During this same week two years ago, Michigan lost back-to-back games at home to Penn State and Illinois, and while the dream was probably long since over, the two losses effectively left the 2010 Big Ten tournament's auto-bid as Michigan's only chance to get to postseason play. As disappointing as the season had been, I had delusions of Michigan winning that Big Ten tournament and dancing again...just as I had at the end of each season for the better part of decade. I thought since this team had received that NCAA Tournament taste in 2009, they might have the drive to make it happen. Needing a conference tournament run to salvage a season is the mark of desperation. It's the way you think when you're not good. It's how we'd lived our lives as Michigan Basketball fans since 1998. Ohio State, who at the time was the toast of the conference, needed a 37 foot prayer from Evan Turner to beat the Wolverines and end that season for the Wolverines. No tourney. No NIT. No post-season.
Now, just two years later, the momentum has swung to a place where the NCAA tournament is an expectation...the postseason even appears on the official schedule. This year, despite a slate that included a Maui Invitaional and a run through the what might be the nation's most powerful conference, they haven't dissappointed.
Michigan has been ranked in both polls for the entirety of the 2011-12 basketball season. Michigan hasn't lost for over a year on their home court. They split the season series with their two biggest rivals. They're not playing their way in anymore, they're playing for seed. And they did it all after losing a huge portion of their offense to the NBA in Darius Morris.
That's not to say it's been pretty the whole way. The road has been a huge issue, and Tuesday's game at Northwestern looms large as Michigan attempts to position themselves for their first Big Ten regular season championship in 26 years. Their lack of big men that are skilled around the rim, both in scoring and rebounding, sets them up for problems against most teams. And the John Beilein system (while effective) isn't pretty, and from an offensive perspective, it can be downright frustrating to watch even in victory, especially on nights where the threes aren't falling. But good systems evolve, and while the offense has basically consisted of Trey Burke drive-and-score and Trey Burke drive-and-dish...there seems to be a push (which was evident Saturday night) to get Jordan Morgan more involved in an inside out type gameplan despite his shortcomings. Trey Burke was decidedly "the show" against the Buckeyes, but Jordan Morgan might have played his best game at Michigan...and did it against one of the Big Ten's best players.
Michigan took a 6-0 lead to start the game, and while they found themselves looking over their shoulders the whole time and never really got a commanding lead...they never trailed...going tip to horn over one of the best teams in the country.
Three of the remaining four games on Michigan's schedule are on the road, and while they aren't against the Big Ten's best (Northwestern, Illinois, and Penn State) they are still decidedly not in Crisler. The Boilermakers are the lone home game remaining, and are the only thing standing in the way of a perfect home season (which would make us perfect at home in football and basketball!) when they come to Ann Arbor this Saturday for senior night. Michigan needs to win all four of these games if they want to end that 26 year drought.
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