Well, Michigan has now wrapped up its regular season basketball schedule in what went from a blowout to a pretty close game with Big Ten bottom-dweller Penn State. As I talked about in my preview, this wasn't exactly a trap game like Michigan has seen in the past this season, but it was certainly a team that had a chance to scare the Wolverines. Penn State may have not been in the Big Ten championship hunt, but they certainly had a lot to play for in their final home game of the season.
Regardless, Michigan was able to beat the Nittany Lions 71-65 following a great performance by Evan Smotrycz. Honestly, I was starting to worry that Smotrycz was going to fade into obscurity on this Michigan team. He started the season off red hot and appeared ready to have a monster season, but his production faded as the year went on. He has not played horribly this year and has had significant playing time in a lot of games, but he lost his starting spot to Stu Douglass and really has been non-existent since December.
Despite these struggles, he came out red hot against Penn State and finished with 17 points including a 86% shooting percentage. Considering he had only been above 80% shooting in three games this season before this game with Penn State shows the significance of these numbers. He had a great game, plain and simple. I highly doubt he'll be able to keep up these insane numbers going, especially against better defenses, but it's still great news for a guy who had only made more than 50% of his shots in 3 of his last 18 games.
Along with this, Hardaway played pretty well and seems to finally be coming around in his shooting. He may not be lighting up the place like he did last season, but he was very active at points and was not making the insane shot attempts he made during parts of the season. The important thing is getting Smotrycz and Hardaway going and making good shot attempts when Michigan gets ready for its tournament run.
By now, I'm sure you've realized I skipped over the hot topic of the day and that's the Big Ten title race. Michigan is currently 1 game behind Michigan State for the lead and if the Spartans lose, Michigan, OSU, and MSU will share the title in a three-way tie. This may not be how most Michigan fans would want to win the title, but in my opinion, there's not really any other option than to root against Michigan State in this game.
I won't be throwing on a Sullinger jersey or grabbing one of those horrid buckeye necklaces, but there's no doubt it would be better for Michigan to split in this scenario than have Michigan State win. Will it help Michigan's seeding? Not really. Our tournament seeding is pretty much locked up, but there's still a chance for a Big Ten title. That hasn't happened since the 1980s and Michigan fans shouldn't hold ridiculous principles to prevent them from desiring that outcome.
Will I root for Ohio State to beat Michigan State today? I'm certainly not going to be actively cheering, but I will say that I will be pleased if they beat the Spartans. Frankly, splitting a championship is better than watching East Lansing celebrate. In fact, you could even make an argument that if the Spartans lose today, Michigan and Michigan State are essentially even teams. Granted, the Spartans will get a better seed and ranking regardless of today's outcome, but one can certainly make the argument.
So, don't start any Ohio State chants or start singing their fight song, but make sure you follow the outcome of the game taking place in East Lansing because it could have an enormous impact on Michigan's basketball program's growth. Hanging a new championship banner is something to be proud of, whether it's a split title or not. If Michigan splits, nobody can say we "backed" into this title. We beat MSU and OSU earlier this season, just like both of those teams beat us. Every team will be deserving.
I'm excited for the outcome, whether positive or negative, because this team is in a great position for a big finish and tournament run. Michigan improved its record from last year, faced tougher teams, and appears to have finally crossed into that "top" Big Ten status. They certainly aren't the best program in the Big Ten, but winning a title would help a lot towards that and Michigan's play has certainly put them in position.
Photo Credit: Angela Cesere