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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Michigan’s losses hurt Arizona’s tournament resume

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Tyler Baker

Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller looks down the bench during Arizona’s 87-56 win against Utah Valley in McKale Center on Tuesday. Miller and the Wildcats take on Michigan on Saturday, a matchup that has been weakened due to the Wolverines’ recent losses to programs that are relatively unknown.

The No. 3 Arizona Wildcats just keep on winning, not that anyone expected the then-35 game nonconference streak to end against the largely unknown Utah Valley Wolverines. In fact, they’re not even the most noteworthy Wolverines on Arizona’s schedule. That nod goes to Michigan.

Before the season, the Gonzaga and Michigan home games appeared to be the hands down two marquee, nonconference games of the season. With the Pac-12 Conference down as a whole, those games were also the rare chances to build a formidable NCAA tournament resume.

Looking at the Gonzaga game, Arizona picked up a great, resume-building victory by taking down the Zags 66-63 in OT. Sure, it was a home game, but it’s the kind of statement win the selection committee can look at and be impressed with. Gonzaga came into that matchup averaging 88 points per game, and the Wildcats held their explosive offense to just 63 points in overtime nonetheless.

As a measuring-stick game, the Wildcats couldn’t do much better than the Gonzaga matchup.

However, that’s just one half of the aforementioned duo of marquee nonconference games. The other half belongs to the reeling Michigan Wolverines.

Even after losing Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary to the 2014 NBA Draft, the Wolverines were ranked No. 24 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll.

Behind a perimeter oriented roster led by future pro Caris LeVert, swingman Zak Irvin, reliable point guard Derrick Walton Jr. and the always pesky Spike Albrecht, the Wolverines can put points up in a hurry.

Unfortunately, Michigan is trending in the wrong directions. After taking down Syracuse in a close 68-65 ballgame, the fighting John Beileins have lost two in a row to the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Eastern Michigan.

Don’t blame yourself if you had never heard of either team before reading this. You’re in the majority.

Losing in nonconference is never easy, but losing to these kind of off-the-wall teams is downright deflating. I do not envy Beilein’s job right about now, as he’s trying to rally his troops in time for this Saturday’s matchup with the Wildcats in McKale Center. It’s never easy to play Arizona at home, let alone after losing to NJIT and EMU.

From Arizona’s perspective, Michigan’s woes do nothing but diminish it’s tournament resume. And that’s not to say Saturday’s matchup won’t be competitive — it probably will be. A victory over Michigan would be seen as more of a game the Wildcats should’ve won, not one that could potentially define their season.

It certainly would be a far cry from last season’s gritty 72-70 victory over the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, a victory that ended up defining the season for the then-No. 1 team in the nation.

However, there is a shining light at the end of the tunnel. Conference foes like Washington and Utah are building solid resumes with wins over teams like San Diego State and Wichita State, respectively. Those key wins — particularly Washington’s win over SDSU — propel the impending matchups a bit higher than they would’ve been.

Of course, this is all hypothetical. As evidenced by Michigan’s rough patch, a lot can change over the course of a week, let alone a month. Get ready to buckle down, because the halfway point of the season is rapidly approaching.

Time sure flies when you’re winning 36 straight regular season, nonconference games.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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