, it's a question of where Michigan will play, and against whom.
For most of the year, Michigan hovered around the projected 7- to 10-seed line. A seven-game winning streak during the holidays put Michigan solidly in the field, and a nine-game streak to end the season has them looking at an excellent seed.
In addition to winning a conference title, the weekend in New York greatly boosted Michigan's overall tournament resume. Not only did the Wolverines dismantle a talented Nebraska team that was fighting for its life, they also dominated Michigan State and Purdue -- two teams vying for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament -- in back-to-back days.
When the dust settled, Michigan emerged from the regular season with six "quadrant one" wins.
In short, a quadrant one win is a win over any team in the RPI top 30, a neutral-court win over a team in the RPI top 50 or a road win over a team in the RPI top 75. For a simple breakdown of all four quadrants, click on the link above.
Michigan's quadrant one record sits at 6-5, and there are only seven teams in the country with more quadrant one wins. The Wolverines are a combined 11-6 in quadrants one and two, which puts them in fairly elite company.
Michigan has one ugly blemish, and that's the loss at Northwestern. While it was a quadrant two loss at the time, Northwestern didn't win another game after beating Michigan this season. A seven-game losing streak dropped the Wildcats far enough in the RPI rankings that Michigan has one quadrant three loss.
Overall, it's pretty safe to expect Michigan will be among the top 16 teams in the tournament. Not many teams have an RPI in the top 15, plenty of great wins and a shortage of bad losses.
Teams above Michigan
To narrow down the options, let's take a look at the resumes that Michigan can't compete with.
Virginia, Villanova, Xavier, Kansas and Duke have the top five resumes in the nation, and no matter what happens during conference tournament week, Michigan won't be able to catch them. That immediately eliminates any chance for Michigan to earn a No. 1 seed, which wasn't in the conversation anyway.
After the top five, it gets a little murky. Michigan cruised past Purdue last weekend, but the Boilermakers won both regular-season meetings and have slightly better RPI, strength of schedule and quadrant stats to go with one fewer loss. The resumes are similar, but it's unlikely Michigan will be seeded above Purdue.
The only other team that Michigan likely can't catch is North Carolina, which is strange because the Tarheels will finish the season with 10 losses unless they win the ACC Tournament.
North Carolina has played the toughest schedule in the country, compiling 11 wins in quadrant one and a 14-8 overall record in quadrants one and two. UNC is also in the RPI top five and beat Michigan in a head-to-head meeting, though it was early in the season.
To summarize, it feels as if there are seven teams definitely above Michigan in the seeding -- Virginia, Villanova, Xavier, Kansas, Duke, Purdue and North Carolina. For that reason, we'll start the conversation at the back-end of the No. 2 line.
Michigan's case for a No. 2 seed
Let's get this out on the table right away: The odds are against Michigan in the battle for the final No. 2 seed.
Even though Michigan won the Big Ten Tournament title and is one of the hottest teams in the country in March, there are still a few things holding it back, such as losses to Northwestern and LSU and an extremely weak non-conference schedule -- 270th in the nation.
Though it seems unlikely, it's not entirely impossible. The NCAA Tournament selection committee throws a few curve balls every season, and chairman Bruce Rasmussen had high praise for the Wolverines during an interview with Andy Katz on Wednesday.
"Michigan's playing really well right now," Rasmussen said. "Their point guard's doing a great job at both ends of the floor. They've got good shooters. They're really balanced. They've got inside game, outside game. They're playing good on offense and defense."
Those comments made you wonder how high the committee is willing to place Michigan. Few teams in the country have a better trio of wins away from home than Michigan -- two wins over Michigan State and one over Purdue.
Michigan's toughest competition for the final No. 2 seed is the aforementioned Michigan State, along with Cincinnati and SEC co-champs Auburn and Tennessee.
Other than sheer overall record, Michigan State doesn't have much of an argument against Michigan in terms of resume. The Spartans lost twice in the head-to-head -- once at home and once on a neutral court -- rank lower in RPI and strength of schedule and have fewer quadrant one wins. MSU played 21 of 33 games against quadrants three and four.
Cincinnati, Auburn and Tennessee have strong cases against Michigan, however, as all three rank higher in RPI and avoided a loss outside quadrants one and two.
Cincinnati would likely be seeded ahead of Michigan with an American Tournament championship. But for now, the Bearcats have no losses outside quadrant one. The argument for Michigan is that three wins against MSU and Purdue are much better than wins over Wichita State, Houston and Buffalo.
Tennessee and Auburn each have a slight edge over Michigan in RPI and strength of schedule, but the resumes are similar. Their performances in the SEC Tournament will play a major role in where Michigan lands.
Strong argument for No. 3 seed
As the rest of the conference tournaments play out, it looks more and more likely that Michigan is headed for the No. 3 line.
Even if the Wolverines are ranked behind all 11 teams listed above, they would still earn the final No. 3 seed. But there are a few other teams in contention.
Wichita State and Clemson are the only other teams ranked ahead of Michigan in RPI, and both have a chance to make final statements in the conference tournament.
Wichita State already has a better strength of schedule despite playing in the American Athletic Conference, and even though the Shockers only have four quadrant one wins, they're 10-2 in quadrant two. Wichita State has one bad loss to SMU, but the quadrant two loss to Notre Dame came when the Fighting Irish were at full strength.
Clemson probably won't be seeded above Michigan unless it wins the ACC Tournament. The Tigers have eight losses already and went just 4-8 in quadrant one.
No. 4 seed still a possibility
If there are four teams battling for the final No. 3 seed, three of them will obviously fall at least to the No. 4 line, so Michigan has a chance to land here.
Michigan's late-season surge might not be enough to jump a few of the teams listed above, and that would probably drop the Wolverines to the No. 4 line. This part of the seeding is tricky, because teams such as Gonzaga, which won 30 games against a weaker schedule, and Arizona, which is extremely talented but has dealt with off-the-court controversy, come into play.
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Michigan has a stronger resume than both Gonzaga and Arizona, but the Bulldogs are coming off a national championship game appearance and the Wildcats have a chance to breeze through the conference tournament.
Texas Tech and West Virginia could also make some noise by winning the Big 12 Tournament. Texas Tech has five quadrant one wins and West Virginia has seven, so a couple more this week would put them in the conversation.
Could Michigan drop to No. 5 seed?
It's hard to imagine a scenario in which Michigan would drop below the No. 4 seed line, but nothing is a certainty on Selection Sunday.
Michigan has too strong of a resume for a No. 5 seed, but we'll list this as a slim possibility since it's impossible to know how the committee will value teams such as Arizona, Kentucky and Gonzaga, which have weaker resumes but enough talent to win the national title.
If Michigan ends up as a No. 5 seed, it will prove the selection committee doesn't value the Big Ten.
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