Thursday, February 19, 2009

Are we going dancing?

Michigan's basketball team is about as bubble-licious as they get right now. They have wins over three currently ranked teams in Illinois, Duke and UCLA. They are not ranked and sit at a 16-10 overall record with a 6-7 mark in the Big Ten. Something that could help the Wolverines make their first tournament appearance in over a decade is the fact that this year, the Big Ten is absolutely crazy as far as who's beating who. For example, today Penn State beat Illinois and Northwestern beat Ohio State. Michigan split with both Illinois and Penn State winning both games at Crisler and losing both road games, they swept Northwestern and got swept by the Buckeyes.

They face a test to their hopes at Crisler Arena tomorrow in the Minnesota (mini-pop) Golden Gophers coached by the legendary Tubby Smith, a man who i initially wanted to take the job at Michigan when it became open. The Gophers, like a healthy chunk of the conference has been in and out of the rankings for much of the year. They had their greatest start in school history in the non-conference schedule, going 12-0. Since then they have won 7 of their past 13 games and look like if they maintain their pace they're going to make it into the NCAA tournament. But like Michigan they have been streaky, they have lost three out of their last four games.

The Wolverines have split their last four games, but the two wins came against traditionally lowly opponents in Northwestern and Penn State. The Gophers only win came against Indiana, the traditional power in the Big Ten who's going through the same thing Michigan's football team went through this past season, more on that later.

Neither team can afford to lose this game and stand a chance at staying in the good graces of the tournament selection committee. They're both on thin ice and if they slip up on the hard wood they could fall through the cracks. Michigan has to be hungrier in order to win this game, they don't just have to play bigger than the guys they have. They have to be bigger then the guys they have. They have to play like their scared to lose. A former Green Bay Packer under Vince Lombardi once said it best,
whenever we played a great team like the Cleavland Browns with Jim Brown we played out of fear that we had to stop him because his performance would determine the outcome of the game, and he played his last game against us in the championship and lost, so that means he didn't have a good day.

The Packers weren't always as big as Jim Brown but they played bigger than him and they felt that they were bigger than him. To bring this football analogy to the point, Michigan has been getting outsized in big ten games so far this year, and when they've beaten teams it's because they didn't try to be bigger than their opponents, it's because they felt bigger than their opponents. It's because Zack Novack felt that he could stretch his 6'5" frame out just enough to get that rebound against Illinois, it's because 5'10" David Merritt made the extra effort to knock a ball away from an opponent against Duke. That's what it takes to win games, that's what it takes to make it to the big dance, hopefully that's what Michigan will do tomorrow night.

(preview of hockey series vs. OSU tomorrow)



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