Michigan coach Juwan Howard must have a close relationship with the Basketball Gods, because his prayer worked for the Wolverines, who were in serious danger of not qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. A lackluster regular season and inconsistencies across the board, not to mention a B1G postseason loss to Indiana (74-69), were supposed to be enough to close the door on the Wolverines.

But in reality, that 75-69 road win at No. 23 Ohio State to cap the regular season, in hindsight, was enough to grant entrance into the Field of 68.

The No. 11-seed in the South Region, Michigan opens up vs. Colorado State, No. 6, on Friday. The winner will likely face Tennessee, a No. 3 seed that was widely considered to be good enough to be a No. 1 seed, per recent remarks by analysts and media members.

Michigan got there. But how far will it go?

The path

In the event Michigan gets past Colorado State, there is a very low chance that it will overtake the Volunteers, who appear to be a legitimate threat to reach the Final Four. Should UM pull off an upset and get hot, it could end up getting another shot at No. 7 Ohio State, or even better (worse), it’ll have to square off with No. 2 Villanova or No. 1 Kansas. Even if the stars aligned and Howard’s prayers were answered, it’s extremely unlikely to project Michigan getting out of the South Region. Really, it’ll probably be one-and-done for UM.

Who to watch

Hunter Dickinson has been the linchpin of Michigan basketball for the past 2 years, so he’s clearly the top player to follow during the tournament. Michigan will go as far as Dickinson allows. The 7-foot-1 center averages a team-high 18.3 points and has been the Wolverines’ most consistent producer. Despite not being as dominant as he was as a freshman, Dickinson, a sophomore, has the ability to score in droves. However, it’s all about having the opportunities … and based on UM’s track record this year, it doesn’t look like Dickinson will have many chances to warm up in time for the Wolverines to be considered as threats.

Along with Dickinson, Michigan has three other players who average double-figures in scoring: Eli Brooks (12.3 PPG), DeVante Jones (10.7) and Caleb Houstan (10.3). Obviously, they’ll all have to play well in order for Michigan to advance.

During his past 3 games, Brooks has scored 17 and 14 (twice), so it’s safe to say that he’s getting back on track. He’s hit 5 of his past 15 long-range attempts; his perimeter game can be a difference-maker for a team that lacks the same feel as the 2020-21 squad that went to the Elite Eight.

Jones scored 25 during a late regular-season game vs. Illinois and he just put up 18 during a B1G Tournament loss to Indiana. Prior to that, he poured in 21 points on Ohio State — the victory that pretty much reserved Michigan’s ticket to the Big Dance.

Houstan’s 3-point prowess will also be necessary for the Wolverines. He’s been wildly inconsistent, though, so it’s difficult to predict how he’ll fare against Colorado State and beyond.

Depth hasn’t been Michigan’s strength this season. Despite ups and downs, however, the Wolverines have shown that they have some attitude and grit — and that, sometimes, is all a team needs as it heads into the NCAA Tournament.

Final analysis

Teams can transform themselves into their best versions during this time of year. The optimistic crowd might feel that the best of Michigan is yet to come. But those glass-half-empty folks would quickly dismiss the Wolverines based on the past few weeks. Losing to Indiana, which was also a bubble team, was enough to cast some doubt on Michigan. But not many teams have a player who can dominate like Dickinson, so that, in itself, is enough to forecast at least one victory for the Wolverines.

They might get past Colorado State but they won’t escape Tennessee. And, let’s say some miracles come to fruition. … Well, Kansas or Villanova will gladly step in and put a halt to UM’s progress.