NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — John Beilein insists he couldn’t care less about Michigan’s seed in the NCAA tournament.
Even when it’s the highest of his coaching career.
“I’ve never seen so much wasted energy on who is seeded where. I mean, it is incredible,” Beilein said Sunday, shortly before the bracket was unveiled. “I don’t care where we’re seeded. I don’t care where we play.”
For Beilein, that’s more than just coach speak. It’s the attitude of a man who has exceeded expectations several times in the NCAA tournament. Of course, this year it’ll be harder for him to do that — his Michigan team is the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Regional and is among the favorites for a possible Final Four run.
Beilein is making his ninth NCAA tournament appearance, his fifth at Michigan. His postseason resume is impressive. In 1998, his 14th-seeded Richmond team upset South Carolina in the first round. In 2005, he took West Virginia to the national quarterfinals as a No. 7 seed. The following season, the Mountaineers won two games as a No. 6.
His recent teams at Michigan have come into the tournament with more acclaim. The Wolverines were seeded fourth in 2012 and 2013. They lost their opener to Ohio in 2012. The following season, they made it all the way to the national title game.
No wonder Beilein doesn’t put much stock in seeds.
Guard Nik Stauskas, however, acknowledges the obvious: Michigan’s high seeds are an indication of the program’s growth. Despite an injury to big man Mitch McGary, the Wolverines won the Big Ten title by three games and made it to the championship game of the conference tournament before losing to rival Michigan State.
Michigan (25-8) faces 15th-seeded Wofford (20-12) on Thursday night.
Led by Big Ten player of the year Stauskas, the Wolverines can be downright breathtaking when they’re spreading the floor and making 3-pointers. But defensively they’ve admittedly struggled. That was a concern heading into last year’s tournament as well, and Michigan tightened up enough to make a lengthy run.
“As far as our offense goes, I think we’re a very efficient team,” Stauskas said. “We have a lot of guys who are capable of scoring, passing and driving. Defensively, we’ve shown weaknesses at times, and I think we have room to improve there.”
Wofford won the Southern Conference tournament, and the Terriers will have at least some familiarity with Michigan. Wofford assistant Darris Nichols played for Beilein at West Virginia.
“Darris was one of the smartest, brightest point guards I have ever had,” Beilein said. “Now I really wish he didn’t understand our offense at all, but he knows everything about us, so we have a challenge with a guy on the other bench that knows a lot about what we do.”
Last season, the Wolverines appeared worn down late in the Big Ten season, only to find a second wind in the NCAA tournament. Michigan was a more consistent team down the stretch in 2014, but having to play three games in three days in the Big Ten tournament may have taken its toll.
The Wolverines slipped past Illinois and Ohio State before Sunday’s 69-55 loss. What was alarming for Michigan in the title game was that Michigan State won easily despite shooting 2 of 17 from 3-point range.
The Wolverines were unable to protect the area around their basket, and foul trouble to post players Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford was tough to overcome.
Now the season resets — and at least one player is hoping that lofty NCAA tournament seed can give Michigan a boost.
“Coach Beilein has turned this program into a place where we expect to be in this tournament every single year regardless of what happens,” Stauskas said. “Having a No. 2 seed is great, we’ve worked extremely hard for it, and we’re excited.”
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