Many of Michigan's players have never been to New York, but if they have their way, they'll leave with an NIT Season Tip-Off championship.
The fourth-ranked Wolverines will play undefeated Pittsburgh on Wednesday night in a semifinal game at Madison Square Garden.
Michigan (3-0) beat Slippery Rock 100-62 in its opener before defeating IUPUI 91-54 and Cleveland State 77-47 last week to advance to play at "The World's Most Famous Arena." The last time the Wolverines won three consecutive games by at least 30 points came in 1989, the year they won a national championship.
Two wins in New York would give them a championship taste. Michigan last played in MSG on Nov. 21, 2008, and lost 71-56 to Duke in the 2K Sports Classic championship.
"At Michigan, you come to win championships, and this is one of the most prestigious preseason tournaments," coach John Beilein said. "Many of the kids have not been to New York, they've not been to the Garden, and we wanted them to get there."
Michigan's NCAA-best 53.1 percent shooting from 3-point range fuels its high-powered offense. The Wolverines' 89.3 points per game also ranks among the best in the nation, with preseason All-American Trey Burke and fellow guard Tim Hardaway Jr. averaging 18.3 and 17.3 points, respectively.
The backcourt duo combines to average 5.0 of Michigan's 11.3 made 3-pointers per game.
"I've honestly never been to New York," Burke said. "Just to be able to go there for the first time with this team, it means a lot. To go there, play against some of the competition that's going to be there, it's going to kind of test where we're at."
The Panthers (4-0) are no strangers to playing at MSG. Pittsburgh has played 42 games there since 2000-01, going 28-14 and winning two Big East championships in the process.
Coach Jamie Dixon, a New York City native, is 20-12 all-time at Madison Square Garden. His team, though, needed a historic rally to get there this time.
Pittsburgh recorded the largest comeback from a halftime deficit in school history in a 72-62 overtime win over Oakland on Saturday. The Panthers trailed by 14 after 20 minutes and as many as 18 in the second half, needing a 7-0 run in the final minute to force overtime.
From there, Pittsburgh outscored Oakland 14-4 in the extra period. J.J. Moore, averaging 13.3 points, scored a team-high 16 in 25 minutes off the bench.
"We battled, and I guess that's the most important thing," Dixon told the team's official website. "We can focus on the first half, but in the second half we outscored them by 28 from being down 18, so that says a lot of things. We have a lot of work to do. I think our guys understand that."
It was the first test of mettle for Pittsburgh, which won its first three games by an average of 30.7 points.
The Panthers' close call could prove to be an advantage, as the Wolverines have not yet found themselves in a tightly contested game.
"We're going to work four days of late-game situations," Beilein said. "Getting those in these early season games are always beneficial. We haven't had any of those."
Pittsburgh won the schools' last meeting, 85-76 in the 1996 Rainbow Classic in Honolulu.
The winner will play Kansas State or Delaware in the championship game Friday.
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