Sir Edmund Hillary is immortalized in history for being the first to accomplish the prodigious feat of topping the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest. Upon returning from his treacherous journey, Hillary’s first words to lifelong friend George Lowe were:
“Well, George, we knocked the bastard off.”
While toppling a rival on a basketball court is not exactly the equivalent of scaling Everest, Hillary’s quote is gratifyingly applicable to Michigan’s triumph Sunday afternoon over longstanding pesky rival Michigan State; we certainly knocked ‘em off.
After a full week of rest following a disheartening loss to Wisconsin, the Wolverines rebounded and knocked off the 13th ranked Spartans 79-70, behind superstar performances from Caris LeVert and, finally, once again, Nik Stauskas.
Sunday’s win secures the season sweep for the Wolverines over their in-state foes, after upsetting the Spartans in East Lansing almost a month ago, as well as a new position in the rankings at #16. Arguably more valuable for John Beilein and Co. is the long awaited sole ownership of the Big Ten lead.
Sticking to their Guns
Three losses in the month of February left the Wolverines teetering on the brink of implosion. The rapidly congealing adversities of frontcourt struggles, road ineffectiveness, and the recent lack of production from Stauskas and Robinson III were threatening to impede Michigan’s tournament seeding. Nevertheless, the Wolverines clung to a share of the Big Ten lead, thanks to some well-timed implosion throughout the month on the part of MSU, and on Sunday were able to solidify their conference dominance thanks to a welcome back party of the grandest scale for Nik Stauskas.
Stauskas, who poured in 21 of his 25 points in the second half, was one of the many moving parts in the high-powered machine that Michigan embodied on both ends of the court. 23 points from Caris LeVert, including an uncharacteristically emphatic two-handed slam, as well as 15 from GR3 fortified Michigan’s offensive authority, while a plus-10 turnover ratio locked things up on the defensive end.
Although Puerto Rico seems like yesterday, believe it or not the greatest spectacle in all of sports, March Madness, is right around the corner, and teams around the nation are bracing for the final stretch of the season as they jostle for best possible seeds (Yeah, I said it, in ALL of sports). With Sunday’s win, Michigan is primed for a strong opportunity at securing the Big Ten title. Four games remain for the Wolverines (at Purdue, vs. Minnesota, at Illinois, vs. Indiana), none of which appear particularly alarming, but all of which could very well unseat Michigan from their lofty throne.
At this point in the year, despite late-season losses from ranking-toppers, Michigan is unlikely to push for a top seed, as speculated earlier in the year. Latest reports have the Wolverines closing in on a 3 seed. With four games left in the season, anything can still happen, especially toward the top of the rankings. Michigan’s sole goal for the duration of the regular season should be identical to that scribbled on a whiteboard by Mitch McGary in East Lansing in January: Win The Game(s).
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