Colleen Thomas: It was just a game

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By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 3, 2013

BLOOMINGTON — This game was marked on everybody’s calendar.

Two top-five teams playing in the best conference in college basketball for what could be a preview of a tournament game in March.

ESPN’s College GameDay was in town and students were lined up outside hours before the 9 p.m. tipoff just to get four seconds of face time on camera.

There was Trey Burke and Cody Zeller fighting on opposite ends of the court for a signature win and for the right to be called the National Player of the Year. And then there was John Beilein and Tom Crean, coaches who have taken their respective programs back to national prominence and hopes of a conference title and more.

It was No. 1 Michigan and No. 3 Indiana. Two teams battling for first place in the Big Ten, but more importantly, for the title of the best team in the nation.

Seventeen thousand, four hundred seventy-two people in Assembly Hall just witnessed the best two teams in college basketball play for 40 minutes, but how important was this game, besides a No. 1 ranking that may not even be held for more than a week?

Michigan will still be in the top five come Monday, and there’s at least one more game between these two teams — a March 10 matchup in Ann Arbor. There’s likely to be more, too — possibly a Big Ten tournament title game and maybe even a game in April with a shot at the national championship.

For a game still early in the conference slate, it’s tough to say this game had huge implications for either team. Michigan has three tough games coming up — Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State — and Indiana has two road games against Illinois and Ohio State, and the Hoosiers still must face Michigan and Michigan State on the road.

Big Ten coaches and players have been stressing the strength of the conference all season, saying that the conference champion will have multiple losses by the end of the season. They’re definitely right — both the Wolverines and Hoosiers have plenty of other chances to slip up, so who’s to say this Feb. 2 game was the deciding factor for the remainder of the season?

One loss isn’t something to fret about — it’s something the Michigan coaches have been preaching all season, taking one game at a time.

“Teams are going to lose games, and you have got to learn from it,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “(But bouncing back from a loss is) all we’re going to be talking about. (The players are) going to see ‘yes faces’ from the coaches in the locker room tomorrow, we’re going to go through this film.

“It doesn’t get any easier. We can’t be patting each other on the back (because of) moral victories and things like that. We’re very disappointed, but we can’t dwell on it. We can’t let them beat us twice.”

You could see how emotionally involved Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and their parents were during the game — frustration at missed shots and calls, looking upset as Indiana started to pull away for good — but after the game, Burke showed no emotion. Like Beilein, he was disappointed, but nothing more — that game was over, and it was time to move on.

The rest of the Wolverines have a similar mentality, as well, and bouncing back from a loss is something the Wolverines have done nicely the past few years. This loss hurts, but it doesn’t mean the Wolverines are any less of a team than before. Burke might’ve grimaced at a missed shot or two, and Hardaway showed distaste for a few pivotal calls during the game, but Michigan, like Indiana, is still one of the best teams in the country.

The Wolverines will move on from this loss, especially in an environment in which they weren’t supposed to win. They still have a Player of the Year candidate and a freshman class that will just keep getting better. They still have a strong shot at a Big Ten championship and a positive outlook for the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolverines didn’t lose anything Saturday night, except just a game.

Thomas can be reached at or on Twitter at @colleenthomas_