SportsMonday: Worth the price of admission

Sunday, December 2, 2018 - 11:03pm

The Michigan men's basketball team's last two home games have been sellouts.

The Michigan men's basketball team's last two home games have been sellouts. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

Seventy dollars.

That’s what some students paid to watch the men’s basketball team play Purdue on Saturday night. Seventy bucks and you’re allowed to wait outside for hours before the game, only to get in and cram your way into a corner of a sold-out Crisler Center, stretching from the floor all the way to the top of the second bowl. Or, if you’re lucky — and really, really dedicated to waiting outside in the rain — you might get a spot in the student section bleachers that run behind the benches.

Of course, that price did more than just get students a seat in the student section. It gave them the chance to watch the Michigan men’s basketball team grind out a top-20 win over the Boilermakers, a staple powerhouse team in the Big Ten.

Even on Wednesday, 40 bucks not only secured students a seat for the ‘Maize Out,’ but also a chance to see Michigan exact revenge over a North Carolina team that blew the Wolverines out last year. Michigan put on a show en route to an 84-67 win over the 11th-ranked team in the country.

Which, just like in Purdue’s game, featured a sold-out crowd.

Two back-to-back sellout games at this time last year wasn’t even close to an option for the Wolverines. In its first four home games this season (excluding Northwood’s exhibition), Michigan has drawn total crowd of 47,878 people — last year, in the same time span, it was 37,473.

That change in numbers could be attributed to a lot of different things. Maybe, it’s a result of the novelty in opponents the Wolverines have been hosting. This season’s schedule has seen two ranked visitors step on the court in the Boilermakers and the Tar Heels, while last year, the highest-profile home matchup Michigan had in the same four-game time span was with an unranked Central Michigan team.

It seems pretty obvious, though, that a difference of more than 10,000 people probably has to deal with more than just an uptick in scheduling. Maybe it has something to do with an undefeated 6-0 run to enter last week’s matchups with two ranked teams? Maybe it has to do with a redemption battle that resulted in a win over a team that chased the Wolverines out of the national championship last year? Or maybe people are paying attention to a team they think deserves the attention after a Final Four appearance less than a year prior?

Maybe one. Maybe all of the above.

Regardless of the reason, momentum is rolling. It’s felt in Crisler, spurring sellout crowds with fanatic eruptions in instances like when redshirt junior Charles Matthews threw down a dunk against the Tar Heels to secure a 14-point lead. 

It’s in the arena, that’s for sure  — but it’s also on the mind of the team.

“This energy from our (student section) has been fantastic. Thanks to every student for rooting for us,” said Michigan coach John Beilein in a tweet on Saturday after the win over North Carolina. “We hear you! Hope you are having fun!”

The Wolverines are riding that energy, too. Currently sitting at No. 7 in the AP Poll — and likely to move up after Saturday’s 76-57 win over Purdue — Michigan is embodying the mentality of a national contender, riding the nation’s top-ranked defense in adjusted efficiency to an 8-0 start of the season backed by junior guard Zavier Simpson and redshirt junior forward Charles Matthews. Last year, that adopted defensive identity took the team all the way to the Final Four. 

But this year, that defensive identity has been present from the start, enabling the Wolverines’ unbeaten stretch. That identity will stick with Michigan on Tuesday night, when it loses the home advantage to a midweek game at Northwestern. 

“(Michigan) can beat you in the nineties, I think they can beat you in the sixties, and I think they can do it against quality people,” said Purdue coach Matt Painter. “So it just depends on how they’re flowing.”

There’s no doubt the Wolverines are on a roll. Eight games with multiple wins over ranked teams means evident structure, and that’s not based on a home-crowd advantage, either. But that doesn’t matter to the students.

Seventy bucks might be steep, but this is a team worth paying for, as evidenced by its two most recent blowout wins.

So don’t expect big-game tickets to get cheaper anytime soon.