The Second Round of the 2023 National Invitational Tournament (“NIT”) tipped off on Saturday and the Big Ten had one team in action. Michigan went on the road to face Vanderbilt in what figured to be a fun game of March bubble teams.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-No. 2 Vanderbilt Commodores 66, No. 3 Michigan Wolverines 65
Heading into tip, Michigan projected as a mild favorite. However, things looked even worse as the game began, as fans learned star guard Kobe Bufkin would be sidelined with an ankle issue. Adding Bufkin’s absence on top of Jett Howard meant Michigan would be playing without two starters from just a week or so ago.
However, as the game unfolded, the absences didn’t seem to impact Michigan much. Hunter Dickinson and Tarris Reed were playing well inside and Dug McDaniel was hitting shots from the perimeter. Michigan held a narrow lead at half and built on it in the second half, eventually going up by double-digits at one point. Dickinson would eventually finish with an impressive 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Unfortunately, as Michigan was about to win the game, Vanderbilt started pressing and the Wolverines completely unfolded. The team didn’t seem to have an answer and repeatedly threw the ball into the stands or directly to the Commodores. It led to a massive run by Vanderbilt in the closing minutes and just enough for Vandy to pull out the win. For perspective, this is what the in-game odds looked like:
Not a great look for Michigan yesterday.— Thomas Beindit (@tbeindit) March 19, 2023
Just an utter collapse. pic.twitter.com/ebwBsJ5Y7U
For Michigan, the loss ends the team’s season at 18-16 overall. And while the team showed promise at various points, the season was a complete failure. There’s simply no reason a team with this many pieces should have been in the NIT, let alone blowing games like this. What’s even worse is that the loss to Vanderbilt wasn’t even the first loss of this variety, as Michigan blew similar opportunities against Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa earlier this season. Had the Wolverines taken care of business in those games, they may have made the NCAAs.
Juwan Howard and his staff will now have a few months for some soul searching as they try to assemble next year’s squad. It’s unclear how the team will look, particularly given potential NBA decisions awaiting from Bufkin, Dickinson, and Jett Howard. Depending on how those decisions unfold, Michigan could look much differently next season. We’ll have to wait and see how things shake out.