photo AnnArborGIFHeader_zps02670880.gif

Posts Tagged ‘Ten Year War’

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

Date

Home Team

Road Team

Winner

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

Season

Michigan’s Finish (Record)

MSU’s Finish (Record)

1959

t-2nd (8-6)

1st (12-2)

1966

1st (11-3)

2nd (10-4)

1986

1st (14-4)

3rd (12-6)

1990

3rd (12-6)

1st (15-3)

1992

t-3rd (11-7)

t-3rd (11-7)

1995

3rd (11-7)

2nd (14-4)

2003

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

Date

Home Team

Road Team

Winner

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.

They were passionate enemies to be sure

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012


Woody was the titan from the Buckeye state, and Bo a protégé working his way up the ranks, but now the two are synonymous with one of the most touted rivalries in all of football, and one that is as zealous as it is old. It started in the 1800s in a bitter dispute over the state boundary then known as the Toledo Strip. Both states claimed the territory for themselves, each sending troops to defend it. And while no blood was shed over the matter the clash remained a sore point in the history of the states that neither particularly cared to dissolve into goodwill. Ohio was conceded the portion of land, and Michigan was compensated with a much larger, but also much more remote piece of property now known as the Upper Peninsula.

Despite being bitter rivals, Bo and Woody held a tremendous amount of respect for one another

But it would be sixty years before the two states would herald the two teams that would draw such accented hatred for one another. In 1897, the Wolverines and the Buckeyes faced off for the first time, and after World War I would continue to play each and every year until the saga was built on more than a half century of fervent clashes. No one could have guessed, however, that the matchup would achieve the status of an ongoing war, and that it would have its very own Benedict Arnold.

Bo Schembechler had worked under Woody Hayes for several years at Ohio State when his alma mater, Miami University of Ohio, asked him to be the head coach of its football program. Woody, not wanting to see him go, told him that he would assume the role under the helm after he had retired, a date which he thought would roll around in a handful of years. But Bo didn’t want to miss the opportunity, and packed his bags and headed south to what would become a stepping stone to his greatest achievement, and a role that would cement his status in football lore.

In 1969 an Ohio man was crowned the sovereign head of Michigan football to the sound of a thousand freshly stacked papers headlined, “Bo Who?”.  A rather lackluster start for what would embed itself into Wolverine and Buckeye history alike in a few short months.

Coming into the 1969 game Michigan was still licking its wounds from the year before, as it is naturally hard to console any embarrassment caused to the ego without being given a shot to redeem the thing that precipitated it. In the case of Bo’s first team it was the memory of the outrageously unsympathetic two point conversion attempt made by Hayes when his Buckeyes were up 50-14 very late in the fourth quarter. It didn’t matter that the extra points weren’t converted, and it surely didn’t help that in the aftermath Woody is said to have replied upon being asked about his decision that he went for two “because I couldn’t go for three.” The attempt was one aimed at humiliation, and it served its purpose. Thus it was with the smell of fall lingering in the air, and a season of reminders of what had been a spit in the face to a down and out opponent, that the Wolverines had come to face their shot at revenge. The enemy however, had only gotten stronger.

Bo bested his mentor in their first meeting in 1969, setting off the Ten Year War

Arriving at the gates of the Big House, the Buckeyes were an impressive force having won 22 straight games and averaging more than 500 yards of offense. If Michigan was to beat the Scarlet and Gray they were going to have to play as they had in the four games leading up to the meeting in which they scored an average of 45 points. Needless to say they were underdogs. Yet they were also the best kind, those with immense potential and an outlet to prove it.

There were over a hundred thousand fans packed into the stadium that day to see student face off against teacher, and they were treated to a show. Ohio State ran the kickoff back close to the mid-field line and continued to march down to just outside the ten before coming upon a fourth and two. They went for it, the refs marked it, and it was short. Michigan’s ball, but they did nothing.

The Buckeyes put up the first points of the game but missed the point after. Michigan matched the score and put the ball through the uprights. Not to be outdone, Ohio State scored again, and again cannot convert the two-point conversion. The Wolverines were not to be discouraged and put up a touchdown of their own, retaking the lead. On their next possession they ran the punt back to Ohio State’s doorstep and scored two plays later. Then, on their last possession before halftime, they attempted a field goal. It was good. 24-12 Michigan at the half.

And so it stays, the crowd counting down to the victory of the century and the dawning of what would become one of the greatest decades in football for the two programs. It was the era of the Big 2, and the Little 8. The series went back and forth until 1974 when Ohio State won twice in a row before losing in three straight matchups to the Wolverines. The pupil/mentor rivalry couldn’t last forever though and Woody’s angry foul at the 1978 season ending bowl game against Clemson, when he hit an opposing player on the chin after an interception looked to seal the win for the Tigers, also sealed his fate. He resigned as head coach shortly after, but Bo continued to lead the Wolverines for another eleven years until he retired.

They were passionate enemies to be sure, but they also held a tremendous amount of respect for each other. Not feeling well, Hayes insisted on delivering an introduction speech for Schembechler at a banquet in Dayton. He did, and passed away the next day. Bo, not to be outdone in regards to the man he so revered and the rivalry he loved so much, passed away the day before the first-ranked Buckeyes hosted the second-ranked Wolverines in 2006.

While Ohio State triumphed that night it was evident by the signs hoisted in the air by sworn enemies that both sides grieved the loss of a coach who had cared so deeply, and had been so instrumental in making the rivalry what it was. Because the truth of the matter is that as much as Michigan hates Ohio State, and as much as the feeling is reciprocated, both teams want to face the other at its best. They want the game not to mean something. They want it to mean everything.

What stands now is the opportunity for the rivalry to be reinstated after two decades of lopsided streaks, the Cooper era, and then the late Carr-Rodriguez debacle. Can Hoke and Meyer bring The Game to the height of its glory, and perhaps a few back-to-back installments to make things doubly interesting? Surly, this can’t be asking too much. Not for the fans who cheer year in and year out, who scold those who don’t believe that ten seconds is enough time to make a come back, and who hate the sound of the silence after a loss just as much as the ecstatic cries from the other side after a win. A true rivalry is about history, and all of those who tune in each game day to see whether today is the day for it.