It was heartbreak in the Big Ten Tournament finals, but only for 24 hours. Michigan’s spirits were lifted at 1 PM on this Selection Monday when it was confirmed that they would be an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
The Big Ten Tournament
Michigan, also for the second straight year, advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals, held in Westfield, Indiana. Facing them down were Wisconsin, the second seed in the conference and a side that had beaten them 1-0 in double overtime in Madison, and also lost 4-0 in last season’s BTT semi finals. It took a strong team defensive effort, but it was seen all the way through. Marc Ybarra’s spot kick was enough to be the winner and get through to the final.
The defense deserves plenty of credit for this triumph, especially sophomore Jackson Ragen. The center back had one of his finest games in maize and blue and his pairing with Abdou Samake has been a promising glimpse into what fans can expect after Daniel Mukuna graduates following this season. Fans also got to see Ivo Cerda return from his long-term injury, giving hope that he will play a larger role in the NCAA Tournament run.
Indiana proved why they were the top team in the conference with a 3-0 victory over the Wolverines in the final, in front of a red-heavy Indianan crowd. Capped by a pair of goals to stretch the one goal lead to a three goal deficit, it was just too much for Michigan to overcome. The chances that would come so easily against other opposition just could not be found against the strong IU back line and the Hoosiers proved to the Big Ten, and the nation at large, just how dangerous they are.
The NCAA Tournament
In a solid Big Ten, Michigan seemed to be a solid lock. With an RPI at, as of last update, #36 in the nation, this not factoring in the victory over Wisconsin, things looked comfortable for the Wolverines. Indeed they were as they are the hosts of an NCAA Tournament game yet again. The Wolverines did not get a bye like last season, but will participate in a first round match against Princeton this Thursday and UMSS at 7 PM.
Princeton finished the season as outright Ivy League champions with a 5-1-1 record in the league, losing only their season finale to Yale with the conference already decided. The Tigers knocked off Cornell on the road 2-0 when the Bears were ranked #22 in the nation, and also topped NCAA Tournament invitee and MAAC Champions Rider 2-1 in overtime, also on the road. Princeton has leveled out over the course of the season: after a 1-3-0 start, they proceeded to lose just one of their next twelve games before the season-ending loss to Yale. Their overtime record is outstanding having played in OT or double-OT six times, winning four of those and drawing twice. They present a tough challenge for Michigan and will certainly fight to make things tough on Michigan.
The Big Ten placed four teams into the tournament as Indiana, Maryland, and Michigan State all join the Wolverines in the bracket. Indiana earned the #2 seed nationally and awaits the winner of UCONN vs. Rhode Island. The Hoosiers are in the Wolverines’ regional and if both teams progress to the regional final, they will square off for a third time. Maryland was named the #11 seed nationally and awaits the winner of North Carolina State and Daniel Mukuna’s former university, Campbell. The Terrapins have not missed an NCAA Tournament since 2000. Finally, Michigan State joins Michigan in hosting a first round match-up as the Spartans play host to the UIC Flames. A victory will send them to #4 overall Louisville.
Looking at Michigan’s road ahead, if they top the Tigers they will see a familiar foe in the second round. The #7 seed, Notre Dame, will host the winner of Michigan/Princeton in South Bend. As you may recall, the Wolverines fought tooth-and-nail with the Fighting Irish on October 16th in the match Ivo Cerda received his injury. The Wolverines found an equalizer through some Jack Hallahan magic, but would fall 2-1 with Notre Dame converting a penalty. You can read the entire match recap here. A rematch would be an intriguing match-up with Michigan surely hungry to avenge a wrong. If the Wolverines manage to get to the Sweet Sixteen, they would be looking at either #10 seed Virginia, or the winner of UNC-Wilmington or Furman.
The NCAA Tournament offers a very likely final chance for the Michigan faithful to cheer on their favorite players before the season comes to a close. With plenty of tough opposition ahead, Michigan would certainly love the chance to take down a seeded opponent or two on their way to a strong tournament run. As a reminder, the opening round bout is at 7 PM on Thursday the 15th of November at UMSS. Tickets are on sale now, and MSN will have coverage of the match for you as well!