During rivalry week, it’s hard for anything to upstage the Michigan-Ohio State game for fans of the maize and blue. But the Wolverines—who hope to spring the upset on the Buckeyes on Saturday—play other sports, too. Take basketball, for instance.
While nothing can compare to the history of their football program, the winningest in college football history, the University of Michigan’s basketball team has a pretty impressive history of its own. They won the 1989 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship and revolutionized the game with the Fab Five’s back-to-back title game appearances in ‘92 and ’93.
However, the past decade has been a forgettable stretch. The Wolverines haven’t played in an NCAA Tournament game since 1998 and that game doesn’t officially exist as it was later forfeited because of a scandle that wiped the success of the Fab Five and much of Michigan’s success in the 90s from the records.
So, as the Wolverines tipped off against #4 UCLA last night at Madison Square Garden, in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic, no one was expecting much. But second-year coach John Beilein had his team ready. They played a tenacious 1-3-1 zone that frustrated the Bruins offense. And their offense dealt admirably with UCLA’s renowned defense. The Wolverines showed poise, patience and a penchant for making some clutch plays down the stretch.
It all resulted in an impressive 55-52 upset victory, earning Michigan a championship date with Duke tonight. A win over the Blue Devils would be huge. Not only would they win the early season tournament, they’d also earn back-to-back wins against highly regarded big name teams, which look really good on a postseason résumé.
Postseason basketball for Michigan has meant nothing but the NIT for the past decade. They could very well change this season. Aside from three challenging games the ACC—they will play against Duke a second time on December 6 and are at Maryland December 3 —the Wolverines’ remaining non-conference schedule should be relatively easy.
They close out the month of November against Norfolk State and Savannah State. In December, after Maryland and Duke, they play Eastern Michigan, Oakland, Florida Gulf Coast and North Carolina Central.
At worst, Michigan should be 8-3 heading into conference play. They have one other non-conference game in February against Connecticut. If Michigan can manage to beat either Duke or UConn and finish in the upper tier of the Big Ten, which has just three teams currently ranked in the top 25, the Wolverines should make a trip to the Big Dance for the first time this century.
Don’t look now, Rich Rodriguez, but the other imported coach from West Virginia may be setting the bar for second-year expectations for Michigan sports revivals. And after a big win against UCLA, the bar just got raised another notch.
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