The Big Dance is here! This year, Michigan and Michigan State qualified for the 2017 NCAA men's basketball tournament, but neither had an easy path. And both teams face uphill climbs if they want to make a run at this year's Final Four.
Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Stateside to talk about both teams' chances in the tournament, but he said Michigan's run to the Big Ten tournament championship was one for the ages.
After losing to Ohio State in Ann Arbor on Feb. 4, the Wolverines turned in one of the best runs in program history. They won 10 of their last 12 games and went from a bubble team in early February to Big Ten champions in mid-March. Prior to Thursday's opening game in the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines' plane attempted to take off from Willow Run airport in extremely windy conditions. The plane took off, but the high winds forced it back down to the runway as it crashed through a fence and into a ditch. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt.
The Big Ten conference refused to move Michigan's game, which was scheduled for noon the following day in Washington D.C. Wolverines head coach John Beilein, who was reportedly the last man off the plane when it crashed off the runway, gave his players the choice to forfeit the game. Instead, they chose to play. They hopped an early morning flight and began a journey that saw them win four games in four days, including wins over the top two teams in the conference (Purdue, Wisconsin).
Bacon calls it "one of the greatest stories in Michigan basketball history."
"Two guys deserve credit," said Bacon. "Beilein for the job he's done the last two months, and [starting point guard] Derrick Walton Jr. has put this team on his back. He has put in one of the greatest performances this second half of the season I have ever seen in Michigan basketball."
Despite winning the conference tournament, Bacon said Michigan got "screwed" by receiving a No. 7 seed and will open NCAA tournament play against No. 10 seed Oklahoma State in Indianapolis on Friday at 12:15 p.m.
Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans were on the bubble earlier in the season but did just enough to get into the tournament for the 20th year in a row. MSU is a No. 9 seed and will play against No. 8 Miami (Fla.) in the opening round on Friday night in Tulsa, Okla.
Bacon says this a lot, and he repeated it again: "Never bet against an Izzo team in March." The Hall of Fame coach faces the same challenge he's had all season: getting a young team where the star players are all freshman to play to their potential. They open the tournament with 100-to-1 odds of winning a national championship.
Northwestern, who will make their first-ever appearance in the tournament has roughly the same odds of winning.
He added "[The No. 9 seed] is almost a better place to be," said Bacon. "They have nothing to lose."
Listen to the full interview above to hear more about Michigan's incredible journey to a Big Ten title, and Bacon's keys for Michigan State to make a Cinderella run.
John Beilein addresses the crowd after Big Ten title