Where is the Michigan basketball program heading?
It was a legitimate question when Michigan coach Juwan Howard slapped Wisc WVU vs. Pitt Rivalry Jerseys onsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft after a verbal alterca Denver Pioneers Jerseys tion with Badgers coach Greg Gard on Feb. 20.
The program foundation built through the John Beilein era appeared to be at a crumbling point. Michigan, ranked No. 6 in the preseason, was in a free-fall to the NIT. Howard, who was suspended for the remainder of the regular season, returned for the Big Ten tournament and watched the Wolverines blow a 17-point second lead against Indiana in the quarterfinals.
This was not a stable environment by any means.
A 17-14 Big Ten team isn't supposed to make the NCAA tournament, let alone the Sweet 16.
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Well, March can change that fast. No. 11 Michigan upset No. 3 Tennessee 76-68 at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Saturday. The Wolverines advanced to the Sweet 16 and will face the winner of Sunday's game between No. 2 Villanova and No. 7 Ohio State.
Seriously, we might get the Wolverines and Buckeyes in the Sweet 16.
Nobody thought that was possible a month ago, and Howard deserves credit even if he won't take it.
"I didn't do anything," Howard said in the post-game interview on CBS. "They did everything. They did everything it took to make winning plays throughout the game. I'm so proud of their resolve going with the ups and downs with the runs."
That program stability is back in Ann Arbor, and the ugliness of Howard's slap is in the gone-but-not-forgotten pile.
Michigan advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight tournament. The only other active program with a better Sweet 16 streak is No. 1 Gonzaga, which made its seventh straight second-weekend appearance after beating No. 9 Memphis 82-78. It's a remarkable statistic when you consider Big Ten blue-bloods Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State have never done it.
Most consecutive Sweet 16 appearances
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At this point in his coaching career, Howard is what he was as a player with the Fab Five from 1991-94. Michigan reached the national championship game twice in his first two seasons and the Elite Eight in his junior year. As a coach, Howard led Michigan to the Elite Eight last season.
He's a second-weekend coach to this point, even if the Wolverines really weren't supposed to be here.
"It's all about attention to detail and it's Drexel Dragons clothes about the sacrifice for an entire group. It's also about our staff being so dialed into their prep, and it's about the trust," Howard said. "The trust is real. I am just so excited for this moment."
MORE: Howard consoles Tennessee's Kennedy Chandler
Think about the roller-coaster ride to get there. Interim coach Phil Martelli led the Wolverines to wins against Michigan State and Ohio State in the same week to get Michigan off the bubble. Michigan point guard DeVante Jones suffered a concussion in practice on March 14, and No. 6 Colorado State jumped out to a 15-point lead on the Wolverines in the WVU vs. Pitt Rivalry Gear first round on Thursday.
The Wolverines outscored the Rams 46-27 on Thursday in a 75-63 win, and they took advantage of another tournament opportunity against an SEC school. Dating back to Howard's playing days, the Wolverines are 8-2 in tournament games against SEC schools, with the only losses coming in the Elite Eight to Arkansas in 1994 and Kentucky in 2014.
Tennessee didn't have an answer for 7-1 center Hunter Dickinson, who finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds. Eli Brooks, a fifth-year senior, added 23 points. That included a floater with 54 seconds left that kept the Wolverines at a two-possession lead. Michigan looked more like the team that was expected in March, not the one that waddled through a subpar Big Ten season into that road loss at Wisconsin on Feb. 20.
It's a remarkable one-month turn of events. Michigan punched its Sweet 16 ticket and will watch five other Big Ten teams play on Sunday.
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Howard can resume the chase for a Final Four appearance as a coach, and it's not a coincidence former Fab Five teammates Jalen Rose, Chris Webber and Ray Jackson showed up for the games this weekend. The Wolverines aren't chasing S Benedictine Eagles shirt weet 16 appearances. They are looking for the program's first national championship since 1989. Hey, Michigan wore those throwback jerseys for a reason. That's the attention to detail Howard is talking about.
As for the on-the-court-behavior? Howard was last seen FSU vs. Miami Rivalry Shirts hugging Tennessee guard Kennedy Chandler, who led the Vols with 19 points, after Saturday's game. He laughed when Tennessee center Uros Plavsic winked at him after a basket.
Howard also is letting that emotion flow from Dickinson, who will need to be just as dominant in the second weekend for Michigan to get back to the Elite Eight, where they were knocked off by No. 11 UCLA last season.
"It's just fun competitive basketball," Howard said. "Hunter is a very emotional guy, which I love coming from guys and competing. Basketball is not an easy game, a Chestnut Hill Griffins clothes nd these kids are supposed to have fun when they're out there competing."
It's OK for the coaches to have fun, and Howard is not an exception.
That's what happens when your program is heading to the Sweet 16.