Toledo will travel an hour up the road to take on Michigan in the first round of the 2023 edition of the National Invitational Tournament on Tuesday in Ann Arbor.
The Rockets will take advantage of an opportunity to play more basketball, but remain disappointed after failing to clinch an NCAA Tournament berth with a MAC Tournament Championship Game loss to Kent State on Saturday. Tod Kowalczyk’s squad went on a 17-game win streak and won the MAC regular season for the third-straight year, but with the loss to the Golden Flashes, now find themselves in the NIT for the fourth time in five seasons.
The Rockets will have their hands full with the Wolverines, who finished 11–9 in the Big Ten and just missed an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Michigan is led by big man Hunter Dickinson, a two-time all-Big Ten first team honoree, who averages 18.4 points, 9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. The Rockets will likely look to get the six-foot-ten EJ Edu some minutes off the bench to deal with Dickinson, as none of Toledo’s regular starters stand within five inches of the seven-foot-one Dickinson.
Michigan also has a pair of impactful young guards in freshman Jett Howard — head coach Juwan Howard’s son — and sophomore Kobe Bufkin. Howard is a long guard at six-foot-eight, who averages 14.2 points per game and leads his team in threes made. Bufkin also plays in a shooting guard role and averages 13.7 points per game.
Outside of Dickinson, Michigan is not very deep defensively. If Toledo wants to win, its big three of RayJ Dennis, JT Shumate and Setric Millner Jr. will have to shoot well from outside as they have all season.
This will be the 14th meeting ever between Toledo and Michigan, with Michigan leading the series 7–6. Despite the close proximity, they have only played each other once since 1983, a 20-point Wolverine victory in December 2020. The two schools have only competed against each other once in the postseason: a second round NIT matchup in 1981, which Michigan won.
Something the Rockets have going for them is that MAC teams have given the Wolverines a lot of trouble this season. Eastern Michigan and Ohio both took them down to the wire, losing by five and four respectively, in November while Central Michigan pulled off a major 63–61 upset in December.
This is Toledo’s 12th NIT appearance and ninth since 1999. The Rockets have a 5–12 record in the tournament, and will look to make it past the first round for the first time since 2001.