Michigan moves on after finishing season at .500
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Michigan coach John Beilein was disappointed his team wasn't chosen for the NIT.
At the end of an injury-plagued season that fell well below expectations, the Wolverines still hadn't given up.
''If you get the right young men on the team, at least you can take on this adversity together,'' Beilein said. ''Nobody blinked.''
Michigan found out Sunday night that its season was over, and this 16-16 showing was a far cry from the heights Beilein and the Wolverines had reached over the previous three years, when they won two Big Ten titles and made a Final Four appearance. Injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton left Michigan undermanned in 2015, and now that the season is over, the Wolverines can only hope this difficult experience was a valuable one.
''We know so much more about our freshmen now than we would have,'' Beilein said.
Maybe it was only a matter of time before Michigan went through a down year. Over the course of two offseasons, the Wolverines lost Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III to the NBA draft. There were signs that Michigan was in trouble this season even when the team was relatively healthy. Losses in December to NJIT and Eastern Michigan left the Wolverines looking a bit rattled, but they still won four of their first six games in Big Ten play.
Then the team announced in mid-January that LeVert would be out for the season with a foot injury. An overtime loss to Wisconsin the following weekend ended up being Walton's last game - a lingering toe problem kept him out.
So it was up to Beilein to piece together a lineup that could compete, and although the Wolverines took Michigan State to overtime and upset Ohio State, Michigan fell out of the NCAA Tournament picture down the stretch, losing seven of eight at one point.
The Wolverines did beat Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament before losing to Wisconsin.
''It took us a while, it's been a process with so many young guys, but I think the past couple of weeks we're really starting to figure it out,'' guard Spike Albrecht said after Michigan was eliminated. ''I definitely don't want the season to end.''
The Wolverines were holding out hope for an NIT berth, but none was forthcoming. So the focus now turns to next season. The team's lone senior was forward Max Bielfeldt, who actually has a year of eligibility left if Michigan has a spot for him. LeVert is viewed by some as a potential first-round draft pick, but if he returns, the Wolverines could improve very quickly.
Amid all the injuries, freshmen Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman contributed quite a bit during conference play, providing the type of production on the perimeter that's so important in Beilein's offense. Sophomore Zak Irvin, meanwhile, turned into a more complete player down the stretch. Irvin had 23 assists in his last six games - before that, he had only 26 all season.
''He is truly becoming a multi-position player. Last year, just a shooter,'' Beilein said. ''Now he's become a passer, a rebounder, a better shooter, a scorer.''
Beilein said Walton actually practiced Sunday, before the NIT selections were revealed and Michigan was left out. Walton's improving health only added to the sense that the Wolverines would have been eager to take the court for at least one more game.
Instead, they'll try to forget about their mediocre record in 2014-15 as quickly as possible - while holding onto a few silver linings.
''Still proud of our team and how resilient they were all year long,'' Beilein said. ''I think we saw great growth in them.''