Well, all the hype was for good reason. Since Sunday, Michigan's campus, fans, and news groups hav been building up what quickly became the best game of this year's basketball season. Not only was it Michigan's first basketball experience with College Gameday, but it was also a game between ranked opponents, a chance for the Big Ten title, and pitted Michigan against arch-rival Ohio State. What more could a Michigan fan want in a game? A win. And that's just what fans got tonight.
Michigan started out on top of the Buckeyes and it stayed that way all night. Not only did Michigan lead by as many as 10 points at several points, but they never trailed either. That's pretty impressive considering the way the Buckeyes controlled Michigan when they played in Columbus. Michigan started out strong in both games, but held up near the end in much better fashion this time. Jordan Morgan was never in serious foul trouble and the defense was superb all night.
I remember glancing up at the scoreboard late in the game and realizing Sullinger only had 6 points with about 10 minutes left. Six points. That's amazing considering his talent. If this team can continue playing that type of defense, they are going to go deep in the tournament.
However, looking at the team's tournament chances is not what tonight should be about. This is a program changing win for Michigan. Everyone knows the story of Michigan basketball over the last decade, so I won't repeat it. Frankly, it's come a long way.
A few years ago fans were simply begging for competitive teams that could sneak in a win over Michigan State or Ohio State. Those days are long gone. A few years ago the tournament was a dream. Last year, the tournament was a hope. This year the tournament is a given. Now, championships and winning are the expectation.
This expectation is going to go a long way for changing basketball in Ann Arbor. As I talked about earlier this week, Michigan has been at the point where they can compete with top teams, especially over the last few seasons, but they have been pretty incapable of closing on those opportunities. I'm sure everybody remembers losing nail-biters to Duke, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Michigan State over the last few seasons.
That time has passed for the most part. Sure, this is not a team that's going to go undefeated and blow every opponent off the court, but we're going to win against some of these teams on a regular basis. Not only can we compete with the "Big Boys", but we can beat them too.
Ohio State is the perfect example. I don't think there's a college basketball fan out there that doesn't think the Buckeyes have been a great team over the last few seasons. Not only have they been consistently ranked in the top ten and highly seeded for the NCAA Tournament, but they've beat up on Michigan too. Before this game, Michigan had a six game losing streak to "Ohio" as Brady Hoke calls them (he was honored for coach of the year by the way). Michigan certainly played competitive with them during this stretch, but always ended up falling. Tonight, that changed, tonight the Buckeyes fell to the Wolverines and not because of a fluke injury or blown call, but because the Wolverines played better and were the better team on the court.
Basketball may not be the biggest or most popular sport in Ann Arbor, but it's about time fans jump on the bandwagon and admit this is a great team and great program. Michigan can truly become one of the select schools that can compete consistently in football and basketball. There's no need to "wait on Mitch McGary" or claim that this team just "isn't big enough to compete". If size will ever be an issue it's against the Buckeyes and this team just beat them.
This team is for real, NOW. The waiting is done. Let's cheer on this team and enjoy what is going to be a great season. This team is 1/2 game behind Michigan State for the Big Ten title and has a great shot at closing that gap to get it's first Big Ten title since 1986.
Plus, let's not forget a little thing called the NCAA Tournament, where Coach Beilein has been pretty good. Hopes are high and winning feels great. Go Blue and we finally "Beat Ohio".
P.S. I hear we picked up a few recruits lately too...
Photo Credit: Thomas Beindit