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Michigan has ‘no complaints’ with NCAA Tournament draw, matchup with Montana

Tribune News Service • Mar 12, 2018 at 12:52 AM

Moritz Wagner knew Michigan’s name was about to be shown on a bracket, but he sat there filled with nerves anyway.

The Wolverines entered Sunday as an automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament by way of their second straight Big Ten Tournament title. But even after seeing Michigan announced during the early portion of the selection show, Wagner still found himself perspiring when the West Region popped onto the screen last.

“I was sweating,” Michigan’s 6-foot-11 junior center from Germany said. “(They) waited until like the last minute and then they called (our) name. That’s so mean.”

The nerves went away after Michigan hit the screen as a No. 3 seed in the west with an opening-round date against No. 14 Montana — the Big Sky champions with a record of 26-7 — on Thursday in Wichita. Should Michigan win that game, it’ll get the winner of No. 6 Houston and No. 11 San Diego State on Saturday.

The sweating stopped and the curiosity began.

“I know (Wichita’s) in Kansas, I know Kansas and Missouri have something going on with Kansas City. But that’s about all I know,” Wagner smiled. “It’s in the middle of America, right? They’ve got Wichita State. That’s a good spot.”

Let the madness begin.

After posting a 28-7 record, Michigan will enter the NCAA tournament with the second best seed its had under head coach John Beilein (No. 2 in 2014). Michigan’s game against Montana will tip after the conclusion of Houston-San Diego State’s 7:20 p.m. ET tilt on TBS.

The Wolverines are in a region with Xavier as the No. 1 seed. North Carolina is the No. 2 and a possible Sweet 16 opponent in Los Angeles. Gonzaga’s the No. 4 seed.

Wichita, meanwhile, isn’t Detroit. And while Michigan players admitted they would have loved the opportunity to play near Ann Arbor, they’re not exactly heartbroken overall.

“(We’re) a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament,” Wagner said. “I don’t have anything to complain about.

“Very proud of this team. A No. 3 seed is something special. That’s cool.”

Michigan finished No. 11 on the overall seed list, two spots back of rival Michigan State. The Spartans (29-4) got the Detroit spot as the No. 9 overall seed. That came eight days after Michigan beat MSU by double digits for a second time this season in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.

Still, there weren’t too many bitter faces in Ann Arbor on Sunday night.

“Can’t be happier with our seeding. Would’ve liked to have been in Detroit, but it is what it is,” senior co-captain Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. “(MSU) did have a better record than us. We beat them both times. But you can’t worry about that.

“You just have to focus on the game that’s ahead.”

Michigan has now advanced to eight NCAA Tournaments in Beilein’s 11 seasons after going through 11 straight previous seasons without a single bid.

The Wolverines have had a variety of different atmospheres on Selection Sunday under Beilein, from barely getting in as an at-large team during the early portion of his tenure to watching the selection show minutes after losing the Big Ten tournament in 2014 only to come back and watch it from the winner’s area last season.

This year, after capturing the conference tournament title in New York, Michigan had a week off to work on itself with a handful of practices in Ann Arbor.

When Sunday came, the team knew it was in as an automatic qualifier.

Other than Wagner’s sweat outbreak, everything else went pretty smooth.

“Never been to Wichita before,” Beilein said. “It’ll be great to go. I wish our fans were a little closer, but they’ll find a way to get there and I know all our fans all over the world will be following these games.

“(Detroit) would’ve been convenient for everybody. … But they’ve got a difficult job. So we were ready for anything.”

First thing’s first, a matchup with a Montana team that went 19-2 since a loss on Dec. 22 and won its last six games. The Grizzlies, coached by Travis DeCuire, are making their 11th NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2013.

Montana junior guard Ahmaad Rorie leads the way with 17.2 points per game. Either way, the Grizzlies will be a heavy underdog and Michigan will enter the role of favorite.

An uncomfortable spot for Beilein.

But one he’ll work hard to knock out.

“I don’t like being the hunted,” Beilein said. “We’re going to be the hunter. We’re going to continue to hunt.”

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