The Michigan Wolverines might have unexpectedly gained several new fans in East Lansing and Columbus just in time for this Sunday’s trio of big games.
Alright, perhaps I’m exaggerating a tad. For one afternoon, fans of the Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State Buckeyes will tolerate the Wolverines, casually watching to see if their teams can grab a piece of the wildest regular season Big Ten championship race in history. Though the Indiana Hoosiers want the trophy to themselves, it would only be fitting if the Wolverines, Spartans and Buckeyes also shared the joy. All four schools have contributed sterling moments this winter, and a shared title seems like the most logical coda.
What’s the rally cry in two of Michigan’s rival cities? We’re not rooting for the Wolverines, simply against Indiana. As long as we can take care of our own business first, whatever happens in Ann Arbor can happen. I’ll be far less diplomatic and type two words which burn my fingers. Go Blue. Whatever it takes to get another Big Ten championship banner to the rafters of the Breslin Center is fine by me. A championship is a championship, and they don’t ask how you got them or who you had to root for, right? Maybe so.
For Michigan basketball, a program which has been to hell and back over the span of two decades, this recent development has to feel nice. Suddenly, the championship fate of three traditional Big Ten hoops blue bloods depends on them. Will more than just one banner go up on Sunday afternoon? Can others manage to share in the glory? Only the Hoosiers—but more particularly the home-court buoyed Wolverines themselves—will end up deciding that fact by sundown tomorrow.
Before a day like this, nobody should remember the dreary contributions of Steve Fisher, Brian Ellerbee and Tommy Amaker any more. That era is over, and thank goodness it is. It’s been refreshing to see Michigan basketball chase a title this season with Trey Burke’s exciting play, Nik Stauskas’s unexpected contributions and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s leadership. As is the case within football, two healthy programs in Michigan can only improve the entire Big Ten. We’ve seen that twofold the past few years, as Michigan and Michigan State have combined for many riveting moments on the gridiron, and now, the hardwood as well.
Credit John Beilein for sticking to his system and truly building something in Ann Arbor. Whatever happens on Sunday and through the rest of March, Wolverine basketball fans can rest easy knowing they’ve got solid building blocks in place and have taken multiple steps up from the sad gallows of their checkered past. This particular rebuild is worthy of respect, and prior to Sunday’s important game, Michigan fans, players and coaches should all take a deep breath and remember where they have been and where they could be going.
Nothing truly says “we’re coming back” more than having other rival school’s hungry eyes watching your final game with something much bigger at stake. Given how they’ve played this season and how they’ve pushed towards this moment in the past four years, the Wolverines deserve to be in this unique position. It’s a credit to everything they’ve done and built back up.
So Michigan, literally the fate of the entire Big Ten world depends on you Sunday afternoon. We’re hoping you don’t let us all down. No pressure, of course. Play loose and just have fun. Whatever happens, happens.
Though I’ve offered plenty of unabated real praise for the Wolverines in this column, was this final sentiment actually sincere, or just this particular Spartan’s last, hollow attempt to summon a cruel jinx the day before a rival’s most important game yet?
I’m not telling either way.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax