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Posts Tagged ‘AP Poll’

Drew’s Mailbag: McGary’s decision, 2014-15 preseason rankings

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Today is the first installment of Drew’s Mailbag, which will run every two weeks throughout the offseason, answering any questions you may have regarding Michigan athletics. You can submit your questions to Drew on Twitter (@DrewCHallett) or via email ( 

What is your gut feeling about [Nik] Stauskas, [Glenn Robinson III], and [Mitch] McGary’s NBA decisions? – NMT21 (@NMT21)

Let’s start with the obvious: this question is dated. It was sent to me on April 9, 2014, one day before any reports had surfaced about whether any of Michigan’s players would declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. At the time, I discarded this as a question for my inaugural mailbag because I assumed all three of Stauskas, Robinson III, and McGary would have decided by now. However, although Stauskas and Robinson III have announced officially that they will enter the NBA Draft, McGary has yet to make his final decision. The deadline to declare is only five days away, so I think this is the perfect space to provide my thoughts on McGary’s decision.

First and foremost, this is McGary’s decision. He knows where his interests lie and has gathered all of the information he can from NBA executives and scouts. No one is more informed to make this decision than McGary. He certainly is more informed than me. With that said, I am going to address what I think are the pros and cons of McGary’s options and what I think he will decided by week’s end. What I will not do is tell McGary what he should decide. This is his decision. Not mine. I am in no place to criticize what McGary thinks is best for himself, his family, and his career.

If McGary chooses to follow Stauskas and Robinson III to the NBA, he has been projected as a late first-round or second-round pick. SI’s Chris Mannix is the most optimistic, projecting McGary to be selected with the 26th pick by the Miami Heat. Draft Express currently has McGary going with the last pick in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs. ESPN’s Chad Ford projects McGary as a late first-round pick, but does not include him in his latest top-30 Big Board or the next five in ($). And CBS Sports’ Matt Moore is the most pessimistic, penciling McGary to be selected with the eighth pick in the second round by the Detroit Pistons.

McGary is projected at the end of the first round by most experts (

McGary is projected to be drafted at the end of the first round by most experts (

The range of these projections is a concern for McGary. Whether a player is a first- or second-round pick has significant ramifications. First-round selections are guaranteed a contract. Second-round selections are not and can have their rights waived before ever signing a contract with the team that drafted them. There have been many second-round picks that did not make an NBA roster the season they were drafted. This is why many generally feel that players should return to school unless they are projected to be a solid first-round pick. Generally.

McGary is in a unique situation, though. After an incredible 2013 NCAA Tournament as a freshman, he was projected as a late lottery pick in last year’s draft. Nonetheless, he decided to return to Michigan. McGary then saw his draft stock drop his sophomore season not because of a decline in performance, but because of a lower-back injury that forced him to miss most of the year. There have been recent reports that McGary “is well on his way to being healthy.” If he can show NBA executives in workouts that he has returned to 2013 NCAA Tournament form, his stock would soar back into the first round. But, if not, red flags may be raised that cause McGary to fall into the dreaded second round.

Conversely, if McGary decides to return to Michigan for his junior season, he likely would be one of the best players in the Big Ten, if not the nation. It would provide McGary more time to show NBA executives and scouts that he once again can play at the level he did at the end of his freshman season than draft workouts would. McGary also would have the opportunity to prove to NBA management that he no longer has lower-back issues and can be a full-time starter for a college season. Plus, with the 2015 draft class expected to be weaker than this year’s stacked class, a strong junior season from McGary realistically could see him back in the lottery for the 2015 NBA Draft.

However, there certainly are risks to staying in school. The first is McGary reinjuring himself. The NBA is has become extremely wary of big men that are injury-prone. Another serious injury may indicate to the NBA that McGary is not a player that can endure a full 82-game season or a long NBA career. Another injury would cause McGary’s stock to plummet. The second risk is age. If McGary returns, he would be 23 years old before the 2015 NBA Draft. The NBA loves to draft potential. Unfortunately, NBA executives likely will think that a 23-year-old McGary has little of it left. This could hinder a rise in McGary’s draft stock even with a strong junior season.

And, of course, another season at Michigan is another season during which he does not earn an income for his talent on the hardwood. With how short professional basketball careers are relative to other occupations, McGary may not want to lose one of few valuable years to earn a seven-digit salary to play a sport he loves.

My gut feeling tells me that McGary will declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. Some may feel the opposite because McGary has delayed his decision this long and well after Stauskas and Robinson III made their decisions official. But John Beilein, Caris LeVert, and Spike Albrecht each recently made comments about next year’s team and forgot to include McGary. Plus, there are other things I have heard – nothing concrete – that indicate McGary might be leaving. Either way, as I said earlier, this is McGary’s decision. Michigan fans should respect his decision and support McGary whether he plays at Michigan or in the NBA next season.

Have both the [Michigan] football and basketball teams started the season unranked in the same year? – Will (@Goblue_1211)

Yes, there have been times when both Michigan football and basketball were unranked in the preseason during the same athletic year. It has happened 16 times since the Associated Press (AP) first released a preseason poll for both football and basketball in 1948-49. Fourteen of those times occurred from 1948-49 to 1969-1970 when the AP poll listed only 20 schools. But it has been a rare occurrence since Bo Schembechler made his mark on the Michigan football program.

From 1970-71 to 2007-08, it never happened. Only once during that span was Michigan football not ranked in the preseason AP poll (1985-86), but Michigan basketball was preseason No. 3 that year. Since Lloyd Carr’s retirement, it has happened twice: 2008-09 and 2010-11. However, Michigan basketball found its mojo in the second half of the 2010-11 season and has been listed in the preseason AP poll each year since then.

But let’s get to why this question was sent to me. Will sent this question when it became known that both Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III would declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. At the time, there was – and still is – uncertainty if Mitch McGary also would leave Michigan for the NBA. Will seems to be concerned – and if not concerned, then at least curious – that neither Michigan football nor basketball will be ranked in next season’s preseason AP polls. Will’s concern is not unfounded.

With Irvin and LeVert back, it is unlikely that Michigan won't begin the 2014-15 season unranked (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

With Irvin and LeVert back, it is unlikely that Michigan will begin the 2014-15 season unranked even if McGary goes pro (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

It is very unlikely that Michigan football will be ranked in the preseason AP poll this upcoming season. The Wolverines finished the previous season with a 7-6 record and lost five of their final six games. Yes, there are some circumstances where the AP will rank a team in the preseason following such a year. But those circumstances do not apply to Michigan. The Wolverines have more questions than answers right now. How quickly will Michigan learn and execute new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s new schemes? Will Michigan’s young offensive line, which allowed the most tackles-for-loss in the nation in 2013, improve despite losing two NFL-caliber offensive tackles? Will Michigan finally have an effective running game? How will Michigan’s defense adapt to the transition from the 4-3 under to the 4-3 over? Can Michigan beat its first ranked opponent on the road under Brady Hoke? I could go on and on.

This is not to say that Michigan football is doomed for the 2014 season. Michigan certainly has the talent and pieces to put together a successful campaign. But Michigan needs to answer these questions on the gridiron first before the media begins to respect the Wolverines. Don’t believe me? None of CBS Sports’ Jerry Hinnen, Bleacher Report’s Brian Pedersen, USA Today’s Paul Myerberg, or SI’s Martin Rickman place Michigan in their Way-Too-Early Top-25 rankings for 2014. The only such list that does is ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, who ranks Michigan at No. 21. The most likely scenario is that Michigan will be sitting outside the top 25 in the preseason AP poll, likely between No. 30 and No. 35.

Nonetheless, I do not believe that the 2014-15 season will be the 17th time that both Michigan football and basketball begin their respective seasons unranked. I expect Michigan basketball to be listed in the preseason AP poll for the fourth consecutive year this upcoming season. I also expect this to happen even if McGary follows Stauskas and Robinson III to the NBA. Michigan has been one of the best programs in the nation the past three seasons, winning two Big Ten titles and appearing in two Elite Eights. It is rare for a program with these accomplishments to be unranked the following season, even if most of the core players have departed for the NBA.

Michigan returns plenty of talent, too. Caris LeVert was one of the most improved players in the Big Ten, if not the nation, last season and was named to the All-Big Ten second team. Although LeVert cannot be expected to make a similar leap next year like he did this past year, look for him to contend for the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player honor. There is also Derrick Walton, Jr. and Zak Irvin – talented players who executed their roles perfectly as freshmen. Both will receive additional touches as sophomores with more of the offensive burden falling on them.

Given John Beilein’s track record for developing freshmen, both Walton, Jr. and Irvin have been listed by media outlets as players who will break out next season. Plus, there have been rave reviews about big man Mark Donnal in practice, and Michigan adds top-30 recruit in Kameron Chatman. There will be no deficiency of talent in Ann Arbor next season.

The media agrees, too. All of NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan, Bleacher Report’s C.J. Moore, USA Today’s Scott Gleeson, and SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford list Michigan in their Way-Too-Early Top-25 rankings for 2014-15. The range of where Michigan lands on these lists is wide. Some have Michigan in the top 10. Most have Michigan around No. 20. Where U-M is ranked on each depends on how many Wolverines the writer assumed were declaring for the NBA Draft. The only media outlet that did not place Michigan on such a list is CBS Sports. But this likely is just an outlier. If McGary declares for the NBA Draft, I would expect Michigan to be ranked between No. 20 and No. 25 in the preseason AP poll. If McGary returns, there is little doubt that the Wolverines would find themselves in the top 20 in the preseason.

If you have any questions related to Michigan athletics that you want answered in the next mailbag, please tweet them to @DrewCHallett on Twitter or email them to 

Stauskas, Beilein earn top honors, Wolverines re-enter top 10

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Big Ten champs celebration

Nik Stauskas became Michigan’s second straight Big Ten Player of the Year the conference announced on Monday evening. The sophomore was voted the top honor by both the coaches and media, following Trey Burke who won the award a year ago. Stauskas has averaged 17.4 points, 3.5 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game this season with 13 games of 20 or more points. He is the only Big Ten player to rank in the top 10 in field goal percentage (48.9), three-point percentage (45.8), and free throw percentage (81.1).

Stauskas was also a unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten first team and named to the Sporting News All-America second team.

In addition, John Beilein was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by the media, becoming the first Michigan coach to win the award since Bill Frieder in 1985. Johnny Orr also accomplished the feat in 1974 and ’77. Nebraska’s Tim Miles was awarded the honor by the coaches.

Caris LeVert was named to the All-Big Ten second team  after averaging 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. Glenn Robinson III garnered honorable mention honors, averaging 13.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. Derrick Walton Jr. was named to the all-freshman team, averaging 8.1 points, 2.9 assists, and 2.9 rebounds per game. This is the fourth straight season the Wolverines have had a player on the all-freshman team (Robinson III in 2013, Burke in 2012, and Tim Hardaway Jr in 2011).

Below are the full All-Big Ten teams as selected by both the coaches and the media.

All-Big Ten first team
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Nik Stauskas* Michigan Nik Stauskas* Michigan
Roy Devyn Marble Iowa Roy Devyn Marble Iowa
Gary Harris Michigan State Gary Harris Michigan State
Terran Pettaway Nebraska Terran Pettaway Nebraska
Frank Kaminsky Wisconsin Frank Kaminsky Wisconsin
All-Big Ten second team
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Yogi Ferrell Indiana Yogi Ferrell Indiana
Caris LeVert Michigan Caris LeVert Michigan
Adreian Payne Michigan State Adreian Payne Michigan State
D.J. Newbill Penn State D.J. Newbill Penn State
Sam Dekker Wisconsin Aaron Craft Ohio State
All-Big Ten third team
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Noah Vonleh Indiana Noah Vonleh Indiana
Aaron White Iowa Aaron White Iowa
Aaron Craft Ohio State Drew Crawford Northwestern
LaQuinton Ross Ohio State Tim Frazier Penn State
Tim Frazier Penn State Sam Dekker Wisconsin
All-Big Ten honorable mention
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Rayvonte Rice Illinois Rayvonte Rice Illinois
Glenn Robinson III Michigan Glenn Robinson III Michigan
Keith Appling Michigan State Will Sheehey Indiana
Denzel Valentine Michigan State Keith Appling Michigan State
Andre Hollins Minnesota Denzel Valentine Michigan State
Shavon Shields Nebraska Andre Hollins Minnesota
Drew Crawford Northwestern DeAndre Mathieu Minnesota
A.J. Hammons Purdue Shavon Shields Nebraska
Ben Brust Wisconsin LaQuinton Ross Ohio State
A.J. Hammons Purdue
Ben Brust Wisconsin
Josh Gasser Wisconsin
Traevon Jackson Wisconsin
All-Big Ten all-freshman team Sportsmanship Award honorees
Name School Name School
Kendrick Nunn Illinois Joseph Bertrand Illinois
Noah Vonleh Indiana Will Sheehey Indiana
Derrick Walton Jr. Michigan Mike Gesell Iowa
Kendall Stephens Purdue Jon Horford Michigan
Nigel Hayes Wisconsin Denzel Valentine Michigan State
All-Big Ten defensive team Austin Hollins Minnesota
Name School Shavon Shields Nebraska
Gary Harris Michigan State Drew Crawford Northwestern
Aaron Craft Ohio State Lenzelle Smith Jr. Ohio State
Shannon Scott Ohio State Tim Frazier Penn State
A.J. Hammons Purdue Travis Carroll Purdue
Josh Gasser Wisconsin Ben Brust Wisconsin
*Unanimous selection

Michigan also moved back into the top 10 in both polls, checking in at No. 8 in the AP Poll and No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. It is the first time the Wolverines have been in the top 10 since the first week of February when they reached 10th.

Wisconsin’s loss to Nebraska on Sunday dropped the Badgers below Michigan, to 12th and 13th. Michigan State remains at 22nd in both polls for the second straight week, while Ohio State moves back in at 24th in both. Iowa dropped out.

As for Michigan’s non-conference opponents, Arizona dropped one spot to fourth in both polls, fell to seventh and sixth, and Iowa State is still 16th in both.

The full national rankings are below.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Rank Team
1 Florida (29-2) 1 Florida (29-2)
2 Wichita State (34-0) 2 Wichita State (34-0)
3 Villanova (28-3) 3 Villanova (28-3)
4 Arizona (28-3) 4 Arizona (28-3)
5 Louisville (26-5) 5 Louisville (26-5)
6 Virginia (25-6) 6 Duke (24-7)
7 Duke (24-7) 7 San Diego State (27-3)
8 Michigan (23-7) 8 Virginia (25-6)
8 San Diego State (27-3) 9 Michigan (23-7)
10 Kansas (23-8) 10 Kansas (23-8)
11 Syracuse (27-4) 11 Syracuse (27-4)
12 Wisconsin (25-6) 12 Cincinnati (26-5)
13 Cincinnati (26-5) 13 Wisconsin (25-6)
14 Creighton (24-6) 14 Creighton (24-6)
15 North Carolina (23-8) 15 North Carolina (23-8)
16 Iowa State (23-7) 16 Iowa State (23-7)
17 Oklahoma (23-8) 17 Saint Louis (26-5)
18 Saint Louis (26-5) 18 Oklahoma (23-8)
19 Memphis (23-8) 19 Memphis (23-8)
20 New Mexico (24-6) 20 New Mexico (24-6)
21 Connecticut (24-7) 21 Connecticut (24-7)
22 Michigan State (23-8) 22 Michigan State (23-8)
23 Virginia Commonwealth (24-7) 23 Southern Methodist (23-8)
24 Ohio State (23-8) 24 Ohio State (23-8)
25 Southern Methodist (23-8) 25 Virginia Commonwealth (24-7)

Michigan earns highest ranking since Feb. 3

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Michigan vs Minnesota 3-1-14(

Michigan’s win over Minnesota on Saturday afternoon combined with Michigan State’s loss to Illinois clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title for the Wolverines for the second time in three years. With two games remaining — at Illinois on Tuesday and home against a surging Indiana squad on Saturday — Michigan needs just one win to secure its first outright Big Ten title since 1986.

Saturday also saw losses by the number four, five, seven, nine, 10, 11, 15, 17, and 24 teams in the nation (in addition to the 18th-ranked Spartans). On Sunday, No. 22 Ohio State became the 11th top 25 team to fall over the weekend. March madness has truly arrived, which makes for plenty of movement in this week’s polls.

Michigan moved up four spots to 12th in both polls, the highest the Wolverines have been since the first week in February when they stood 10th. Wisconsin is still the highest ranked Big Ten team despite needing two wins and two Michigan losses this week to earn a share of the conference title. The Badgers are ninth in the AP Poll and 11th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Michigan State dropped to 22nd in both, while Iowa remained just inside at 24th and 25th, respectively. Ohio State fell out of both after losing both games last week.

As far as Michigan’s non-conference opponents, Arizona remained third in both polls, while Duke moved up to fourth in both. Iowa State continues to hover in the middle, this week at 16th and 17th.

Nebraska’s loss to Illinois last week dropped the Cornhuskers out of the RPI and Kenpom top 50, which takes away two of Michigan’s victories over top 50 teams. The Wolverines now have seven instead of nine. If the ‘Huskers can top Indiana and Wisconsin this week they’ll likely move back in for the final revision of the regular season.

As far as individuals are concerned, Nik Stauskas’ was edged out for Big Ten Player of the Week by Indiana’s Will Sheehey despite another big week with 15 points against Purdue and 21 against Minnesota. The senior Hoosier forward, who averaged just around 10 points per game, scored 30 points against Iowa and 19 against Ohio State. Illinois guard Kendrick Nunn earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors with 13 points against Nebraska and eight against Michigan State. This is notable because Michigan plays both of these players this week, Nunn on Tuesday and Sheehey on Saturday.

The full national rankings are below.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Rank Team
1 Florida (27-2) 1 Florida (27-2)
2 Wichita State (31-0) 2 Wichita State (31-0)
3 Arizona (27-2) 3 Arizona (27-2)
4 Duke (23-6) 4 Duke (23-6)
5 Virginia (25-5) 5 Virginia (25-5)
6 Villanova (26-3) 6 Villanova (26-3)
7 Syracuse (26-3) 7 Syracuse (26-3)
8 Kansas (22-7) 8 Kansas (22-7)
9 Wisconsin (24-5) 9 Louisville (24-5)
10 San Diego State (25-3) 10 San Diego State (25-3)
11 Louisville (24-5) 11 Wisconsin (24-5)
12 Michigan (21-7) 12 Michigan (21-7)
13 Creighton (23-5) 13 Creighton (23-5)
14 North Carolina (22-7) 14 North Carolina (22-7)
15 Cincinnati (24-5) 15 Cincinnati (24-5)
16 Iowa State (22-6) 16 Saint Louis (25-4)
17 Saint Louis (25-4) 17 Iowa State (22-6)
18 Southern Methodist (23-6) 18 Southern Methodist (23-6)
19 UConn (23-6) 19 UConn (23-6)
20 Memphis (22-7) 20 Memphis (22-7)
21 New Mexico (22-5) 21 New Mexico (22-5)
22 Michigan State (22-7) 22 Michigan State (22-7)
23 Oklahoma (21-8) 23 Oklahoma (21-8)
24 Iowa (20-9) 24 Kentucky (21-8)
25 Kentucky (21-8) 25 Iowa (20-9)

Michigan moves up in rankings, Stauskas earns third weekly honor

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Michigan national anthem(

Fresh off of completing the season sweep of in-state rival Michigan State with a 79-70 win in Ann Arbor, Michigan moved from 20th in both polls to 16th. The Wolverines have fluctuated in the polls the past few weeks, rising as high as 10th in the AP Poll on Jan. 27 before falling to 20th last week. With games against Purdue and Minnesota this week, Michigan should be able to pick up wins 20 and 21 and at least hold steady in the rankings.

Wisconsin is the highest ranked Big Ten team this week at 14th in both polls, while Michigan State fell to 18th. Iowa stands at 20th and 19th and Ohio State rounds out the Big Ten at 22nd and 20th.

As far as non-conference opponents are concerned, Arizona ranks third in both polls at 25-2, Duke stands at sixth and seventh, and Iowa State flanks Michigan in both polls at 15th and 17th.

While they aren’t recognized as official polls, both Kenpom and the RPI have put Nebraska into the top 50, which means Michigan is an impressive 9-5 against RPI top 50 teams this season.


In addition, Nik Stauskas was named the Big Ten Player of the Week for the third time this season. His 25 points — 21 of which came in the second half — led all scorers against Michigan State. He shot 9-of-13 from the field and 3-of-5 from three-point range. It was Stauskas’ 10th game of the season with 20 or more points, which is tied for the most in the Big Ten.

The full national rankings are below.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Rank Team
1 Florida (25-2) 1 Florida (25-2)
2 Wichita State (29-0) 2 Wichita State (29-0)
3 Arizona (25-2) 3 Arizona (25-2)
4 Syracuse (25-2) 4 Louisville (23-4)
5 Kansas (21-6) 5 Syracuse (25-2)
6 Duke (22-6) 6 Kansas (12-6)
7 Louisville (23-4) 7 Duke (22-6)
8 Villanova (24-3) 8 Saint Louis (25-2)
9 Creighton (23-4) 9 Villanova (24-3)
10 Saint Louis (25-2) 10 Creighton (23-4)
11 Cincinnati (24-4) 11 Virginia (23-5)
12 Virginia (23-5) 12 Cincinnati (24-4)
13 San Diego State (23-3) 13 San Diego State (23-3)
14 Wisconsin (22-5) 14 Wisconsin (22-5)
15 Iowa State (21-5) 15 Kentucky (21-6)
16 Michigan (19-7) 16 Michigan (19-7)
17 Kentucky (21-6) 17 Iowa State (21-5)
18 Michigan State (22-6) 18 Michigan State (22-6)
19 North Carolina (20-7) 19 Iowa (19-7)
20 Iowa (19-7) 20 Ohio State (22-6)
21 Memphis (21-6) 21 North Carolina (20-7)
22 Ohio State (22-6) 22 Memphis (21-6)
23 Southern Methodist (22-6) 23 Texas (20-7)
24 Texas (20-7) 24 Southern Methodist (22-6)
25 New Mexico (21-5) 25 Oklahoma (20-7)

Inside the Numbers: The golden age of the Michigan – Michigan State rivalry

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Burke steal

Michigan does not like Michigan State. Michigan State does not like Michigan.

This is no secret.

Those who have participated in the heated rivalry on the hardwood in recent years have made that very clear. Former U-M point guard Darius Morris told former MSU guard Kalin Lucas to “get the f*** off my court” after a Michigan win in Ann Arbor three years ago. U-M guard Nik Stauskas blew kisses to the Breslin Center crowd moments after the Wolverines toppled MSU just last month. And MSU head coach Tom Izzo summed it up best in January 2012 when he told the press, “Do I like [Michigan]? Not one bit. I don’t like anything about Michigan and they don’t like anything about us, and that’s the way it should be.”

However, do not let the conduct that transpires before the tip and after the buzzer fool you into thinking that this intrastate rivalry has always been one of the best. For a rivalry to be at its best, both rivals must frequently sport top-notch teams, competing against one another with championships at stake year after year. This is not an apt description of the Michigan-Michigan State basketball rivalry prior to 2012.

This is never clearer than when one realizes how infrequently both Michigan and Michigan State have been ranked in the Associated Press poll in their matchups. Generally, when a team is ranked in the AP poll, it is one of the best teams in the nation. Therefore, rivalry games are more significant and anticipated when both rivals are ranked in the AP poll. Yet, of the 113 meetings between U-M and MSU from January 20, 1949 — the date the first AP poll was released — to the end of the 2011 season, both the Wolverines and Spartans were ranked in only six.

Michigan-Michigan State Games With Both Teams Ranked in AP Poll – Prior to 2012


Home Team

Road Team


Feb. 20, 1986

#7 Michigan

#19 Michigan State

MSU, 74-59

Mar. 1, 1990

#14 Michigan State

#8 Michigan

MSU, 78-70

Jan. 29, 1992

#13 Michigan State

#15 Michigan

U-M, 89-79 (OT)

Feb. 15, 1992

#17 Michigan

#12 Michigan State

MSU, 70-59

Feb. 2, 1993

#25 Michigan State

#7 Michigan

U-M, 73-69

Feb. 17, 1998

#14 Michigan State

#22 Michigan

MSU, 80-75

It was not until 37 years after the very first AP poll was released when Michigan and Michigan State squared off against each other as ranked teams. U-M and MSU went toe-to-toe 64 times during that prolonged span. Although the AP poll did not expand to 25 teams until the 1990 season, this is an extraordinary amount of basketball played between two teams without one marquee matchup.

It does not mean, however, that both U-M and MSU were bottom-dwellers throughout those four decades. Both programs had fantastic seasons during those years. The Wolverines were in the AP Top 10 for eight of their 64 contests with MSU. The Spartans were in the AP Top 10 for five of those 64 meetings. It just so happened that neither school managed to be one of the best in college hoops the same season as the other.

Nik Stauskas blew kisses to the Breslin Center crowd after Michigan's 80-75 win on Jan. 25

Nik Stauskas blew kisses to the Breslin Center crowd after Michigan’s 80-75 win on Jan. 25

This changed slightly after U-M and MSU’s first matchup in which both teams were ranked in 1986. Over the course of the next dozen years, Michigan and Michigan State went head to head five more times as members of the AP Top 25. The rivalry hit its high note when U-M’s touted “Fab Five” recruiting class stepped on campus. Both teams were ranked for the Fab Five’s first three showdowns with the Spartans in 1992 and 1993. It seemed like the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry was on the verge of something special.

But it did not materialize. By the end of the century, because of the sanctions imposed due to the Ed Martin scandal, Michigan basketball was a shell of its former self and fell off the proverbial map. From 1999 to 2011, U-M and MSU faced off 22 times. Michigan was not ranked once in any of those contests. As a result, perception of the rivalry suffered, having little appeal outside the footprint of the Big Ten. The rivalry seemed destined to be forever overshadowed by the likes of Duke-North Carolina, Kentucky-Louisville, and Syracuse-Georgetown.

Rankings are not the only metric that tells this same tale. The Big Ten standings tell it, too. Rivalries are at their best when both rivals are in the hunt for conference and national titles. More is on the line. Win, and you celebrate a championship at the expense of the team you most like to see miserable. Lose, and you suffer, wondering how your team came so far only to allow the team you like the least snatch success from your team’s grasp.

The Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry is perfect example. Fans of U-M, OSU, and college football in general consider this prestigious rivalry’s best era to be the Ten Year War. Why? Because the outcome of “The Game” crowned the Big Ten champion nine of those 10 seasons. Until 2012, the Michigan-Michigan State hoops rivalry had nothing resembling that sort of an era.

Seasons In Which Both Michigan and Michigan State Finished in Big Ten Top 3 – Prior to 2012


Michigan’s Finish (Record)

MSU’s Finish (Record)


t-2nd (8-6)

1st (12-2)


1st (11-3)

2nd (10-4)


1st (14-4)

3rd (12-6)


3rd (12-6)

1st (15-3)


t-3rd (11-7)

t-3rd (11-7)


3rd (11-7)

2nd (14-4)


t-3rd (10-6)

t-3rd (10-6)

Michigan State basketball joined the Big Ten in 1951. In the 61 seasons played from 1951 to 2011, Michigan and Michigan State both finished in the top three in the Big Ten standings only seven times. That is it. To contrast, in 58 seasons of ACC basketball from 1954 to 2011, Duke and North Carolina both finished no worse than third place in their conference 34 times. Additionally, prior to 2012, U-M and MSU secured the two best spots in the conference standings in the same season just twice. The more recent of these two occurrences happened almost a half-century ago. No matter how one tries to break these numbers down, the same conclusion will be reached: the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry was irrelevant nationally and not very prestigious.

However, the key word in that last sentence is “was.” No longer can anyone make the claim that this rivalry is not prestigious. It has changed dramatically in the past three seasons. Izzo has continued to lead MSU to successful season after successful season, but Michigan finally burst back onto the national scene under the direction of head coach John Beilein. In just a few short years, the Wolverines have transformed from a program trying to eke its way into the NCAA Tournament into a program that won a share of a conference title in 2012 and appeared in the national championship game the following season.

As a result, for the first time in the history of the rivalry, Michigan and Michigan State both have been two of the best college basketball programs. Want proof? Let’s once again look at U-M and MSU’s ranks in the AP poll when they compete against one another, but only at their ranked matchups since 2011 this time.

Michigan-Michigan State Games With Both Teams Ranked in AP Poll – Since 2011


Home Team

Road Team


Jan. 17, 2012

#20 Michigan

#9 Michigan State

U-M, 60-59

Feb. 5, 2012

#9 Michigan State

#23 Michigan

MSU, 64-54

Feb. 12, 2013

#8 Michigan State

#4 Michigan

MSU, 75-52

Mar. 3, 2013

#4 Michigan

#9 Michigan State

U-M, 58-57

Jan. 25, 2014

#3 Michigan State

#21 Michigan

U-M, 80-75

In the past three seasons, all five games between the Wolverines and the Spartans have featured two teams ranked in the AP Top 25. In fact, U-M and MSU both were ranked in the AP Top 10 for two of those for the first time in the rivalry’s history. Do not forget that the Wolverines and Spartans both were ranked in only six games played against each other from 1949 to 2011. With MSU at No. 13 and U-M at No. 20 in this week’s AP poll, they will do it for the sixth straight meeting this Sunday at the Crisler Center. Simply, the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has never been better.

This is why this Sunday’s showdown in Ann Arbor between Michigan and Michigan State will be the biggest game in the history of the rivalry. Sounds crazy, but it is not. The fans agree with this notion, too. The average price on the secondary market for this week’s game is $269, which is the highest for any Michigan basketball home game. Ever. And here is why:

Beilein and Izzo (Tony Ding, AP)

When Beilein and Izzo square off on Sunday it will be the biggest game in the history of the rivalry (Tony Ding, AP)

Currently, Michigan and Michigan State are tied atop the Big Ten standings with 10-3 records, sitting 1.5 games ahead of third-place Iowa. Given Iowa’s difficult remaining schedule, there is only an outside shot that the Hawkeyes make a push for the Big Ten championship, so this is very likely a two-horse race between the two hated rivals.

But this is the biggest game in the rivalry because never before have Michigan and Michigan State been the two clear leaders in the Big Ten race, within one game of each other, this late in conference play with a meeting on the horizon. Only three times before have both Michigan and Michigan State finished in the top two of the Big Ten. In 1959, the Spartans were the runaway champion, besting second-place Michigan by four games. In 1966, the Wolverines clinched the title before their only meeting with MSU in the finale. And, in 2012, U-M shared the crown with Michigan State and Ohio State only because MSU blew a two-game lead in the final week.

This is different. This game will have more of a combined impact on these two programs’ championship hopes than any prior meeting between the two rivals. Because MSU faces Purdue tomorrow, while U-M has a midweek bye, the Spartans will either be a half-game ahead or behind U-M come Sunday. Therefore, not only will the winner on Sunday be in sole possession of first place, the winner also may have a 1.5-game cushion with no more than four games remaining. The winner between Michigan and Michigan State — two rivals in the midst of the best stretch of their rivalry’s history — will be propelled into the driver seat in this Big Ten race and may never look back.

So this Sunday, if Stauskas starts chirping towards the Michigan State bench or the Spartans start slapping the floor on every defensive possession, know that they are no longer doing it just because they are rivals 64 miles apart that do not like each other. They are doing it because they know that their regular-season goal — to win the Big Ten championship — is on the line and likely will be decided by the game’s outcome. And that is wonderful, albeit heart-wrenching, feeling because it means that Michigan-Michigan State basketball rivalry is finally where it belongs: at the top.

Michigan holds steady in national rankings

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Michigan vs Purdue(

Michigan split its games last week, topping Purdue 75-66 on Thursday night and falling at Indiana 63-52 on Sunday afternoon. While Indiana is struggling this season, a win at Assembly Hall never a given and that was reflected in Michigan’s standing in this week’s national rankings.

In the AP Poll, Michigan stayed at 10th, one spot behind Michigan State which lost a non-conference game to Georgetown on Saturday. In the USA Today Coaches Poll, Michigan dropped two spots to 16th, in between Saint Louis and non-conference opponent Iowa State.

Only two other Big Ten foes are still ranked in both polls. MSU is ninth and eighth, while Iowa 17th and 13th. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State dropped out of the AP Poll but are still holding on in the Coaches at 24th and 25th, respectively.

As far as non-conference opponents, Arizona suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday and dropped to second in the AP and third in the Coaches. Duke stands at 11th in both polls after an overtime loss to new No.1 Syracuse. Iowa State ranks 16th and 17th.

Michigan has a chance to get back in the win column on Wednesday when it hosts Nebraska, but the big game will be Saturday at Iowa in a game that will either knock the Hawkeyes out of the Big Ten title race or make Michigan State the frontrunner.

The full national rankings are below.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Rank Team
1 Syracuse (21-0) 1 Syracuse (21-0)
2 Arizona (21-1) 2 Wichita State (23-0)
3 Florida (19-2) 3 Arizona (21-1)
4 Wichita State (23-0) 4 Florida (19-2)
5 San Diego State (19-1) 5 San Diego State (19-1)
6 Villanova (19-2) 6 Villanova (19-2)
7 Cincinnati (21-2) 7 Cincinnati (21-2)
8 Kansas (16-5) 8 Michigan State (19-3)
9 Michigan State (19-3) 9 Kansas (16-5)
10 Michigan (16-5) 10 Louisville (18-4)
11 Duke (17-5) 11 Duke (17-5)
12 Creighton (18-3) 12 Creighton (18-3)
13 Saint Louis (20-2) 13 Iowa (17-5)
14 Louisville (18-4) 14 Kentucky (16-5)
15 Texas (17-4) 15 Saint Louis (20-2)
16 Iowa State (16-4) 16 Michigan (16-5)
17 Iowa (17-5) 17 Iowa State (16-4)
18 Kentucky (16-5) 18 Texas (17-4)
19 Oklahoma State (16-5) 19 Oklahoma State (16-5)
20 Virginia (17-5) 20 Gonzaga (20-3)
21 Oklahoma (17-5) 21 Virginia (17-5)
22 Connecticut (17-4) 22 Pittsburgh (18-4)
23 Gonzaga (20-3) 23 Oklahoma (17-5)
24 Memphis (16-5) 24 Wisconsin (17-5)
25 Pittsburgh (18-4) 25 Ohio State (17-5)

Michigan ascends back into AP Top 10

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Michigan dance team vs Iowa(

A week after re-entering the national rankings for the first time since the beginning of December, Michigan has ascended back into the top ten. An eight day span that included wins against three top ten teams – perhaps the best eight day span in program history – has put Michigan in control of the Big Ten title race and back in the national picture.

The Wolverines moved up 11 spots in each poll, from 21st to 10th in this week’s AP Poll and from 25th to 14th in the Coaches Poll. The team that Michigan beat on Saturday, Michigan State (18-2, 7-1), dropped from third in both polls to seventh in the AP and sixth in the Coaches. Iowa (16-4, 5-2) dropped to 15th and 12th, while Wisconsin (17-3, 4-3) fell out of the top ten to 14th and 13th. Ohio State (16-4, 3-4) had the Big Ten’s biggest free fall of the week, dropping to the bottom of the rankings at 24th and 23rd, respectively.

As far as Michigan’s non-conference opponents, Arizona (20-0) remains No.1 in both polls; Iowa State (15-3) stands at 16th and 18th; and Duke (16-4) is 17th and 16th.

In addition to shooting up the rankings, Michigan hauled in several weekly awards. Nik Stauskas was named Big Ten Player of the Week and also’s Player of the Week after averaging 22.5 points 3.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and one steal per game. The Canadian sharpshooter shot 57.7 percent overall, 60 percent from three-point range (9-of-15), and made 6-of-7 free throws last week.

Freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after a 19-point, six-rebound, four-assist performance against Michigan State. He made 4-of-8 shots from the field, 2-of-2 three-pointers, and 9-of-10 free throws to help Michigan seal its fifth win in the past seven against its instate rival.

Michigan returns to action this Thursday at home against Purdue (13-7, 3-4) at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

The full national rankings are below.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Rank Team
1 Arizona (20-0) 1 Arizona (20-0)
2 Syracuse (19-0) 2 Syracuse (19-0)
3 Florida (17-2) 3 Wichita State (21-0)
4 Wichita State (21-0) 4 Florida (17-2)
5 San Diego State (18-1) 5 San Diego State (18-1)
6 Kansas (15-4) 6 Michigan State (18-2)
7 Michigan State (18-2) 7 Louisville (17-3)
8 Oklahoma State (16-3) 8 Kansas (15-4)
9 Villanova (17-3) 9 Villanova (17-2)
10 Michigan (15-4) 10 Oklahoma State (16-3)
11 Kentucky (15-4) 11 Kentucky (15-4)
12 Louisville (17-3) 12 Iowa (16-4)
13 Cincinnati (19-2) 13 Wisconsin (17-3)
14 Wisconsin (17-3) 14 Michigan (15-4)
15 Iowa (16-4) 15 Cincinnati (19-2)
16 Iowa State (15-3) 16 Duke (16-4)
17 Duke (16-4) 17 Pittsburgh (18-2)
18 Pittsburgh (18-2) 18 Iowa State (15-3)
19 Saint Louis (18-2) 19 Massachusetts (17-2)
20 Creighton (17-3) 20 Creighton (17-3)
21 Massachusetts (17-2) 21 Saint Louis (18-2)
22 Memphis (15-4) 22 Memphis (15-4)
23 Oklahoma (16-4) 23 Ohio State (16-4)
24 Ohio State (16-4) 24 Gonzaga (18-3)
25 Texas (16-4) 25 Oklahoma (16-4)

Wolverines move back into Top 25

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Michigan flags vs NW(

Following a 77-70 victory at then-third-ranked Wisconsin on Saturday, Michigan has moved back into the Top 25 for the first time since the week of Dec. 2. This week’s AP Top 25 has the Wolverines ranked 21st, in between Pittsburgh (16-2) and Kansas State (14-4). The USA Today Coaches Poll has Michigan just inside the rankings, tied for 25th with Oklahoma (14-4).

Around the Big Ten, Michigan State (17-1, 6-0) moved up one spot to third in both polls. Wisconsin (16-2, 3-2) fell to ninth in the AP and eighth in the Coaches. Michigan’s next opponent, Iowa (15-3, 4-1), advanced four spots to 10th in the AP and six spots to tenth in the Coaches. Ohio State (15-3, 2-3), fresh off of its third straight loss, fell to 17th in the AP and 15th in the Coaches.

Past non-conference opponents in this weeks rankings include Arizona (18-0) ranked first in both polls, Iowa State (14-3) ranked 16th/17th, and Duke (14-4) ranked 18th in both.

Michigan has a big chance to continue to work its way up the polls this week with a home tilt against Iowa on Wednesday and a trip to East Lansing on Saturday. More importantly than the national rankings, two wins would put the Wolverines in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

Below are the full rankings.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Rank Team
1 Arizona (18-0) 1 Arizona (18-0)
2 Syracuse (18-0) 2 Syracuse (18-0)
3 Michigan State (17-1) 3 Michigan State (17-1)
4 Villanova (16-1) 4 Wichita State (19-0)
5 Wichita State (19-0) 5 Villanova (16-1)
6 Florida (15-2) 6 Florida (15-2)
7 San Diego State (16-1) 7 San Diego State (16-1)
8 Kansas (13-4) 8 Wisconsin (16-2)
9 Wisconsin (16-2) 9 Louisville (16-3)
10 Iowa (15-3) 10 Iowa (15-3)
11 Oklahoma State (15-3) 11 Kansas (13-4)
12 Louisville (16-3) 12 Oklahoma State (15-3)
13 Massachusetts (16-1) 12 Massachusetts (16-1)
14 Kentucky (13-4) 14 Kentucky (13-4)
15 Cincinnati (17-2) 15 Ohio State (15-3)
16 Iowa State (14-3) 16 Cincinnati (17-2)
17 Ohio State (15-3) 17 Iowa State (14-3)
18 Duke (14-4) 18 Duke (14-4)
19 Saint Louis (17-2) 19 Pittsburgh (16-2)
20 Pittsburgh (16-2) 20 Saint Louis (17-2)
21 Michigan (13-4) 21 Gonzaga (16-3)
22 Kansas State (14-4) 22 Memphis (13-4)
23 Memphis (13-4) 23 Baylor (13-4)
24 Baylor (13-4) 24 Creighton (15-3)
25 Oklahoma (14-4) 25 Oklahoma (14-4)
25 Michigan (13-4)

Inside the Numbers: When records and polls lie

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Note: “Inside the Numbers” has returned. With only the bowl game remaining for Michigan football, this column will turn most of its attention to the Michigan men’s basketball team for the remainder of the athletic year. This is the first such installment. Enjoy!

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. This became Michigan’s record when Nik Stauskas’ three-quarters-court heave ricocheted harmlessly off the backboard as the buzzer echoed throughout the Crisler Center last Saturday. It signaled that Michigan had fallen to the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats by two points at home. The loss snapped the Wolverines’ home non-conference winning streak at 20 games.

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. The Wolverines suffered their fourth loss this season on December 14th. Last season, U-M did not lose its fourth game until February 12th, when U-M’s rival from East Lansing beat it by 23 points, handing the Maize and Blue its only double-digit loss of the season. That was 60 days later in the season than when this year’s squad earned its fourth loss.

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. Last season, Michigan was one of three teams that never fell out of the Top 10 in the Associated Press Poll, with the other two being Indiana and Duke. This year, the AP ranked U-M at #7 in the preseason. Now, just seven weeks later, the Wolverines received only three measly votes in the AP Poll.

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. This is the third time in John Beilein’s seven years at Michigan that the Wolverines have been defeated at least four times before New Year’s Day. The first two times it happened were in 2007-08 and 2009-10. Those are the only two U-M teams under Beilein that did not appear in the NCAA Tournament. Further, both of those teams finished with sub-.500 records.

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. Since 2003, only one team that appeared in the national championship game has opened the following season with a worse record. That distinction belongs to the 2011-12 Butler Bulldogs, a team that started its season 4-6 before accepting an invitation to play its post-season basketball in the College Basketball Invitational—two tiers below the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan is KenPom's eighth unluckiest team in the nation (

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. Except Michigan’s record is a lie because U-M currently is playing as a Top 25-caliber and Big Ten-championship-contending squad.

Each year, a debate ensues about the validity of advanced statistics in basketball. Basketball traditionalists do not invest much faith in them, relying on team records, polls, and RPI to evaluate a basketball team. Others rely on advanced statistics, which look past wins and losses and, instead, evaluate a basketball team by how it performs on a per-possession basis. A per-possession evaluation accounts for variables in basketball, such as margin of victory, strength of schedule, and tempo, that a win-loss record cannot embody.

Ken Pomeroy is one of the biggest proponents of advanced statistics in college basketball. Pomeroy owns and operates a website,, which provides and analyzes these statistics. To analyze them, he created an algorithm that evaluates all 351 NCAA D-1 basketball teams on a per-possession basis and then ranks them accordingly. Pomeroy’s algorithm is complex, but there is a simple way to describe how it works. First, the algorithm calculates how much a team would outscore an average NCAA D-1 team in 100 possessions. Second, the algorithm ranks each team based on that margin of victory or defeat in descending order. Therefore, for example, if Team A would outscore an average NCAA D-1 team by 25 points in a 100-possession game, then the algorithm would rank it higher than Team B if Team B would outscore an average NCAA D-1 team by only 10 points in a 100-possession game.

As warned earlier, this is a very basic explanation about how advanced statistics work in basketball. Advanced statistics have much more depth to them. Basketball fans should learn how advanced statistics work if they have not already because these statistics will broaden their knowledge of the game. But the above explanation will provide a sufficient foundation to help Michigan fans understand why they need not panic about the Wolverines’ 6-4 record.

As of yesterday, despite Michigan’s 6-4 record, Pomeroy’s algorithm ranked the Wolverines #23 in the nation. Even though U-M has suffered four losses before New Year’s Day, the algorithm projected that only 22 other schools would outscore an average NCAA D-1 team in a 100-possession game by more than the margin Michigan would. Not only does Pomeroy’s algorithm view Michigan as a Top 25-caliber team, it believes that this year’s squad is better than the one that won Michigan’s first Big Ten regular-season championship since 1986 in 2011-12.

Then why does Michigan have a 6-4 record? Because the Wolverines have experienced more bad luck to open the season than almost every other team in the country.

One must remember that Pomeroy’s algorithm evaluates a team on a per-possession basis, not by its record. Accordingly, if Team A would beat an average NCAA D-1 team by only one point in a 100-possession game, and Team B would lose to an average NCAA D-1 team by only one point in a 100-possession game, the algorithm would view Team A and Team B as being nearly equal because there would be only a two-point difference between Team A and Team B.

Yet, if Team A played an average NCAA D-1 team in a 100-possession game 10 times and won each time by one point, and Team B played an average NCAA D-1 team in a 100-possession game 10 times and lost each time by one point, Team A would be 10-0 and Team B would be 0-10 despite being essentially equal teams. Pomeroy quantifies this effect as “Luck.” To explain “Luck” to his readers, Pomeroy wrote, “Essentially, a team involved in a lot of close games should not win (or lose) all of them. Those that do will be viewed as lucky (or unlucky).”

So why is Michigan 6-4, rather than 9-1 or 8-2? Because Michigan has won most of its games in convincing fashion and lost all of its games in the final few possessions. Accordingly, as of yesterday, Pomeroy’s algorithm ranked the Wolverines 344th out of 351 NCAA D-1 teams in his “Luck” category. His algorithm believes that Michigan is the eighth unluckiest team in the country.

This is why Michigan’s record is so poor through its first 10 games, not because U-M is that much worse than the squad that played for a national championship last season. For example, if the Wolverines prevent Charlotte’s Terrence Williams from tipping in his own air ball with 0.4 seconds left in the game to beat U-M, 63-61, they likely beat the 49ers in OT.

The best example is Michigan’s loss to Arizona on Saturday. First, if Caris LeVert or Mitch McGary corral the rebound from T.J. McConnell’s missed jumper with less than a minute left, U-M maintains its one-point lead and likely wins. Second, after McConnell rebounded his own miss, if the officials do not whistle McGary for a ticky-tacky blocking foul that sent Nick Johnson to the free-throw line and allowed the Wildcats to take the lead, U-M likely wins. Finally, if Stauskas’ jumper falls rather than rattling in and out with 18 seconds left, U-M regains the lead and is one stop away from a win.

Despite the disappointing start, Michigan is still considered a top team (

Flip those two games, and Michigan is 8-2 with a home win against #1 Arizona and two road losses to Iowa State and Duke—both of which are ranked and have a combined 16-2 record. Not only would Michigan fans not be panicking, they would be contemplating a Big Ten regular-season championship, especially because U-M likely still would be ranked in the Top 15 of the AP Poll.

It is amazing how one or two plays can affect the perception of a team. And this is why records and polls lie. Flip the Charlotte and Arizona games, give Michigan an 8-2 record and a Top 15 ranking, and this still would be the same Michigan basketball team. The Wolverines would be only slightly better than they are now, if at all, if they had won those two games. Pomeroy’s algorithm recognizes this, even if Michigan’s record and the polls do not.

However, the Maize and Blue still need to have a sense of urgency because, unfortunately, the NCAA Tournament selection committee does not use Pomeroy’s algorithm or rankings as part of its criteria. Instead, it looks at the two criteria that most hurt Michigan’s resume right now: win-loss record and RPI. Therefore, Michigan cannot wait any longer to prove to basketball traditionalists that it is a Top 25-caliber team.

The Wolverines’ current level of play suggests that the wins should start to come if it maintains that level, but U-M cannot afford to lose many more close games. U-M needs those wins, especially against high-caliber opponents. If the Wolverines start to earn those wins, the NCAA Tournament selection committee will believe that the Wolverines are deserving of a high seed. Otherwise, U-M will receive a low at-large seed, hindering its odds to make another run in the NCAA Tournament, or risk not making the tournament at all.

Thus, it cannot be emphasized enough how important it is that Michigan beat Stanford at the Barclays Center this Saturday. First, Michigan will be a slight favorite over the Cardinal. A win against the school from Palo Alto would be U-M’s second quality win of the season thus far, with Florida State being the first. Second, the NCAA Tournament selection committee generally will offer an at-large bid to a Big Ten school that finishes the regular season with 20 wins and a .500 conference record. If Michigan loses to Stanford, it likely will have a 7-5 non-conference record, needing a 13-5 record in the nation’s best conference to hit the 20-win mark. This is not a situation in which the Wolverines want to find themselves.

Nevertheless, this year’s Michigan hoops team has still been very, very good. If it sustains this level of play, in time, it will reappear in the AP Top 25 and be a strong contender for a Big Ten championship. Although Michigan is by no means flawless and still has weaknesses it needs to remedy, the team will be just as good as many of you expected it to be prior to the season.

Panic. Michigan fans need not do it. At least not yet.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Stanford

  1. • Michigan has had a 20-point scorer in nine straight games—the longest such streak at Michigan during John Beilein’s tenure. Nik Stauskas has been the most vital player to this streak, scoring at least 20 points in six times during this span. The other players who have helped maintain it are Caris LeVert, who has topped 20 points three times, Zak Irvin, and Glenn Robinson III.
  1. • The Wolverines are shooting 39.2 percent on three-pointers this season. This is a higher percentage than any prior Michigan team under Beilein could muster. Look for U-M to take advantage of this against Stanford, which is ranked #241 in three-point defense and allows opponents to make 36.1 percent of their three-pointers.
  1. • New York City treated Michigan very well last season. The Wolverines played three games there—two at Madison Square Garden and one at the Barclays Center—and beat three major-conference opponents—Pittsburgh, Kansas State, and West Virginia—by an average margin of 11.1 points. The Maize and Blue will travel back this Saturday to play the Stanford Cardinal at the Barclays Center.

You can follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewCHallett

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.