61-57, I think few would tell you they weren't surprised at the result. Not only had Michigan lost every game the previous seasons against Michigan State, but they had often lost in humiliating fashion. It had seemed like years since Michigan had really competed with Michigan State. However, it only took one night to shatter that image. Instead of the typical Sparty domination of Michigan, fans got to witness an underdog Michigan team go on the road and beat the Spartans.
One year later, that image has changed even more. When I first wrote the preview for Tuesday night's game, I couldn't help but be excited at the Wolverines' prospects. Not only was Michigan a threat to Michigan State, there were many people who picked them to win, or lose by a very slim margin. In just one year's time, the entire outlook on this rivalry had changed. Certainly Michigan State was the favorite coming in with a #9 ranking and only 3 losses on the season, but Michigan was not really an "underdog".
The mindset may have changed for most fans and the nation, but there were certainly those in East Lansing that called last year's season a fluke. "A program like Michigan State would have 'down' years", they all said. Although last year was certainly a "down" year for Michigan State, it's not as if the Spartans were a horrible team or that Michigan wasn't good. Michigan was simply the better team last year and that seems to have continued into this season.
Michigan may not have dominated MSU tonight, but they proved that they are not only a solid team, but that last year was no fluke. Some in the media had stated the only way Michigan could beat MSU, at least on a consistent basis, was for the Spartans to be down. After tonight I don't think there'll be a lot of people using that argument. Michigan is a program that needs to be taken seriously. Last year was no fluke. Michigan State is a good team, but so is Michigan. This state is going to have two good programs competing yearly for a while.
Does tonight's win solidify Michigan as a good program? Of course not, but let's not forget, Michigan has done a lot more than just beat Michigan State over the last few seasons. They've won a lot of games and even won a few in the tournament. Does this win 'lock' Michigan in the tournament? Not really, but it does help build a resume, which had seemed to be faltering. Michigan is going to need to win at least a handful of games in its remaining schedule, but I think a tournament trip seems pretty realistic.
Bottom line, this is a big win for Michigan and this program, but it's not everything. This is not and should not be the win that "defines" this team and this season. Right now, this team is in the Big Ten title hunt and has a great shot at having a good seed come March. Enjoy this and what this team has accomplished over the last few seasons, but this game is not the season for this team. It's a great rivalry between two good teams, but that mindset is gone. There have been no flukes with this Michigan team, they are for real.
Photo Credit: Thomas Beindit