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Can The Michigan Wolverines Make This Year's Sweet 16?

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Can the Wolverines make a run in the NCAA Tournament?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It was an inconsistent and stressful season in Ann Arbor, but ultimately, the Michigan Wolverines found a way into this year's NCAA Tournament. It took some late heroics over Northwestern and Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, but the Wolverines got it done.

The team wasn't able to make it into the Round of 64, but this is the seventh tournament appearance for the program in the last eight seasons, which is pretty impressive considering that Michigan hadn't made the NCAA Tournament for 10 seasons before 2009.

Now, Michigan is hoping to show it was deserving of a bid by making a run this weekend. The team will open up with Tulsa on Wednesday with a matchup awaiting against Notre Dame, if the Wolverines can get the job done. It will be a challenging path for Michigan, but if the team gets hot, things could get interesting.

Here's a look at what Michigan can do in this year's NCAA Tournament.

Opening Round

With Michigan's bubble position on Selection Sunday, the Wolverines landed in the "First Four" and will have an opening round matchup against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. The game will be played in Dayton, Ohio with an opportunity to advance to the Round of 64 on the line.

According to KenPom, Michigan will have 51 percent odds to win this matchup. Notably, the two teams are split by just one spot in the RPI ratings and two spots in KenPom's ratings. By any objective measure, Michigan and Tulsa are nearly identical. As such, it's hard not to think that this will be a tight battle and a game that's decided in the closing minutes.

On paper, Tulsa is the more balanced team, but Michigan's offense is the best unit between the two teams. Michigan is probably playing better at the moment considering its upset win over Indiana last weekend, but over the last month, Tulsa has been a tad better.

By just about any comparison, this looks like it's going to be a tough matchup and Michigan will have its work cut out to move on to the next round. Tulsa is the far more experienced team, but the Wolverines have some players with postseason experience in Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton and a great offensive coach in John Beilein. As such, it should be a really fun game.

If They Advance

If Michigan can find a way to get past Tulsa, the team would move on to face No. 6 seed Notre Dame on Friday. There's no doubt that the Wolverines will be an underdog going into this game and will also have the challenge of getting ready after a quick turnaround.

Fortunately, Notre Dame is far from one of the nation's elite teams. The Fighting Irish might have landed as a No. 6 seed, but this is a team with a weak defense that has fallen short six times this season against teams near or below Michigan's advanced stats.

Again, Notre Dame would be favored in a matchup against Michigan, but when teams like Alabama, Monmouth, and Pittsburgh can beat the Fighting Irish at home or on neutral courts, it's hard not to think the Wolverines could find a way to win. If Michigan can come out firing and expose Notre Dame's underwhelming defense, it would have more than a fighting chance.

If Michigan got past Tulsa and Notre Dame, the team would likely be faced with a matchup against No. 3 seed West Virginia on Sunday. This would be the first game where Michigan would be a substantial underdog. Unlike the first two games, this isn't a game that the Wolverines can win by just playing well. It will also need West Virginia to have an off night.

The one piece of good news on a potential matchup with West Virginia is that Michigan could pose a matchup problem for the Mountaineers. As a pressing team, West Virginia is pretty reliant on turnovers to fuel its offensive attack. However, Michigan is one of the best teams at avoiding turnovers in the country (No. 9 in turnover rate), meaning West Virginia might not be able to create enough pressure and turnovers to keep its system rolling.

Beyond a matchup with West Virginia, it's hard to project who Michigan could get, but it would likely be No. 2 seed Xavier, No. 7 seed Wisconsin, or No. 10 seed Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately, the Wolverines had a combined 0-2 record against Xavier and Wisconsin this season and would likely be an underdog against Pittsburgh. As such, it's hard to see Michigan going beyond here.

Of course, for hypothetical purposes, if Michigan did win, the other side of the East Region has No. 1 North Carolina, No. 4 Kentucky, and No. 5 Indiana, so a potential Elite Eight matchup would be difficult as well.

Overall

Realistically speaking, Michigan actually has a decent opportunity to advance to the Round of 32 in this year's NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines will be favored against Tulsa and have a matchup with a flawed Notre Dame team. Unfortunately, things would likely get much tougher following those two games, with teams like West Virginia and Xavier waiting.

Don't count out a decent run by Michigan this year, but from a broad perspective, there definitely appears to be a ceiling on this year's run.