The Michigan Wolverines hadn’t even stepped on the UD Arena floor for the first time and the derision had already begun.
Waiting near the tunnel for Tulsa to wrap its practice, the Michigan players heard a booming voice come over the PA signalling the end of the Golden Hurricane session.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. They will play tomorrow night at 9 p.m. against Michigan.”
Then the Wolverines heard this:
So much for the neutral court.
There is no such thing in the state of Ohio when you wear maize and blue, which is something that will be even more audibly evident Wednesday night when Michigan and Tulsa close out this year’s the First Four at 9:10.
“I think everybody assumed because we’re close by, we’re a Midwestern team, that people would gravitate to us,” Wolverines coach John Beilein said. “I do not expect that to happen.
“Certainly we’ll have Michigan fans, and they’ll have Tulsa fans,” Beilein continued. “But they’re college basketball fans. But most of them reside in the state of Ohio. So I would assume that — this is one time that you’re three hours from home, and Tulsa’s how many hours from home — 16, 18, 20 hours from home. I do not think we’ll have a home advantage.”
Ohio State is not in the NCAA tournament this year, so for Buckeyes fans — a great many of whom live in the Dayton area — the next best thing to cheering for their team is rooting against the rival Wolverines.
“Hopefully they’re on our side, but you can definitely see it going the other way with us being in Ohio,” UM junior guard Zak Irvin said. “We’re used to road games. We have like a road warrior’s mentality right now.”
The Wolverines are 4-6 on the road and 5-2 at neutral sites this season. Their most recent neutral-site victory actually came in hostile territory, when they pulled out a buzzer-beating victory against No. 1 seed Indiana in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
Despite playing at least one game in Ohio every season, Michigan has won just one game in the state since 2006, a 70-60 triumph at Ohio State in 2014.
Unlike that game, the Wolverines will have far more than just a handful of supporters sitting behind their bench tonight.
But no matter how many fans make the 196-mile trip from Ann Arbor, the overriding noise you’ll hear raining from the rafters this evening won’t be chants of “Bluuuue.”
“We are in Ohio, and the rivalry stands,” Wolverines junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. said. “I think we have a pretty strong fan base ourselves and alumni to come support us. So I’m pretty sure we won’t be alone out there, but the Ohio natives kind of outweigh us. We’re still going to play the same way we would if they were on our side.”