Well the view certainly is breathtaking from the summit.
After another week amidst the deceptive smoke and mirrors façade that is Big Ten basketball, the scrappy Wolverines have emerged on top, achieving their first outright regular season conference title in almost 30 years.
Michigan started their final stretch with a decisive 84-53 thrashing of Illinois on the road. The Wolverines erupted offensively in Champaign, riding 68% field goal percentage (79% from downtown), en route to 52 first half points, merely a week after the Illini held Michigan State to 46 total points in East Lansing.
Coasting on the maximized momentum, the Wolverines welcomed always-pesky Indiana to the Crisler Center, and managed to pull out a hard-fought victory on the back of Jordan Morgan’s prodigious swan song, despite the Hoosiers’ perfect 9-of-9 start from the field. Saturday’s win marked 5 in a row for Michigan, who confirmed the top seed in this week’s Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.
Tourney Talk, Part I:
The first of two tournaments facing the Wolverines is the prestigious conference showdown at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse beginning Thursday. With their outright title, Michigan has locked down the number 1 seed and a first-round bye. Coincidentally, John Beilein and Co. eagerly await the winner of Thursday’s first-round matchup of Indiana vs. Illinois, seeded 8th and 9th respectively. Playing at the home of the Indiana Pacers, the Hoosiers (and perhaps Purdue) will certainly expect a strong advantage in the stands, despite any perceived neutrality. It’s certainly no Assembly Hall, but ask any realtor, location is everything. And adding on last week as evidence, Michigan unquestionably is hoping for an Illinois first round stunner, rather than being forced to yet again disarm a tremendously underrated Indiana team, and the unpredictable Yogi Ferrell.
The unsettling truth regarding the Big Ten is constant: Any team is capable of beating any team at any time. We’ve seen it all year, regardless of venue or momentum, and don’t expect anything to change for the tournament. For the conference unexpecteds (Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa etc.), the sky is truly the limit, meanwhile those atop the division, like Michigan, have everything to lose before the second of two tournaments…..
Tourney Talk, Part II:
How’s that for a seamless transition.
Don’t look now, but Michigan has jumped to number 8 in the rankings, good enough for a 2 seed in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, effectively replacing Virginia, who was unseated by future Big Ten counterpart Maryland last weekend.
Florida’s SEC perfection has essentially locked them into a 1-seed, as does Wichita State’s undefeated season. But beyond that, all bets are off. Winter is not coming anymore, in fact it’s almost gone; Tournament season is finally upon us meaning anything and everything is possible. A Big Ten Championship could very well spell 1-seed for Michigan if the Top 7 continue their constant game of musical chairs, enough for the Wolverines to sneak up the rankings.
This season has been one of perseverance for Michigan, as they’ve knocked off higher ranked opponents, defended their home court, and shocked the country with their conference dominance, despite injuries (sometimes I forget McGary is actually on the team) and naysayers, leading to an inexorable confidence epitomized through the words of World War 2 General George S. Patton,
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, because I am the meanest mother****er in the whole valley.”
Such is the attitude required should Michigan be in the hunt for a tournament streak like last year’s. I think this team has proven they have what it takes to fill the once seemingly unfillable shoes left open by a certain #3 and #10.
-Nik Stauskas secured his fourth Big Ten Player of the Week honors, as well as one of fifteen coveted spots on the final Wooden Award ballot. (If anyone other than Doug McDermott wins, though, I will have lost my faith in humankind).
-John Beilein (along with Fab Five head coach Steve Fisher) will unquestionably be candidates for Coach of the Year.
-Michigan’s first Big Ten tournament matchup vs. Indiana/Illinois will tip off at noon on Friday March 14.
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