Wednesday night's play-in game certainly looked like a game between two teams who just made it into the NCAA Tournament field. Both squads got off to slow starts in Dayton and neither Michigan nor Tulsa was able to impose their will on the other. On the bright side, the game did heat up in the second half and fans were treated to a dramatic final five minutes of basketball that featured six lead changes. Here are some of the things we learned in the final First Four game of this year's tournament, and what we think we know about Michigan going forward.
1. Zak Irvin took and made the shot that extended Michigan's season.
With Michigan trailing 60-59 and the clock ticking down under a minute remaining, the junior swingman dribbled off a screen and calmly pulled up to drill a three-pointer with 55 seconds remaining. The shot gave the Wolverines a 2-point lead and a huge boost of momentum that Tulsa was unable to overcome.
Zak has not been one of Michigan's most accurate shooters from downtown this season at 30.6%, but he knew his team needed a big shot at that moment and made it look easy. Irvin is on a nice run of scoring as he has finished with at least 11 points in nine of his last ten games and the Wolverines will need that to continue to make a deep run in this tournament.
2. Tulsa still didn't deserve to be in the tournament.
I don't ever recall the players of a team being so blindsided by the announcement that they would be participating in the NCAA Tournament as the members of Tulsa were this season. Prior to the selection show, at least one player cited their AAC Tournament blowout loss to Memphis as the proverbial nail in the coffin for their tournament hopes this year. The closest I saw Tulsa to being predicted in the field by any bracketologist was the inclusion of the Golden Hurricane as the final team in the Next Four Out.
It's not the end of the world that Tulsa was selected over another bubble team, but the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament means a lot to college basketball players and ideally we'd like to see the final teams in the field be the ones that are most deserving of the spots. Tulsa battled hard and the game in Dayton was as close as the oddsmakers expected it to be, but that doesn't change the fact that there were other teams out there with better resumes than the Hurricane.
3. The Wolverines will need better performances to reach the Sweet 16.
The important thing is that Michigan survived and advanced, but the Wolverines didn't play particularly well. There won't be many more favorable results in this tournament for UM if they replicate tonight's performance. The team is at its best when they are solid from three-point range to be successful and 6-for-25 performances from three-point range probably won't lead to wins against their potential opponents this weekend.
Coach John Beilein will need to figure out how to keep his team from getting too reliant on the three-point shot, which was the main reason Michigan got off to such a slow start offensively vs. Tulsa. The Wolverines' next opponent is six-seed Notre Dame, who is one of the worst defensive teams in the tournament. The Fighting Irish may struggle at making Michigan one-dimensional, but potential second-round opponent West Virginia is one of the best per-possession defensive teams in the country and could really pose a tough challenge for the Wolverines' offense.