There are many words that can be used to describe the season thus far for the Michigan Wolverines. Many will say disappointing, some will say expected and others will say frustrating. In truth, you could use any one of those adjectives and probably be correct. Going into this season, it was expected that there would be some sort of regression due to the amount of attrition Michigan faced in the offseason.
Four integral members of the team were lost when Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III all moved on. No one could have guessed though that injuries, not youth, would be the bigger handicap on the season. That’s the hand that John Beilein and his staff have been dealt, and they are trying their best move forward as the season winds down.
Michigan was the overlooked puppy while the big dog, Michigan State, was ruling the basketball kingdom in the state. From 1998 to 2010, the Wolverines only managed to win four games against the Spartans. Michigan State laughed at Michigan. The Wolverines were a joke, not only nationally, but in state.
Former Spartans guard Moe Ager once stated, “They weren’t our toughest competition. We never felt threatened by Michigan—we knew we would beat them every time. Illinois and Wisconsin—yeah, those were the teams. The toughest teams I played against in my whole life.”
Things have certainly changed since John Belien came into the picture in 2010, as Michigan has won six of the past ten head-to-had matchups with Michigan State. He’s set a precedence that no matter what, Michigan will compete hard against the Spartans.
The Wolverines have seven freshmen that got their first taste of the Ohio State and Michigan State rivalries earlier this year. The Buckeyes absolutely humiliated the Wolverines at the Value City Arena. Michigan was just severely outplayed and couldn’t find a way to even keep it close. When they headed to East Lansing earlier this month, they competed better than most expected. In fact, they had a great shot at winning that game when they pushed the Spartans to overtime. It was another valiant effort and a great moral victory, but effort doesn’t matter to the standings.
As tough as it was to swallow, they lost and it was one of the more demoralizing losses of the year. Michigan could have and should have beaten Michigan State on that day, but in the end, a lack of depth hurt them in overtime.
The Wolverines have a huge chance at vengeance staring them in the face this week. Both the Spartans and the Buckeyes will be rolling up to the Crisler Center this week, planning to sweep out Michigan for the season. These games are huge for this team. For many, it’s their first chance to beat the rivals that Beilein has emphasized since he’s arrived on campus.
It’s also important for Michigan’s NIT chances. While many may scoff at the tournament and look at it as unnecessary, it’s exactly what this team needs. More games means more practice time and that is an invaluable thing for a youthful team like this. Beating the Spartans and Buckeyes at home this week and maybe making a run in the NIT would provide an extreme morale boost in what has been a disappointing and joyless season.
The bottom line is that it’s Michigan State and Ohio State against Michigan. These games are always important. We hate them and they hate us. Like many games this season, the intensity will be there, but Michigan just has to finish. We’ll see if they can do that tonight, as some of the former players who have helped build this trend of rivalry success cheer them on.