The last major knock against our NCAA Tournament profile was the lack of a win over a ranked team. Temple was our only victory against a team in the top 40 of the RPI, and that came back in November long before the Owls got hot. While a win over Penn State on Wednesday an opening round win against one of the Big Ten bottom feeders likely would have been enough, it now DEFINITELY will be enough because of tonight's victory.
At the time when it matters most, our Boilermakers played their most complete game of the season. After falling behind 42-40 for the only time of the night I thought we were in trouble. Then Travis Carroll, of all people, started a 35-19 finish to close this game out. What makes it better was my comment from the preview:
One thing I have noticed about Michigan since that game is that they have developed a killer closer's instinct. This is a team that won't die, as evidenced by their comeback at Northwestern on Tuesday. That was just a brutal loss for the Wildcats, but Michigan hit every big shot and got the stops they needed. The Wolverines did the same against Ohio State, Illinois, and Nebraska in recent victories. Outside of Michigan State, I don't think there is a team playing with more confidence in the conference right now.
Instead, we played stifling defense for 40 minutes and did not let Jordan Morgan collapse much off the screen and roll. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Zack Novak also shot poorly. Maybe they had a bad game. Then again, maybe a beloved little Shadowcat was sitting on the Michigan rim batting away three-point attempts. I'll just say they were 9 of 32 from long range and leave it at that.
Positives From The Second Michigan Game:
Travis Carroll - Honestly, what a game for Tacos! The young man outworked Morgan most of the night and ended up hitting two of the biggest shots of the night. Silently he has greatly improved his free throw shooting (8 of his last 10 after a 2 of 8 start). He can definitely keep defenses honest if that 15-footer becomes a nice weapon, and I am part of a growing minority that thinks he will excel at the four next year when A.J. Hammons comes on board. TC is doing some serious work of late and showing a lot of improvement, especially with Sandi Marcius and Jacob Lawson anchored to the bench.
Terone Johnson - This is the kind of night I knew TJ was capable of when he came on board. His final total in the second half alone was 16 points, and he was 4 for 4 from the line with two coming in huge plus one situations. TJ needs to keep attacking. Now that Barlow is gone, TJ is our best option to attack in the paint.
Robbie Hummel - Rob's dagger three-pointers before the final media timeout won this game. We were only up four before those shots, and after they went down they broke the will of the Wolverines. Rob is coming on at a great time and is starting to look like the Robbie Hummel of old. It is game on then.
Lewis Jackson - LewJack had a couple of huge baskets and five assists, including a dime on TJ's last and-1 that was another nail in the final coffin. It wasn't quite the virtuoso performance from the first Michigan game, but I like the final result a lot more.
Neal Beshears - Who is the best shooter on the team? The freshman walk-on adds his second basket of the season and is 2 for 2 with four points in his Big Ten career.
Anthony Johnson - He only hit one field goal, but his shooting stroke was gorgeous on his first half triple. He has my green light when opinion.
Purdue-style basketball - I have said all along that this team cannot win unless it plays our style of ball. Thankfully, we got it tonight by out-rebounding them and not turning the ball over in the second half. We created offense from defense and got out on shooters to cause chaos.
Negatives from the second Michigan game:
None! We won a Big Ten road game over a ranked team by 14 points when they were undefeated at home. Any negatives are nitpicking.
As good as this victory was, all that work can be erased by losing at home to Penn State or by losing our opening round Big Ten Tournament game, which will likely come against Penn State, Nebraska, or Illinois. We have got to avoid the bad loss now, and either one of those would qualify as a bad loss.
Assuming that doesn't happen, we're going to the NCAA Tournament. Beating Penn State on Wednesday gets us to 20 overall wins and 10 Big Ten wins. Winning that first Big Ten tourney game moves it to 21 and 11. There is no way we're kept out of the NCAA then.
I am greedy though. I want to win in Bloomington next Sunday to even the season series and likely assure we finish ahead of Indiana in the Big Ten, especially since I consider the loss in Mackey a bad loss given their play on the road. It is also all about improving our NCAA Tournament seed. Right now we're probably in the 8/9 range, which means you're solidly in the tournament, but you then have to play a No. 1 seed in the second round. I'd like to get up to a seven or six so we can avoid a No. 1 as long as possible.
Of course, there is still business to take care of, and that starts on Wednesday. Four losses in Mackey Arena is embarrassing for anyone. Rob, Ryno, and LewJack need to finish their careers at home with a win. That is part of goal one for the rest of the year:
- Avoid a bad loss to Penn State or in the BTT
- Even the season series with Indiana
- Keep the streak of 13 straight opening round NCAA wins alive
Anything else at this point is gravy.