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Michigan Wolverines Big Ten Tournament Breakdown

Michigan needs to win at least one game to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament, and two would have them feeling pretty good about their chances.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After getting punched in the mouth by Iowa for the second time this season, Michigan finds themselves playing in the 8/9 game on Thursday afternoon. Drawing Northwestern is pretty good for Michigan, especially given that Michigan beat the Wildcats at home earlier this season, 72-63.

In that first matchup, Alex Olah gave Michigan everything they could handle. The 7'0" center from Romania was dominant throughout, finishing with 19 points and five rebounds. But Michigan at least found some success when it let Olah shoot from the outside as the game wore on, as the big man only finished 1-6 from 3.

Two other key players Michigan will have to account for are Bryant McIntosh and Aaron Falzon. McIntosh struggled mightily in the first game offensively, only finishing with four points, but the seven assists is a welcome statistic and means the sophomore will definitely have a better game the second time around.

Falzon was money from 3, hitting 4-8 in 29 minutes of play. If Michigan can't close out on Falzon, the sharpshooter could have another big game. Thursday's game is an absolute, 100% must-win if Michigan wants an at large bid. It would give Michigan 11 conference wins, but also would keep the resume from having a 100+ RPI loss.

If Michigan beats Northwestern on Thursday (and they should, but stranger things have happened), they get to play the Indiana Hoosiers on five days of rest on Friday. Indiana looked phenomenal on Sunday against Maryland, knocking down outside shots, driving to the basket and playing a complete game again. Seven players finished with at least six points, and the Hoosiers shot 51% from the floor.

This game against Indiana is absolutely crucial for two reasons. First and foremost, Michigan got demolished by the Hoosiers in their own building the first game. The final score showed a 13-point Hoosier victory, but everyone in attendance knows it was much more like 25 or 30. This included a 25-point run to end the half and 28 in total for Indiana, in which Michigan spent more time complaining to the referees about fouls than they did making shots.

Second, Michigan sits squarely on the bubble. They currently have three top-50 victories, and will likely need one more to feel really good about staking their claim for an at-large berth. Indiana is exactly this type of victory, and would give Michigan the upper hand over a team like Wichita State or a smaller conference team who weren't given the chance to play and beat better opponents.

Personally, I think Michigan will need a miracle to get by Indiana, so I'm not even bothering playing out scenarios for the semifinals and finals. If Michigan gets there, I'll try to throw some "fast analysis" together, but they need to win one game at a time. Northwestern is a must, and even if the Wolverines are unable to beat Indiana, a decent showing could be enough to make them one of the last teams in and a first round game in Dayton. This isn't what the Wolverines wanted for a second consecutive year, but if they want to prove they deserve an NCAA Tournament bid, it's now or never.