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Indiana 81 – Michigan 73: #1 Wolverines stumble in Bloomington

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Final 1st 2nd Total
#1 Michigan (20-2, 7-2) 32 41 73
#3 Indiana (20-2, 8-1) 36 45 81

Trey Burke held his own, but seemingly tried to do too much at times (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Winning on the road in the Big Ten is always a tough proposition and it’s even more so when facing third-ranked Indiana in Assembly Hall in a nationally televised primetime game. Michigan found that out on Saturday night with a 81-73 loss to the Hoosiers.

Michigan won the tip and Nik Stauskas drove the lane, took a hard hit as he missed the layup and Indiana recovered. As Indiana crossed midcourt, the ball went loose and in the hustle to regain it, Jon Horford was whistled for a foul. And so the game went. Indiana star Cody Zeller got the scoring started with a pair of free throws and the Hoosiers would get there often, making 22-of-25 for the game.

Michigan took the lead on a Trey Burke three, but Indiana’s Victor Oladipo answered with a three of his own. From there, Indiana went on a 15-4 run to open up a 20-7 lead before Tim Hardaway Jr. scored a piar of buckets. From that point, Michigan outscored the Hoosiers 25-16, punctuated by a step-back three by Burke just before the buzzer to cut the deficit to four.

To start the second half, Hardaway and Zeller traded buckets and Burke nailed a three to pull Michigan within one. Zeller answered with a dunk, but Stauskas was fouled on a three-point attempt and made all three free throws to tie the game. However, Michigan was unable to capitalize on the momentum, as Indiana scored 11 straight to grab a 51-40 lead with just over 14 minutes to play.

Michigan went to work again, chipping away at the Hoosier lead, cutting it to four by the under-12 timeout. A Horford layup pulled Michigan within two and the teams played evenly for the next four minutes.

With just under four minutes to play, and Michigan down four, Oladipo drove the lane and was tied up by Hardaway. The officials whistled Hardaway for the foul, but inexplicably gave Oliadipo credit for the basket despite the fact that he took two-and-a-half steps after the tie-up before he laid in the basket. He converted the three-point play to widen the IU lead to seven.

Michigan was forced to chuck up threes and send the Hoosiers to the line in the closing minutes and Indiana escaped with the eight-point victory.

Michigan shot 42.9 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three-point range, while Indiana shot a blistering 52 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from downtown. IU out-rebounded Michigan 38-29, but the game was won on the free throw line where the Hoosiers made 22 compared to Michigan’s six.

Apparently this is a shooting foul in Bloomington

Burke led all scorers with 25 points on 24 shots, while Hardaway had a much more efficient 18 points. Burke also dished out eight assists. Stauskas and Mitch McGary each chipped in 10, though Stauskas struggled with his shot all game, much like he did in Columbus a couple weeks ago. Glenn Robinson was held to just two points on 1-of-6 shooting and looked completely overmatched at times. We may never know for sure, but it seemed like something was off with him.

All five Hoosiers scored in double figures, led by Zeller’s 19 points and 10 boards. Oladipo scored 15, while Christian Watford also had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Michigan falls a game behind Indiana in the Big Ten standings and will lose the No. 1 national ranking. But let’s not forget – the Wolverines were without Jordan Morgan (he did play two minutes) who was still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in the previous game. His inside presence was severely missed, as Zeller was able to get several put-back dunks with no body to block him out. Horford and McGary filled in pretty well, but Morgan’s experience was certainly missed.

The Wolverines return home on Tuesday for a must-win battle with Ohio State. Everybody remembers the previous meeting when Michigan fell behind big in the first half and battled back only to fall by three. A loss on Tuesday would put the Big Ten title in jeopardy and give the Buckeyes yet another win over the Maize and Blue. From there, Michigan travels to Wisconsin and Michigan State to complete an early February gauntlet.

Final Game Stats
01 Glenn Robinson III* 1-6 0-0 0-0 2 2 4 1 2 1 1 0 0 40
15 Jon Horford* 2-3 0-0 0-0 1 2 3 2 4 0 2 2 0 10
03 Trey Burke* 9-24 4-12 3-4 2 3 5 4 25 8 3 0 2 38
10 Tim Hardaway Jr.* 8-16 2-5 0-0 0 1 1 4 18 0 2 0 0 34
11 Nik Stauskas* 3-10 1-5 3-3 1 0 1 2 10 2 0 0 0 34
02 Spike Albrecht 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
04 Mitch McGary 5-7 0-0 0-0 3 4 7 4 10 1 0 1 2 28
23 Caris LeVert 2-4 0-1 0-0 0 1 1 2 4 1 0 0 1 10
52 Jordan Morgan 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
Totals 30-70 7-23 6-7 12 17 29 19 73 13 8 3 5 200
Indiana 26-50 7-18 22-25 9 29 38 14 81 13 16 5 6 200

Michigan at Indiana quick thoughts

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

#1 Michigan vs #3 Indiana
Saturday, Feb. 2 | 9pm ET | ESPN
20-1 (7-1) Record 19-2 (7-1)
Slippery Rock 100-62
IUPUI 91-54
Cleveland State 77-47
Pittsburgh 67-62
Kansas State 71-57
NC State 79-72
Bradley 74-66
W. Michigan 73-41
Arkansas 80-67
Binghamton 67-39
West Virginia 81-66
E. Michigan 93-54
C. Michigan 88-73
Northwestern 94-66
Iowa 95-67
Nebraska 62-47
#9 Minnesota 83-75
Purdue 68-53
Illinois 74-60
Northwestern 68-46
Wins Bryant 97-54
N. Dakota State 87-61
Sam Houston St. 99-45
Georgia 66-53
Georgetown 82-72 OT
Ball State 101-53
#14 N. Carolina 83-59
Coppin State 87-51
C. Connecticut St. 100-69
Mt. St. Mary’s 93-54
Florida Atlantic 88-52
Jacksonville 93-59
Iowa 69-65
Penn State 74-51
#8 Minnesota 88-81
Northwestern 67-59
Penn State 72-49
#13 Michigan St. 75-70
Purdue 97-60
#15 Ohio State 56-53 Losses Butler 86-88 OT
Wisconsin 59-64
78.0 Points Per Game 84.0
58.6 Scoring Defense 60.4
609-for-1,195 (51.0%) Field Goal % 589-for-1,178 (50.0%)
473-for-1,175 (40.3%) Def. Field Goal % 457-for-1,222 (37.4%)
172-for-422 (40.8%) 3-point % 160-for-378 (42.3%)
133-for-433 (30.7%) Def. 3-point % 133-for-430 (30.9%)
248-for-352 (70.5%) Free Throw % 425-for-578 (73.5%)
11.8 FT Made/Game 20.2
36.7 Rebounds Per Game 40.3
29.2 Opp. Reb. Per Game 30.0
15.5 Assists Per Game 16.0
9.4 Turnovers Per Game 13.3
5.6 Steals Per Game 8.0
2.9 Blocks Per Game 3.5
G – Trey Burke (17.9)
G – Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.5)
Leading Scorer F – Cody Zeller (16.1)
G – Victor Oladipo (14.0)
F – Mitch McGary (6.0)
F – Glenn Robinson III (5.8)
Leading Rebounder F – Cody Zeller (8.0)
F – Christian Watford (6.5)

Entering this 2012-13 college basketball season, Michigan and Indiana were almost universally considered to be top-five teams in the country. They have yet to disappoint. With just three losses between them, the Wolverines and Hoosiers look like not only the class of the conference, but also contenders on the national stage.

Tonight (9pm on ESPN), a game that has been circled on both teams’ schedules since they came out finally arrives. The one-loss Wolverines, led by All-American point guard Trey Burke and a trio of double-digit scoring sidekicks, make the trip to Bloomington in what is sure to be one of the loudest games in the history of college basketball to face off against the two-loss Hoosiers, led by All-American center Cody Zeller and surprise player of the year Victor Oladipo. Here are three keys to the game for Michigan:

1. Limit the Scoring Bursts: The quintessential strength of both of these teams is no secret – they both score points seemingly at will and have been simply rolling through the majority of their schedules. Michigan and Indiana combine to average 162 points and shoot 51 percent and 50 percent, respectively, from the field. They also both shoot better than 40 percent from downtown as a team and boast five players apiece that knock down threes on more than 37 percent of their attempts. Points will be had.

Neither of these teams is particularly bad on defense, both ranking in the top 60 or so in defensive efficiency, but I don’t foresee this being a defensive struggle by any means. When points are being scored so often, however, runs are bound to happen at some point. The number one key for Michigan in this game will be to limit Indiana’s outbursts on offense. If the Hoosiers are consistently reeling off runs of six to eight points, Michigan is in serious trouble. The crowd could play a huge factor in this game, and especially so if Indiana can get a little distance early on.

The Wolverines were able to fight back from a 20-plus point deficit at Ohio State a couple weeks back before falling apart at the end; that will not be the case tonight. A double-digit lead in the first half for Indiana spells doom for the Maize and Blue. One way to prevent this from happening is to limit turnovers, which Michigan has done admirably well, turning it over only nine times per game and only twice in their win over Northwestern on Wednesday. Oladipo is a dynamic and athletic defender averaging 2.5 steals a night that will get his hands in passing lanes in the hopes of having one or two of those game-changing fast-break dunks. The Wolverines need to be cognizant of his location at all times and make smart passes. A bad shot or even a shot clock violation are much better outcomes than handing two points the other way.

2. Take Advantage of Individual Matchups: Usually this would be a key for Indiana, who possess a 6’9″ power forward making nearly 48 percent of his shots from downtown in Christian Watford and a center who runs the floor and gets to the line at an outstanding rate in Zeller, but Michigan actually might pose the greater matchup problems for the Hoosiers with their backcourt. Glenn Robinson III will be at a decent height disadvantage against Watford, but he is used to playing on the perimeter and he has the quickness and athleticism to stick with him.

Without Jordan Morgan, will Michigan be able to handle Cody Zeller inside? (Michael Conroy, AP)

Jon Horford and Mitch McGary will likely be tasked with holding down Zeller as Jordan Morgan seems doubtful for tonight, and certainly Zeller is an outstanding college player, but those two bigs have the strength and size to at least match up with him; so long as they stay out of foul trouble, Horford and McGary should be okay on defense.

In the backcourt, it’s going to be Tom Crean who looks to have some problems on his hands. Yogi Ferrell, Jordan Hulls, and Oladipo go 6’0″ (more like 5’10”), 6’0″ (probably closer to 5’11”), and 6’5″ at the guard spots for the Cream and Crimson. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Nik Stauskas go 6’0″, 6’6″, and 6’6″ for Michigan. Furthermore, Jordan Hulls notably struggles guarding quicker and more athletic guards, of which you won’t find many better than Burke. Some pundits question whether Crean will put Oladipo, his best one-on-one cover man, on Burke to try to cut the head off the beast, but that would leave two sub-6’0″ers trying to guard two 6’6″ers that shoot better than 40 percent from downtown. The more likely scenario in my opinion is Ferrell guarding Burke, Oladipo on Hardaway, and Hulls on Stauskas, which means Michigan’s freshman sharpshooter will be called upon to shoulder a decent portion of the scoring load. If Stauskas is able to shoot over Hulls or drive by him, he might force Crean’s hand to limit Hulls’ minutes, which would be huge for Michigan, as the former Indiana Mr. Basketball shoots 48.1 percent from behind the arc.

3. Embrace the Spotlight: Every college basketball fan is watching this game tonight, and everyone at Assembly Hall tonight knows that. Last year, Indiana took down previously-unbeaten Kentucky at home in a thriller, and the Hoosiers will be looking to do the same tonight. The young Michigan squad needs to embrace the target on their backs, embrace the challenge of beating a great team on the road, and embrace the spotlight of this game.

Against Ohio State, a few Wolverines appeared a little shell-shocked when they fell behind early, and by the time the comeback was on, their energy was drained. Tonight, Stauskas, Hardaway, Jr., and the rest of the team need to play their games within the offense and trust that what the coaches have told them leading up to this game will work. If the Wolverines start forcing shots instead of using the shot clock, they will be dead in the water. Michigan needs to use their lethal fast-break to get some easy buckets and to quiet the crowd while also taking smart shots and making smart passes throughout the night. Easier said than done.

Prediction: This is one of those games where it’s tough to see either team running away with it. A double-digit lead would be huge for either team, but particularly for Indiana. Michigan will use the knowledge gained at Ohio State and at Minnesota to try to stay in the game early, survive a possible onslaught, and perhaps pull away late, retaining the top ranking in the country. But Indiana will do everything in their power to feed off the crowd throughout the night and shoot the lights out. This is the first time all season I have very little idea of what the outcome will be, but because I am forced to make a pick, I have to take Indiana 82-80.

Michigan 68 – Northwestern 46: Wolverines leave no doubt in rout

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Final 1st 2nd Total
#1 Michigan (20-1, 7-1) 36 32 68
Northwestern (12-10, 3-6) 21 25 46

GRIII threw down an alley-oop dunk from Trey Burke to ignite the Michigan win (Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Not quite one month ago in Evanston, Illinois, the Michigan Wolverines opened up the Big Ten season in grand fashion, storming out of the gates to take down the home-court Northwestern Wildcats by a whopping 28 points. Tonight, Northwestern had the opportunity for revenge. That opportunity, that dream, lasted all of about seven minutes.

With 12:53 remaining in the first half, Glenn Robinson III threw down what has now become a standard alley-oop from Trey Burke to take an 18-11 lead, forcing Northwestern coach Bill Carmody to call his second timeout in just over a two minute span and sucking up what remaining life Northwestern ever had entering Ann Arbor. Unfortunately for Northwestern, that timeout didn’t change the tide of the game much, as Trey Burke scored the next four points himself to help lead the Wolverines to an 18-10 run to end the half.

No one really had any doubt as to what the outcome of this game would be, but the way Michigan continues to win is still impressive. It is increasingly evident that Beilein has four top-notch scorers at his disposal, depth at just about every position, and a team full of players who have bought into his system and play for each other. Trey Burke could go out and score 25 points a night on 20 shots to boost his Draft stock if he wanted to, but instead he consistently has games like tonight – 18 points on 11 shots, eight assists to just one turnover, four rebounds, two steals, and a handful of nice defensive plays that won’t show up in the box score.

This team is, well, just that – a team. Perhaps no play all season embodied that sentiment as well as one tonight early in the first half, when Trey Burke received a long pass from under the basket for an open look from the corner. Instead of shooting, however, Burke made a quick pass to his right, finding Tim Hardaway, Jr. even more wide open for a wing three. For a guy shooting 41 percent from downtown on the year, this was a great shot. So what did he do? He made the extra extra pass, this time to freshman Nik Stauskas, the team’s leading three-point shooter, on the other wing. The Canadian sharpshooter buried the three, of course. With three excellent passes that led to ultimately to the best shot Michigan could get in that possession, the Wolverines again proved that they play more as a team than as individuals. They truly want to win ball games more than they want to inflate their own stats.

In all honesty, that might have been the best look Michigan will get all season. Stauskas, a guy shooting over 50 percent again from downtown, would have had time to tie his shoes and run to the concession stands before a Wildcat would have had the chance to get a hand in his face on the three. The crowd knew it was going down, too, as you could hear the anticipation build from Burke’s pass to Hardaway and then finally from the veteran to the newbie.

Another supremely encouraging aspect of tonight’s game was Michigan’s apparent dedication on the defensive end of the floor. Every college basketball fan in America knows by this time that Michigan can score the ball, but questions remain as to how well the Maize and Blue can prevent its opposition from scoring. For the night, at least, Michigan showed that it is capable of putting forth the necessary effort on both ends of the court, holding Northwestern to a horrid 37.3 percent mark from the field and just 21.1 percent from downtown.

Northwestern's guards had trouble keeping Burke in front of them all night (Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

David Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn, the two healthy Wildcats that lead the team in scoring, combined to score just 12 points on 15 shots, as freshman big man Alex Olah was the only one in purple able to break the double-digit barrier with 10 points. It still took him 10 shots to get there though.

For Michigan, Burke led the way yet again on offense, but he was joined by Glenn Robinson III, Stauskas, and Jon Horford in scoring double figures. Horford was perhaps most impressive, as he finally displayed the potential every Michigan fan has been yearning to see in his first start of the season. Filling in for an injured Jordan Morgan, Horford put up a very respectable stat line of 10 points (3-of-5 FG, 4-of-5 FT), seven rebounds, and three blocks in 20 minutes and proved to be Michigan’s best interior defender tonight by a long shot. His back-to-the-basket game is easily the most refined out of all the post players, and his length contributes to his great rebounding and block numbers. Obviously Horford is still working his way back into the lineup, and Mitch McGary will continue to demand 15-18 minutes per game, but all of a sudden Jordan Morgan’s absence is not all that worrisome.

Lastly, Beilein has to be pleased with the way Michigan was able to play smart tonight and hold onto the ball. The Wolverines didn’t turn the ball over a single time in the first half, and only twice in the second, and although Northwestern coughed it up just six times themselves, there is not a team in the country that will consistently beat Michigan when they hold onto the ball like that.

With this sleeper game out of the way, Michigan can now place all of its focus on the looming night game matchup in Bloomington this Saturday. The Hoosiers rolled Purdue in West Lafayette tonight and will enter the game as the third-ranked team in the country. The winner of that game will have an early leg-up on the Big Ten championship race and will likely enter next week as the number one team in the country. A Michigan win would continue to solidify the team’s elite status.

By now, however, there isn’t much more to prove in the regular season. Michigan is elite, and, win or lose on Saturday, the Wolverines have all the makings of a conference champion and a titan in March. With the reigns of the team in Burke’s hands, this carriage is staying well on course.

Final Game Stats
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-7 1-3 0-2 0 2 2 0 13 0 0 0 0 34
15 Jon Horford* 3-5 0-0 4-5 1 6 7 2 10 0 0 3 0 20
10 Tim Hardaway Jr.* 3-10 1-2 0-0 1 1 2 1 7 3 0 0 1 36
03 Trey Burke* 6-11 1-3 5-6 1 3 4 3 18 8 1 0 2 34
11 Nik Stauskas* 4-8 3-5 0-1 0 1 1 0 11 2 0 0 0 35
02 Spike Albrecht 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
04 Mitch McGary 2-4 0-0 2-2 3 8 11 2 6 0 1 0 0 15
05 Eso Akunne 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 2
13 Matt Vogrich 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
20 Josh Bartelstein 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
22 Blake McLimans 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
23 Caris LeVert 0-0 0-0 1-2 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 9
32 Corey Person 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3
Totals 25-49 6-15 12-18 7 24 31 9 68 14 2 3 3 200
Northwestern 19-51 4-19 4-8 10 19 29 14 46 10 8 2 1 200

Michigan vs Northwestern quick thoughts

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

#1 Michigan vs Northwestern
Wednesday, Jan. 30 | 6:30pm ET | Big Ten Network
19-1 (6-1) Record 12-9 (3-5)
Slippery Rock 100-62
IUPUI 91-54
Cleveland State 77-47
Pittsburgh 67-62
Kansas State 71-57
NC State 79-72
Bradley 74-66
W. Michigan 73-41
Arkansas 80-67
Binghamton 67-39
West Virginia 81-66
E. Michigan 93-54
C. Michigan 88-73
Northwestern 94-66
Iowa 95-67
Nebraska 62-47
#9 Minnesota 83-75
Purdue 68-53
Illinois 74-60
Wins Texas Southern 79-49
Miss. Valley St. 81-68
FDU 80-53
Delaware State 69-50
TCU 55-31
Illinois State 72-69 OT
Baylor 74-70
Texas State 74-68
Brown 63-42
Penn State 70-54
#23 Illinois 68-54
#12 Minnesota 55-48
#15 Ohio State 56-53 Losses Maryland 57-77
Ill.-Chicago  44-50
Butler 65-74
Stanford 68-70
#2 Michigan 66-94
#9 Minnesota 51-69
Iowa 50-70
#2 Indiana 59-67
Nebraska 49-64
78.5 Points Per Game 64.2
59.2 Scoring Defense 61.5
584-for-1,146 (51.0%) Field Goal % 453-for-1,089 (41.6%)
454-for-1,124 (40.4%) Def. Field Goal % 461-for-1,117 (41.3%)
166-for-407 (40.8%) 3-point % 163-for-454 (35.9%)
129-for-414 (31.2%) Def. 3-point % 118-for-353 (33.4%)
236-for-334 (70.7%) Free Throw % 280-for-426 (65.7%)
11.8 FT Made/Game 13.3
37.0 Rebounds Per Game 32.5
29.2 Opp. Reb. Per Game 36.8
15.6 Assists Per Game 15.1
9.8 Turnovers Per Game 11.0
5.7 Steals Per Game 6.0
2.9 Blocks Per Game 3.4
G – Trey Burke (17.9)
G – Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.9)
Leading Scorer G – Reggie Hearn (14.0)
G – Drew Crawford (13.5)
F – Glenn Robinson (6.0)
F – Mitch McGary (5.7)
Leading Rebounder F – Jared Swopshire (6.6)
G – Drew Crawford (4.6)

For the first time since the Fab Five graced the streets of Ann Arbor together, the Michigan Wolverines are on top of the college basketball world after another easy win at Illinois on Sunday. Tonight, Michigan will face the first revenge match of the year as they welcome Bill Carmody’s Northwestern Wildcats to the Crisler Center.

At the beginning of January, Michigan trounced Northwestern by 28 points on the road, but the Wildcats were without their steady senior leader, Reggie Hearn, and tonight Michigan will almost assuredly be without their own veteran in Jordan Morgan. With all eyes on Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Glenn Robison III, and the rest of the gang, college basketball fans across the country wonder, will Michigan continue to cruise through the Big Ten? Here are three quick keys to the game:

1. Stay Strong in the Paint: One of Michigan’s many advantages over Northwestern should be in its ability to get in the lane on offense off the dribble and feed the big men down low. Freshman Alex Olah has been serviceable for the Cats so far, averaging 5.8 points per game to go along with 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists, but he is still adjusting to the speed of college and should have his hands full with Michigan’s bigs.

With Jordan Morgan sitting out due to a sprained ankle sustained on Sunday, John Beilein will look to Jon Horford and Mitch McGary to pick up the slack. Both Horford and McGary did an admirable job replacing Morgan on Sunday along with Max Bielfeldt, combining to score 17 points and grab 14 rebounds in 39 minutes. Another strong performance from that trio should be plenty enough. Pay special attention to who gets the starting nod tonight as well; McGary has obviously been seeing the lion’s share of minutes between him and Horford, but that is partially due to the lingering knee injury Horford has had. My money will be on Beilein to give the older and more experienced Horford the start and a few more minutes than his counterpart as Horford’s game continues to improve.

2. Focus: With the way ESPN and everyone else have been hyping up Michigan’s huge game at Indiana this Saturday, one would think that the game tonight was a scrimmage, or perhaps that Michigan didn’t even have to play at all. As we’ve all seen before, however, we know teams are most dangerous when the focus of the opposition is dwelling in the past or looking forward to the future. Perhaps no team is more dangerous in this regard than Northwestern.

Because Carmody has taught his team the rarely-heralded ways of the Princeton offense, the Wolverines need to be on guard at all times, watching for backdoor cuts, unique switches, and a variety of defensive looks. If Michigan is not focused on the game at hand, it will quickly become apparent, because Northwestern will get open shot after open shot against any team that plods around. The focus tonight will all start with Trey Burke. The sophomore All-American has certainly been putting up remarkable numbers all year, but all the more impressive is how he has molded this team into his own by playing a key role as a vocal leader as well. Coming into this season, questions abounded about who would take over for Zack Novak and Stu Douglass as leaders both on and off the court. Burke has stepped up to the challenge in every way, and even though he doesn’t wear the captain’s ‘C’, everybody on the team is looking up to one of the shortest guys alongside them.

NW's best player, Reggie Hearn, missed the game a couple weeks ago

3. Check Reggie Hearn: Northwestern doesn’t need much more motivation than it already naturally has tonight; after all, the Cats are playing on the road in the Big Ten against the number one team in the country, the same team that also already pounded them in Evanston to start the conference season. That is plenty enough right there. To add onto the already towering pile, however, Northwestern will look to senior leader and former walk-on Reggie Hearn to draw out the fire in them. Hearn had to sit out the first matchup between these two teams because of an injury, but he is fully healthy and ready to go now. The 6’4″, 210-pound guard from Fort Wayne has averaged a hair over 13 points per game since his return from injury earlier this month, including back-to-back 20-plus point efforts against Illinois and Indiana, and has been getting to the line at a torrid pace as well, averaging 7.7 attempts from the charity stripe per night in that same time period, with not one single game below four freebies. Hardaway, Jr. and Nik Stauskas will likely draw the tall task of defending Hearn throughout the night. They would be wise to stick to him closely and leave him off the line, where he has been doing the majority of his damage. Hearn is easily Northwestern’s best slasher, so if Michigan’s D can get the job done, Beilein will be pleased.

Prediction: All truth be told, Michigan could and should win this game with one eye on the calendar, but Beilein, Bacari Alexander, Lavall Jordan, and Jeff Meyer will do everything they can to keep this team from losing focus. A couple mistakes here and a couple mistakes there can be the difference between breezing through the second half and sweating it out at the line by the end of the night. I expect Burke and Hardaway, Jr. to lead the team vocally and statistically again tonight, combining for 35 points and 14 assists. Horford gets the starting nod and puts up double digits for the first time this season in a 78-63 Michigan win.

Twenty years later, Michigan back on top; it matters to us

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Almost exactly two years ago, on January 22, 2011, Michigan dropped its sixth straight Big Ten contest, this time a home loss to Minnesota to fall to 11-9 overall and 1-6 in the conference. The season had begun with high expectations, fueled by freshman [edit: sophomore] point guard Darius Morris, but as January neared its end, many Michigan faithful began to wonder whether John Beilein was ever going to get Michigan back to elite status.

Rewind to the beginning of the 1992 season which Michigan entered with the number one national ranking looking to avenge the national championship game loss of the season before. Year two of the Fab Five saw Michigan hold the top spot all of three weeks, and ultimately lost the title game once again. Beilein, meanwhile was just beginning his Division 1 coaching career at Canisius College.

The Fab Five were the last Michigan team to be ranked No.1

Fast forward ten years to 2002 when Michigan was handed sanctions as a result of four players – Chris Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor, and Louis Bullock – being found to have received money from booster Ed Martin. The Fab Five era was erased, as were the late 1990s, which included a Big Ten Tournament championship in 1998 and the 1997 NIT title. By this time, Beilein was taking over a West Virginia program that he would take to the Elite Eight a couple years later.

Jump ahead five years to 2007. Michigan hired Beilein to replace Tommy Amaker who had been the safe hire in 2001 to lead the program through the sanctions. Beilein’s first team finished an underwhelming 10-22 and it was hard to imagine a light at the end of the tunnel.

The very next season, however, the Wolverines upset fourth-ranked UCLA and fourth-ranked Duke, won 22 games, earned the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since the sanctions were lifted, and won the first round game over Clemson. It was the first feel-good moment for Michigan basketball in a long time, and while the team limped to a losing record in the 2009-10 season, it laid the foundation for future success.

That takes us back to late January of 2011. Carrying a six-game losing streak into East Lansing where the Wolverines hadn’t won since 1997 wasn’t a fun proposition, but a Stu Douglass three with 25 seconds left sealed the Michigan win. The Maize and Blue won eight of their last 11, including a regular-season ending 70-63 win over the Spartans to earn a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament. There, Michigan routed Tennessee and nearly knocked off top-seeded Duke.

Two years to the day after that unlikely victory in East Lansing, Michigan beat Illinois to sieze the No. 1 ranking in today’s Associated Press poll. Monday’s AP poll marks the first time since Dec. 6, 1992 that the Wolverines have been ranked first overall, which means four current Wolverines – Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Max Bielfeldt – weren’t even alive the last time Michigan was ranked number one. In fact, if you add up the age of every player on the team at the time Michigan was last ranked first (16 years, 360 days), it wouldn’t even equal the amount of time that has passed since that time (20 years, 53 days). The oldest player at the time was Corey Person at three years and 145 days old.

John Beilein has rebuilt the Michigan program to a level few thought was possible a couple years ago

Following Sunday’s win over Illinois, Beilein downplayed the significance of the No. 1 ranking, saying that no one will remember who was ranked number one at the end of January. And while that’s true on a national level, one can be rest assured that Michigan fans across the world will.

For many current Michigan fans, the fandom started, or at least grew, during that time period from the 1989 national championship through the Fab Five years. It was truly an exciting time. But the abyss that it sent the program into, which it has been clawing out of inch by inch over the past decade and a half, is one most Michigan fans would like to forget. That’s what makes today’s No. 1 ranking so special.

The 1992 squad, loaded with the talent of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson, changed the culture of college basketball and helped put Michigan basketball on the map. But their stardom and the actions that came with it took Michigan basketball off the map for the subsequent decade-plus. This year’s squad, led by a super sophomore from Columbus that the Buckeyes passed over, a pair of NBA sons, and a lightly recruited sharp-shooter from Canada has achieved No. 1 the right way, ironically, in the same year the Fab Five ban is set to end.

The obvious goal, as Beilein and the rest of the team has harped on all season, is to be number one at the end of the season. But Michigan’a ascension to the top spot has put the Wolverines back on the map and will likely breed a whole new generation of Michigan basketball fans, and it will no doubt help with recruiting. Whether Michigan wins it all this season or not, Beilein’s squad has achieved something only 26 other teams have done in the last 20 years: climb to number one. And for Michigan fans who have bled maize and blue through the lean times that have consumed the past 15 years, it matters.