8A- Wednesday, March 7, 2007
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
By MARK GIANNOTTO
Daily Sports Writer
If you consider yourself a college
basketball fan, then there is no need
for a reminder.
But just in case you've been under
a rock and missed all the promos
on ESPN every day: Championship
Week is upon us.
Twelve teams have already
punched their tickets to the Big
Dance, and by Sunday night, the
field of 65 will be complete.
Those brackets will include the
automatic bid handed out to the
winner of the Big Ten Conference
Tournament, which begins Thurs-
day afternoon in Chicago with the
Michigan men's basketball team
taking on Minnesota.
The conference tournament is the
last opportunity for a bubble team
- like the Wolverines - to secure
the resume-building wins that the
NCAA Tournament Selection Com-
mittee salivates over.
Michigan isn't alone in needing
more victories down the stretch.
Just three Big Ten teams (No.1 Ohio
State, No. 3 Wisconsin and Indiana)
are considered locks to go dancing.
The three bottom feeders in the
conference (Penn State, Northwest-
ern and Minnesota) have no shot at
making the Tournament as an at-
large team, but with a miraculous
performance in Chicago, they could
conceivably run the table and get the
Big Ten's automatic bid.
That leaves us with the five teams
who, with a couple of wins, could
impress the Selection Committee
enough to warrant an at-large bid
Sunday. Remember, in this one-and-
done format, everybody has a chance
to bask in March Madness glory.
So, in true bubble-watch fashion,
here is what each of those teams in
the Big Ten needs to do in order to
assure themselves a spot in every-
body's bracket next week.
The Fighting Illini looked like
they were in a solid position for an
at-large bid and then promptly lost
to Iowa on the road to close out their
regular season. Winning its first-
round game against Penn State is a
must, Illinois can't feelcompletely at
Soph jack of all trades
By AMBER COLVIN
Daily Sports Editor
Two weeks ago, no one on the
Michigan hockey team's bus had a
deck of playing cards.
And for Tim Miller, a bus trip
without cards is unthinkable.
So as the bus warmed up for
the five-hour journey to Sault Ste.
Marie, the sophomore forward
took a chance - just so he could
Michigan coach Red Berenson
was minutes from boarding. And
when Berenson is on the bus, it
leaves. Simple as that.
But Miller got off and bolted
for the nearest store.
"I knew I'm a pretty good run-
ner, so I went for it and I made
it back in plenty of time," Miller
said. "It's a long bus trip, so it gets
pretty boring. It was definitely
Just like he was nearly left
behind for that night's contest
against Lake Superior State, it
would be easy for the Davisburg
native to be left behind when
talking about his class.
Never the flashiest guy on the
ice, Miller came to Ann Arbor
last year as one of 12 members of
a giant freshman class. The star-
studded swarm of newcomers
included NHL first-round draft
picks Jack Johnson and Andrew
As Johnson and Cogliano
wowed crowds with their raw
talent last season, Miller quietly
tallied 15 points (four goals, 11
In his sophomore campaign,
Miller has upped his offensive
output to 22 points (seven goals,
15 assists) after switching from
wing to center.
But the real place Miller shines
is on the other end of the ice.
The forward has made a name
for himself defending Michigan's
zone, especially on the team's top
"When you're a defensive
player, you take pride in things
you take pride in," Berenson said.
"You don't need to have the goals
and the points and the draft status
that other players have. You know
you're helping the team and you
know your teammates and your
coaches appreciate what you do."
Defensive moves have never
garnered as much hype as an
offensive flourish, but a perfect
penalty kill can swing a game's
And when it comes to the bread
and butter of penalty killing -
blocking shots - Miller is in his
essence w a
"You know he'll take a bullet for
the team, he's blocking so many
shots," fellow sophomore and
penalty killer Travis Turnbull
said. "That's definitely a tough
job. Not many people want to get
in front of the puck like him."
Turnbull and Miller have
played together on the third line
for much of the season. The duo
has struggled to contribute offen-
sively on a consistent basis but
had a strong showing in the final
weekend of the regular season, a
split with Ohio State.
Miller provided the game-win-
ning assist on Feb. 23 and a game-
tying goal on the following night,
both late in the third period.
But even with Miller's offensive
prowess steadily increasing, his
defensive abilities are still what
make him key to the Wolverines'
"He's very underrated," Turn-
bull said. "He does so many of
the little things that really are big
with our team and contributing to
ever as it enters the CCHA play-
offs on Friday, and tight defensive
play can make that happen.
The Wolverines will look to
Miller for that, and since they
have home-ice advantage, there's
no chance of leaving him behind
for a deck of cards.
Senior Dion Harris must play well if he wants to keep his team's slim Tournament
chances alive. The Wolverines must win at least two games to have any real shot,
ease unless it can beat Indiana in the
The Hawkeyes head into the Big
Ten Tournament with the highest
seed of all the bubble teams, but they
face the worst odds in securing an
at-large bid. Getting to the tourna-
ment finals is a must, and even then
all the pieces will have to fall exactly
right for Iowa to get an at-large bid
(i.e. every team in the nation that's
supposed to win its conference
tournament does just that). But
the Hawkeyes won't have to worry
about all those different scenarios if
they repeat as Big Ten Tournament
champions and receive an automatic
bid like they did in 2006.
Michigan (8-8 Big Ten, 20-11
The Wolverines were oh-so-close
to that coveted marquee victory
over the top-ranked Buckeyes, but
collapsed in the final four minutes
last Saturday. Had Michigan won, it
might have been able to squeak into
the NCAA Tournament with a win
over Minnesota in Thursday's first
round. Now, the Wolverines must
beat the Golden Gophers and win
a quarterfinal rematch with Ohio
State to even be considered. A win in
the semifinals over either Purdue or
Iowa wouldn't hurt, either.
Michigan State (8-8,21-10)
The Spartans nearly made them-
selves a lock for the Tournament
this past weekend, narrowly losing
to Wisconsin 52-50 on Saturday.
With a win in the first round against
lowly Northwestern, the Spartans
will give coach Tom Izzo his 10th-
straight NCAA Tournament appear-
ance. But lose to the Wildcats and
nothing is guaranteed.
The Boilermakers not only need
to defeat Iowa in their quarterfinal
matchup Friday, but Purdue also
might need an Illinois loss to Penn
State or a run to the tournament finals
to really lock up an at-large bid. As of
yesterday, the Boilermakers have a
lower RPI and strength of schedule
than the Fighting Illini, which might
negate Purdue's 17-point victory over
Illinois on Jan.27.
Thompson a team player
By COLT ROSENSWEIG
Daily Sports Writer
The meet against Penn State
had already started, and sopho-
more gymnast Jamie Thompson
still didn't know if he would com-
pete. He had warmed up his two
events, floor and vault, and now
all he could do was watch.
After a few of his teammates
missed their pommel horse sets,
Thompson knew he would be a
cheerleader for the night. Accord-
ing to the experimental 13-man
lineup idea (a gymnastics team
may use just 12 men in the course
of a meet), if the first few gym-
nasts didn't do well on pommel
horse, freshman David Chan
would anchor the event. Had they
hit their routines - just the four
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top scores on each event count
- Thompson would have been
inserted into the floor and vault
For most people, the realization
might have ruined their night.
But after about two seconds
behind the bleachers to collect
himself, Thompson was fine. One
of the loudest members of the
Michigan men's gymnastics team,
he added his voice to the roar as
the Wolverines pulled off one of
their biggest wins of the year,
beating No. 2 Penn State on the
"It takes a minute," Thompson
said. "You know you still have to
be there for your team. They back
you up when they're not compet-
ing, so you have to do the same.
You're all still here for the same
That thing - a championship
season - seems to be within
reach for this year's Wolverines.
And despite the uncertainty of
his position early in the season,
Thompson remained an ideal
Now, finally, he's becoming a
fixture in the lineup.
"I've never heard him be nega-
tive," fellow sophomore Kent
Caldwell said. "You can always
count on him in the gym to be
happy or energetic or cheering
people on. He's never moping
around or anything like that."
In competition, Thompson is
one of the stars of Michigan's top-
ranked floor team, as well as a
clean, consistent vaulter. Thomp-
son is ranked 11th in the country
on floor and 29th on vault. At the
Pacific Coast Classic on Feb. 24,
he posted a season-high 8.85 on
vault; a week later at Stanford,
he notched a career-best 9.45 on
"When he's competing, he's one
of our cleanest guys," Caldwell
said. "He's got a real good look to
him, and he adds to our variety,
especially in our floor lineup. You
have (sophomore) Scott (Breg-
man) doing the Arabian stuff, I'm
doingthe twistingstuff and Jamie
has all this clean combination
tumbling. And he's really loud."
Since competing in the annual
Whitfield Meet in Ann Arbor as a
seventh grader, Thompson knew
Michigan was the place for him.
He went on other recruitingtrips,
"but (Ann Arbor) is where home
The Athens, Ga., native was
quick to make his freshmen team-
mates feel like Michigan was
their home, too. Along with the
rest of the gigantic sophomore
class, Thompson spent much of
the fall helping his younger team-
mates settle into their new sur-
roundings, making sure they were
included in all team activities and
"I trust him the most of any-
one on the team," freshman Josh
Miele said. "He's someone I can
always go to talk to. ... I was real-
ly nervous at first; I wasn't sure
if I wanted to be on the team or
not and thought I'd give it a try.
Once everyone made me feel at
home, it was a lot easier. I'm glad
Thompson won't be looking
back over the season anytime
soon, dwelling on what he could
have done against Oklahoma or
Penn State. The entire team sub-
scribes to the Crash Davis school
of thought: "The moment's over."
"At the end of the meets,
nobody says, 'Oh, we're the best!'
" Thompson said. "Yeah, we got
the higher score, but at the end of
a meet, in our circle ... we're talk-
ing about the next meet. We're
not talking about the one we just
had - it's over. We won and that's
great, but everybody's just look-
ing to improve their own stuff and
it helps the team, 10th by 10th."
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