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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

March Madness: Michigan men and women, Michigan State men get NCAA tourney bids

Downtown skyline showing sports arenas, hotels and office building
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The Michigan State and Michigan men's basketball teams are hoping to be in the Superdome in New Orleans for the Final Four, but they'll have to go on a run in the early rounds to get there.

The Spartans and the Wolverines are dancing. Both Michigan State and Michigan are in the field of 64 for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. In the women’s tournament, Michigan earned the highest seed in program history.

The selections were announced Sunday. Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about the brackets.

Doug Tribou: Let’s start with the Michigan State men. The Spartans are the 7th seed in the West Region. They’ll face the 10th-seeded Davidson Wildcats on Friday night in Greenville, South Carolina. Michigan State played well in the Big Ten Conference tournament getting two wins before getting bounced by Purdue. Does the 7th seed feel like a fair decision by the selection committee?

John U. Bacon: Yeah, I'd say so. The Spartans finished pretty strong in the grand scheme. It's been a very funny Big Ten season. [The tournament selection committee] took nine Big Ten teams, which is a whole lot out of 14, but none higher than a third seed, however.

They're [all] between third seed and 11th seed. So, a big mixed bag of stuff in the Big Ten and the Spartans are right in the middle of that. But they can beat anyone.

DT: Davidson College is in North Carolina and its basketball program is best known as the alma mater of two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry. The program made its last tournament appearance in 2018. The team’s don’t have a lot of history facing one another. But there is one interesting cross-over this season.

"You just can't get a bead on these guys."
John U. Bacon on the Michigan men's basketball team alternating wins and losses late in the season

JUB: Yes, there is. Michigan State guard Foster Loyer transferred to Davidson this season, and here's a stat for you. While at Michigan State, he [made] 43 three-point shots in three years. At Davidson this season alone, he [hit 73], so clearly the transfer was a great move for him. This is one of those cute tricks the NCAA loves to play to get a storyline going for a match up. Teams like this a bit unfair to both sides in some ways, but you got to get a play through it.

DT: Let's turn to Michigan, who is also dancing despite limping into the tournament. The Wolverines are the 11th seed in the South Region. They'll face the 6th seed, Colorado State, on Thursday afternoon. How do you like Michigan's chances for an upset?

JUB: They're as good as I like their chances for playing horribly and leaving after one game. It's one of the oddest stats out there: for basically a month, Doug, they literally won a game and lost a game, won a game, lost game, won a game, lost a game. That's very hard to do, especially when oftentimes the wins were against the best teams around like Michigan State, like Purdue.

I have no idea what's going to happen this time, but it is a good draw for them because they were afraid they're going to get one of those play-in games, an extra game tacked on if you're between 65 and 68 [in the field]. So they're in the top 64, at least. That saved them a game.

The Michigan women's basketball team earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, the highest in program history.

DT: Last I checked, John, it behooves teams to string together more than one win at a time during the tournament. [laughing]

JUB: [Laughing] See, that's the thing that a lot of folks don't realize: you can't win or lose your way to a national title, it turns out. So you gotta win like a bunch in a row, like six, in fact. So yeah, your analysis, Doug, is spot on.

DT: Michigan head coach Juwan Howard’s second season has not gone according to plan. After reaching the Elite Eight last year, the team struggled early this season. Howard’s fight in a handshake line a few weeks ago led to a five-game suspension. Then, in his return in the Big Ten Conference tournament, the Wolverines blew a 17-point lead and lost to Indiana. What’s your view of this season overall to this point?

JUB: You just can't get a bead on these guys. It's a likable bunch. When they play well, they play really well and they play as a team. Juwan Howard's a very likable guy and very popular, of course, but he had that horrible situation with the Wisconsin game, which leaves him with no margin [for error] going forward. You want to do the best you can in the tournament, then regroup, and start over next year.

DT: In the women’s tournament, Michigan has its highest seed ever: No. 3. The Wolverines will face American University at home in Ann Arbor on Saturday. Despite a great season, Michigan stumbled at the end with a bad regular-season loss to Iowa and a one-and-done appearance in the Big Ten tournament. What does coach Kim Barnes Arico need to do to turn her team around?

JUB: Just get back to the fundamentals. She has got a very, very good team senior-laden with Naz Hillmon, Emily Kiser, and others, and they're playing at home, which is a big, big advantage, for that team, especially. That is the best Michigan basketball has ever done. And [Barnes Arico] has built not just a good team, but a great program that will be around for a while, so hats off.

Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the conversation near the top of this page.

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