Michigan’s Nik Stauskas shoots during practice on Wednesday in Milwaukee. No. 2-seeded Michigan plays No. 15 Wofford today.
MILWAUKEE — Spike Albrecht uses one statement to describe the sometimes volatile nature of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“This tournament is insane,” said Albrecht, a sophomore point guard on the Michigan men’s basketball team. “It was, what, a year or two ago when Lehigh beat Duke and that was a 15-2. It happens. You can’t take anyone lightly.”
Michigan, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest regional, faces No. 15 Wofford (20-12) of the Southern Conference today at 7:10 at the Bradley Center in a second-round game. The Wolverines (25-8) enter the tournament less than a year after reaching the national championship game and this year and this tournament come with a point of emphasis: respect.
Respect the opponent. Respect the history of the tournament. Respect the fact that No. 2 vs. No. 15 looks lopsided, especially on paper.
Given recent tournament history, a No. 15 upsetting a No. 2 seed isn’t completely out of the question. Of the few 2-15 upsets, the most recent came last year when Florida Gulf Coast University used a 21-2 second-half run to defeat Georgetown 78-68.
The New York Post on Wednesday rated the top ten NCAA tournament upsets and included four 2-15 matchups: Richmond’s 73-69 upset of Syracuse in 1991, Hampton’s 58-57 win over Iowa State in 2001, Santa Clara’s 64-61 win over Arizona in 1993, and Norfolk State’s 86-84 win over Missouri in 2012. Those games provide hope for some teams.
“I think anyone is beatable at this time,” said American guard Darius Gardner, whose team faces Wisconsin in another 15-2 matchup today. “March Madness is just one of those times where anything can happen, but, you know, we can't compare ourselves to Florida Gulf Coast. We have to stick to the things we do and do the things we've done all season. Hopefully we can be the next team that can make an upset tomorrow.”
Michigan coach John Beilein isn’t a fan of the inferiority complex that’s attached to being one of the lowest seeded tournament teams. The seventh-year Michigan coach took two small schools to the NCAA tournament — Canisius in 1996 and Richmond in 1998.
No. 4 Utah defeated Canisius 72-43 in the first round of the tournament. Two years later, No. 14 Richmond upset No. 3 South Carolina 62-61 in the first round, then lost to No. 11 Washington 81-66 in the second round.
“Where I come from, yeah, it probably bothers me a little bit,” Beilein said. “I know how good those teams are. As I watched the NIT scores [Tuesday] and I watched Davidson lead Missouri the whole game, at Missouri, or I watched Robert Morris beat the heck out of St. John’s at St. John’s, as a guy who came from that territory, I remind them all the time that everyone at this time of the year is really good. It’s not a guaranteed game. You have to come ready to play.”
Still, the team seeded in the teens comes with a label: Underdog.
“That’s the way it is when Wofford comes to games such as these and competes against the Badgers of Wisconsin or the Cougars of BYU or Michigan,” Wofford coach Mike Young said. “You draw upon whatever you can draw upon. I don’t think we need any more motivation than that.”
Some may look at their brackets and ask of Wofford, “who are those guys?” Others may have used an Internet search engine to find exactly where Wofford’s campus is located. (It’s in Spartanburg, S.C.) Wofford forward Lee Skinner embraces the notion of not being the favorite, or even being notable.
“I love being underestimated and people not knowing who we are, giving us the chance to spread our name,” Skinner said. “It’s not really intimidating. We’re really lucky to be here, and we’re enjoying every second of it. There will be some butterflies and there have been, just thinking about the game. But other than that, we’re excited. We’re really excited.”
When he considered history, Albrecht realized this much: anything can happen. And, Albrecht said, “No one wants to go home at this time of year.”
Especially not a No. 2 seed.