Sunday, March 11, 2012
Michigan draws 'other' Ohio
By Michael Rothstein WolverineNation
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Since Michigan football coach Brady Hoke arrived on campus last January, he has taken to calling the Ohio State simply "Ohio."
Eventually, athletic director Dave Brandon and basketball coach John Beilein began to do the same. Yet there was no confusion when Michigan received its bracket pairing for the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
John Beilein has guided the Wolverines to their highest NCAA seeding since 1998.
Michigan, at a No. 4 seed, would be playing No. 13 Ohio -- the actual Ohio University -- instead of Ohio State in the second round in Nashville on Friday. Just to make sure there isn't any confusion.
"We're going Ohio University now," Beilein said. "Great university down in Athens, Ohio."
Beilein said he isn't worried about any sort of respect issue when it comes to the Ohio-Ohio State name thing. He has more things with which to be concerned.
Michigan is coming off a 77-55 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament, a loss that in prior years under Beilein could have led to Michigan being back on the bubble, a spot that could have been even more stomach-churning since the Wolverines were in the last bracket announced.
Not this season.
It was different for the Wolverines this year. They entered the Big Ten tournament assured of a NCAA tournament bid and earned the school's highest seed since a No. 3 seed in 1998.
So instead of bracket watching, Michigan relaxed a bit and just waited for its fate to play out.
"Less nerve-racking," senior guard Zack Novak said. "We were more concerned about matchups this time, who we were going to play. If you asked me last year, I had no idea what seed we were, where we were going, or even who we were playing.
"This year, we saw it."
Instead of the leaping reaction with a massive crowd like last season, Michigan watched the show in the Player Development Center offices and had a calmer reaction -- more distracted by assistant coach Bacari Alexander's son blocking the CBS camera feed just as their name was announced, causing many Michigan players to laugh.
"The attitude is different from last year," sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said. "Last year, everybody was excited to get back after missing the season before. This time, everyone knew what to expect."
The Wolverines are making their first back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances since five straight appearances from 1992 to 1996. They haven't been past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since 1994, when the Wolverines lost in the regional finals to Arkansas.
Michigan (24-9) and Ohio (26-7) have played once in the NCAA tournament -- in a Mideast Regional final in Minneapolis, a 69-57 Wolverines win in 1964. In all, the schools have played three times, with Michigan winning all three matchups, the last in 1971.
There are connections between the current programs, however. Alexander was an assistant at Ohio in 2007-08, and strength coach Jon Sanderson played at Ohio in 2001-02.
Michigan freshman guard and Columbus, Ohio, native Trey Burke initially looked at Ohio out of high school and took an unofficial visit to the school. He also knows some of the Bobcats players through AAU.
One of the Bobcats' best players, Walter Offutt, is an Ohio State transfer and a friend of Novak from their AAU days.
Novak had texted Offutt after Ohio beat Akron in the Mid-American Conference title game Saturday night to offer congratulations and then again immediately after the announcement.
"I was just happy for him that he got the bid," Novak said. "Then I said I'd see him in Nashville."
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mikerothstein.