Things are looking so good that Michigan should be lined up for its biggest season in decades. They return much from their Big Ten Championship team and are bringing in the best recruiting class that Michigan has seen in at least a decade. Expectations are sure to be high, but today's question is about how high fans should set their expectations for this year. The hype has already started to build, but is it real and should fans really believe the hype?
The easy answer to this question is yes, but to add a better understanding, let's take a look at this team from a historical perspective. Depending on your preseason magazine or website of choice, Michigan appears headed for a preseason ranking anywhere from #3 to #10 with the majority leaning towards a ranking of #5 or higher. That's pretty impressive, but how good is that ranking in reality? We've all seen teams get ranked extremely high and be a let down as the season goes on. MSU during the 2010-2011 season comes to mind. They were ranked #2 during the preseason, but ended the year unranked and ejected from the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament
Having a letdown season is always a possiblity, but let's just compare that scenario to last year's preseason top five teams. These five teams were North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio State, UConn, and Syracuse. I really shouldn't have to go through the success of these teams, but let's just list them to get an idea about preseason top five teams.
Stats on 2011-2012 Preseason Top 5
- 155-33 Combined Record
- 68-18 Combined Conference Record
- 4 Conference Championships
- 1 National Championship Team
- 2 Final Four Teams
- 4 Elite Eight Teams
- 5 NCAA Tournament Teams
- 5 Teams With Winning Records
Those stats are pretty impressive. Sure, you could argue that last year wasn't that representative and I would agree to an extent, but the bottom-line is that preseason top five teams tend to do very well. Even look at MSU, they were considered the letdown team of the season two years ago and they still made the NCAA Tournament with a decent seeding. The thing about top five teams is that even if their success ceiling is raised, their success floor is raised as well. If a top five team does "collapse", they still almost always make it to the NCAA Tournament and some of them even make some noise in March. For Michigan's recent performances, that shouldn't be that bad of a season.
In terms of Michigan, this has to be the most hyped season since the Fab Five era. If Michigan is ranked anywhere near its projections, it will be its highest ranking since the 1996 season, when Michigan was ranked #9 in the preseason. If Michigan is ranked #5 or higher, it will be its highest preseason ranking since 1993. Yes, that is literally about 20 years. If Michigan is any higher than #5, it will be the team's highest ranking since the Fab Five's second season when they were ranked #1 to start the year.
With the expected success of top five teams and Michigan's history, we can get a solid idea of where expectations should be placed for this season. For me, I would say Big Ten Championship and an Elite Eight appearance, but with Indiana (projected to be #1) in our conference, expectations have to be kept in check. For this year, my expectations are a very strong conference finish, at least 3rd or higher and only trailing Indiana by a few games, a strong Big Ten Tournament performance, a few impressive non-conference wins, and a good NCAA Tournament run. If Michigan doesn't make the Elite Eight, it will be a letdown for the team, the season, and the fans.
For some people, these expectations will be surprising, for others, not so much, but we need to remember how impressive it has been to have expectations this high for a basketball season. Michigan is setup for a great year and it's exciting to think that there should be a few more on the way shortly. Beilein has done a great job at Michigan and truly rebuilt this team into something special. It could very easily be a special year and expectations should be set there.