After losing to Purdue for the second time this season, this time a 76-59 beatdown in Indianapolis, Michigan fans could do nothing but wait. College basketball in 2015-16 has been the most unpredictable year in recent memory, with top teams faltering left and right and the mid-majors making a tremendous amount of noise throughout the season. But when Michigan's name was called for the play-in game in the East Region on Sunday night, none of that mattered. Michigan's new season is about to embark, beginning Wednesday night three hours from Ann Arbor in Dayton, Ohio. The Wolverines play the 11th seeded Tulsa Golden Hurricane, a pretty unfortunate mascot name for a team situated in hurricane-stricken Tulsa, Oklahoma.
While I'll have an article later in the week with a deep-dive breakdown of Wednesday's game, I want to take a brief look back at how Michigan found themselves in this position. The most obvious starting point is the injury to Caris LeVert, but obviously Spike Albrecht only playing in a handful of games was absolutely detrimental to the team's guard depth.
The problem with Michigan, pretty much all season, is that they beat who they were supposed to be and only three times beat teams that were ranked higher either in the RPI or standings. The fourth victory, Texas, was a massive gift, as Michigan beat the Longhorns in the Bahamas before Texas was really good, and their late-season surge put them in the RPI top-30.
The biggest positive for this team going forward is that they won't have to play any Big Ten teams in the first week/weekend. They would have to win three games in five days to make it on to the Sweet Sixteen and further, but I don't think any particular matchup in their bracket is particularly startling.
On Wednesday, a Tulsa team that didn't expect to be here will be the first opponent for Michigan. The Golden Hurricane were projected in 0/59 "expert" brackets, and were looking more like a 2 or 3 seed in the NIT. If Michigan was going to get a first round opponent based on their seeding, this is 100% the best-case scenario.
If Michigan can get by Tulsa, a very good Notre Dame team is waiting in Brooklyn. The Fighting Irish lost by 31 to North Carolina in their last game, scoring only 47 points, so there could be a sense of sluggishness to how the Irish start. They'll likely go seven deep, and Zach Auguste is going to be a nightmare if Michigan plays here, but it's definitely a more winnable game than other matchups.
I won't go past this Round of 64 matchup yet, as Michigan obviously needs to beat Tulsa on Wednesday to even think about Notre Dame. However, given how Michigan played against Indiana, I see no reason they can't beat Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane have only beaten South Florida in their last three games, and the two losses came against Memphis.
For Michigan, this tournament style game is exactly what could make them so dangerous. Sure, they're a jump shooting team with a rotating carousel of centers, but they've continued to add new wrinkles all season.
Derrick Walton is probably the x-factor for games going forward. While he didn't score on Friday, he was magnificent distributing the ball and finished with 12 assists. If he can find his shot a little more and keep his teammates involved, this team could continue to roll. I'm also curious to see whether Moritz Wagner remains the second big man off the bench, as his production and intensity against Indiana were exactly what Michigan needed.
After a long week, Michigan fans can now breathe a sigh of relief. I expect a good number of fans to show up to Dayton, hopefully willing the Wolverines to victory over a very mediocre Tulsa team. Until then, some rest and scouting should do the trick before Wednesday.