Michigan drew No. 13 seed South Dakota St. as a four seed in the NCAA Tournament and will open Thursday in their backyard at the Palace of Auburn Hills. U-M head coach John Beilein expressed confidence in his team Sunday and vowed they'd be looser than they were last year.
The Wolverines fell to Ohio U. as a four seed in last year's tournament. Many believed they'd hold on to a three this season, but Beilein wasn't concerned with the seed or the venue.
"It's nice, but I try to never make too much about where you go or where you're seeded because it could be the worst thing that happens to you," he said of playing in Auburn Hills. "It's great because we're local, we've got so many fans in this area, students can travel. That is really good. But if they said we were going to San Jose, we would be just as excited right now."
The Wolverines are 6-6 in their last 12 games, making them some pundits' candidates for an early exit. Beilein, though, disagreed with the notion that his team wasn't playing well.
"I feel great about our team, and I feel great about our season," he said. "We had 26 wins. That 6-6 finish could have been even worse or been really good. We're not talking about major things, but a bounce of the ball, scheduling, all those things are a big part of it.
"In this league, sometimes it's the schedule and where you're playing. I feel really good about the way our team is playing. We've got some things to shore up, obviously, but with this roster we put out there, this is a heck of a year - I think we were playing really well. We played Indiana as tough as anybody played Indiana, could have easily won that game. If you look at us, the tough loss was at Penn State. Every other loss we were probably playing a really good team and didn't play quite well enough, but played really well."
The Wolverines got significant contributions from five freshmen and were led by a sophomore point guard in Trey Burke and a junior wing in Tim Hardaway, Jr. Beilein doesn't know much about the Jackrabbits, but he did glance at the roster to see a team loaded with seniors, three-point shooters and scorers.
But playing in the NCAA Tournament and making a run is why his kids came to Michigan, he noted, vowing they would play to win rather than not to lose.
"We have to make sure we go after this thing as hard we can, because you don't know what the opportunities will be like in the future," Beilein said. "You have to seize it, but you can't go in with the attitude that we're going to go home if we don't win. We have to go in with we're going to put everything we can to win the game, win the game, win the game - put in all the time and effort to do that.
"We're used to playing with a lot of pressure on us. When the Big Ten championship was on the line, there was a lot on the line. So we'll do what we do, not try to stress that as much as a great opportunity on a national stage, keep winning and keep our season going. This team has been playing to stay in the top 10 all year and carried that as good as any in the country has carried that. The kids have really, really carried that well. I think we've been through this enough where we will play to win."