Michigan basketball a 1-seed in NCAA tournament, to face Texas Southern or Mount St. Mary's

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Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
·5 min read
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Michigan basketball is a No. 1 seed for the first time since Juwan Howard's sophomore year of college.

The Wolverines earned the top seed of the East Region despite losing three of their past five games — putting them in position to make a run past the first weekend of the 2021 NCAA tournament.

“It’s been a very long journey,” Juwan Howard said Sunday night in a video provided by the program. “At times it’s been stressful but there have been a lot of highs outweighing the lows. And so the adversity that we dealt with, our guys have really competed so far. They deserve to be in this position right now. I’m so proud of them. The real work starts, and we’re looking forward to that.”

Michigan will face Saturday the winner of Mount St. Mary's and Texas Southern, who play Thursday. If the Wolverines win that game, their next opponent would be either LSU, the No. 8 seed, or St. Bonaventure, the No. 9 seed, on Monday.

The other top seeds in the region are No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Florida State.

HERE WE GO: NCAA tournament 2021: Print your bracket here

MORE: Meet Michigan basketball's possible first-round opponents

TRENDING: Inside Michigan's previous runs as 1-seed in March Madness: Final Four and bust

It is the first time Michigan has received a No. 1 seed since the 1992-93 season, when the Fab Five (in their second year with the Wolverines) lost in the national championship to North Carolina. It is the third team in program history to receive a No. 1 seed.

Howard, a member of that group, could have his alma mater positioned for a similarly deep run in his second year as head coach.

“Right now, I’m as calm as can be,” Howard said. “As a player, I remember the time, being a No. 1 seed, being the No. 6 seed and also my junior year being the No. 3 seed, there are a lot of different emotions going on as a player. You’re really excited, you’ve worked so hard leading up to this point. Every college basketball player wants to get to the tournament. All of them want to win, the ultimate goal is to cut down the nets and win a championship.

“Now, as a coach, I get that opportunity again. I will never forget going back to my (introductory) press conference when I said I have unfinished business. This is that unfinished business.”

[ Here's Michigan basketball's NCAA tournament plan without Isaiah Livers ]

Michigan is 20-4 and won the regular season Big Ten title by going 14-3. After beginning the season unranked in the coaches poll, the Wolverines have been regarded as one of the nation's elite teams, and, with the nation's sixth-best offense and seventh-best defense, are one of three teams in the top 10 on both ends of the court, according to KenPom.com.

Michigan will have to overcome a devastating injury to Isaiah Livers. The senior forward has a stress fracture in his right foot and is out indefinitely. The second-team All-Big Ten selection is averaging 13.1 points, six rebounds and two assists; he is the team's top shooter, averaging 43.1% on five 3-pointers per game.

“I’m going to be the best leader I can be,” Livers said Sunday night. “The mental aspect is going to be challenging for me, looking at my teammates giving their all out there and I know how much work they’ve put in, and I can’t be out there, it’s going to hurt. But I’ve got family here. I’m in a bubble with my family, my brother, so it’s going to be great for me to work on my leadership skills.

“We’re going to play our hardest every possession and we’re going to claw back. I feel like that’s going to be the No. 1 thing about Michigan in the tournament — we’re not going to give up, no matter what the lead is.”

Making a deep run without Livers will be difficult, but the Wolverines' seeding should help.

“It was a reward of all the hard work that me, the rest of the team has put in since June, coming in here,” said center Hunter Dickinson. “That was our main goal: To win a national championship. You can’t do that without being selected to be in the tournament. This is one step towards our main goal. But there’s still a lot of work to do. There is a little added seriousness and added pressure with the tournament style. If you lose, you’re going home. You can’t save anything out there on the floor, you’ve got to give it your all. You really don’t have an opportunity to take a team lightly.

“I think with this group of guys, we’re all competitors, I think you’ll see us just give it our all out there. I think our depth and willingness to share the game have been shown all throughout the year, so that really makes it fun out there and that’s when basketball is at its best — when it’s fun.”

COLUMN: How Michigan proved it still can win NCAA tournament, even without Isaiah Livers

ANALYSIS: Isaiah Livers' injury a gut punch to Michigan's NCAA tournament chances

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball a No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament's East Region