By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 19, 2012
He said he had confidence that his teammates could hold the lead, but the six consecutive losses against archrival Ohio State — games that often painfully slipped out of Michigan’s reach in heartbreaking fashion — must’ve been playing in his head.
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But Jordan Morgan, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. took charge. With Novak sitting, the Wolverines outscored the Buckeyes, 8-6. It wasn’t a run that significantly widened the margin, but it was perhaps a sign of what will happen when Novak leaves. His younger, more naturally talented teammates will take what he left them — the groundwork and a blueprint for success — and improve upon it. It might be slow. Don’t expect National Championship banners to hang in two years, but watch, as the program will continue to move on an upward trajectory.
Zack Novak threw his hands in the air as the game clock finally hit 00:00. Burke smiled. The Victors blared. Michigan had just upset the sixth-ranked Buckeyes, 56-51. It was celebratory, but relatively low key.
Two years ago, students mobbed the court after Michigan upset No. 15 Connecticut, raising eyebrows around the nation. It was telling that Wolverine fans found a win over a team outside the top-10 monumental.
Twice in the last three years, with Michigan sitting on the bubble, Crisler Arena played host to a Selection Sunday party. When the Wolverines earned a bid, elated players and fans sprung out of their chairs and turned the hardwood into a dance floor.
But on Saturday, fans stayed in their seats. And come Sunday, March 11, there will be no festivities when Michigan’s name pops up on a bracket.
“Without a doubt,” Novak said, he’d remember this as one of the most memorable games as a Wolverine, but he was then quick to quell its magnitude.
“It’s just another step in the right direction.”
Zack Novak’s climb is coming to an end, and there’s no telling how many steps remain in his career. The Wolverines are closer to a Big Ten Championship than anyone could’ve predicted this year, but still, they’ll likely fall just short. Novak probably won’t cut down any nets this year, but in the future — the near future — Michigan will. Its players will climb a ladder with steps built by Zack Novak.
Daniel Wasserman would find it appropriate for No. 0 to be raised to the rafters. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @d_wasserman.