The Michigan Wolverines will likely be without senior leader Isaiah Livers for the NCAA Tournament, but oddsmakers still like their chances.
After a whirlwind weekend, coach Juwan Howard and the Wolverines earned a No. 1 seed in the East Region on Sunday when the March Madness brackets were released. That placement comes after Michigan bowed out of the Big Ten Tournament semifinals Saturday.
Mixed in was the injury news about Livers, who has a stress fracture in his foot and will likely miss the rest of the season.
In the end, Michigan (20-4) is a No. 1 seed for the third time in history. The Wolverines will play in their first-round NCAA Tournament game Saturday against Texas Southern, which beat Mount St. Mary’s in the First Four on Thursday.
Michigan is one of nine Big Ten teams to make the field.
Michigan joins Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois as NCAA Tournament favorites
There was some uncertainty about Michigan securing a top seed heading into the unveiling of the brackets. The Wolverines are joined on the top line by Gonzaga (West), Illinois (Midwest) and Baylor (South).
According to BetMGM, Michigan has the third-best odds (+600) to win the tournament, with Illinois sharing the same 6-to-1 placement. Gonzaga is the tourney favorite at +275. Baylor is +350 to win it all.
FanDuel also has Michigan at +600, but the Wolverines are tied with Baylor there. Illinois holds +700 odds. Gonzaga leads the field at +200.
Interestingly, the Circa Sports odds have Michigan and Baylor tied at +850, behind Illinois (+600). Circa is owned by Derek Stevens, a Michigan native and a casino magnate in downtown Las Vegas, and his brother, Greg.
First up: Texas Southern or Mount St. Mary’s in East Regional
Until Michigan as an official opponent, direct lines will not be posted. Michigan will be a heavy favorite on Saturday, no matter the foe.
Mount St. Mary’s won the Northeast Conference tournament, while Texas Southern won the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Texas Southern is 2-point favorites to win on Thursday, according to DraftKings.
Trouble could also be lurking for Michigan on Monday in the second round, as it would meet the winner of eighth-seeded LSU and No. 9 seed St. Bonaventure in the next round. LSU is a tough out for a No. 8 seed. The Tigers reached the final of the SEC Tournament and lost by a point to Alabama on Sunday.
Other top seeds in the East include the No. 2 Crimson Tide, No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Florida State.
Juwan Howard has Michigan rolling
In winning a regular-season Big Ten title, Howard accomplished something in his second year as coach of his alma mater that he wasn’t able to do in his three years as a standout player.
At the Big Ten Tournament this weekend in Indianapolis, Michigan topped Maryland, but lost to Ohio State 68-67 in spite of a strong late comeback. Mike Smith missed a potential game-winner near the buzzer.
Howard, who was a member of the famed Fab Five teams in the 1990s, helped the Wolverines to the Final Four twice. The Wolverines fell to Duke and North Carolina in the finals in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
After a long career as an NBA player and then an assistant coach, Howard returned to Ann Arbor to replace John Beilein last season. Michigan was 19-12 entering the 2020 Big Ten Tournament before the rest of the season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, Michigan won its first 11 games, but lost games to Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Freshman center Hunter Dickinson leading the way
Without Livers, Michigan will be relying even more on freshman center Hunter Dickinson, who is averaging 14.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Brandon Johns Jr. will take Livers’ spot in the starting lineup, though Howard loses one of his top bench players with that development.
Projected first-round pick Franz Wagner will need to step up the scoring to make up for missing Livers and his 13.1 points per game.