- Todd Needle/Daily
By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 9, 2013
In the history of the Michigan basketball program, 13 teams have won the Big Ten Championship, four (including the vacated Fab Five teams) have reached the Final Four, while one has won the national championship. But after Wednesday’s 62-47 win over Nebraska, the Wolverines’ 16th-consecutive win to open the season, Michigan will attempt to do what no team has done before in program history: start a season 17-0.
The win over the Cornhuskers matched the 16-0 start of the 1985-86 Wolverines. That squad, coached by Bill Freider and led by center Roy Tarpley, went on to win the Big Ten Championship with a 28-5 record before making a disappointing exit in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.
Most members of today’s program won’t acknowledge the record, though, instead focusing on more tangible goals.
“It’s a great way to start the season,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “If someone would’ve said at the beginning of the season, ‘You know, you’re going to start 16-0,’ I would’ve said I probably wouldn’t think about that very much, but that’s a good way to start. And I like the 3-0 (in conference play).
“But it’s nice to be there, it’s nice. Now we’ve just got to keep grinding away and see if we can get to 17-0.”
Added freshman forward Glenn Robinson III: “It means nothing. We’ve just got to continue to work like we have been in practice and keep getting better and control everything that we can control.”
But like Beilein in the past, Robinson admitted Wednesday that he’ll likely appreciate this season and its records down the line.
“Definitely, one day down the road, I think that that’s something that all of us will enjoy and it’s something that we can look back on,” Robinson said. “But right now, I think that’s the last thing on our minds.”
Junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. wasn’t as coy with his words, though.
“We’ve definitely always been thinking of that,” Hardaway said. “We’re going to take this win, and we’re going to not celebrate it too hard, but we’re just going to have a good time and come back tomorrow and be ready to prepare for Sunday (against Ohio State).”
If history is any indication, the perfect start to its season is a good omen for Michigan. Aside from the 1985-86 Big Ten Championship team, only two other Wolverine teams have gotten off to starts of 9-0 or better. The 1926-27 team won the conference championship after starting 9-0 and the 1988-89 team won its first 11 games en route to a national championship.
NEED HELP REBOUNDING? SEEK YOUR WING MEN: Beilein-coached teams have never been known to be strong on the glass, but this Michigan squad is outrebounding teams by a total of 615-456, or an advantage of 9.9 per game.
While some of that can be attributed to the Wolverines’ added depth in the post, Michigan has two players on the wing, Hardaway and Robinson, who can jump out of the gym. Hardaway, averaging 5.4 rebounds per game, recorded the fifth double-double of his career and second of the season Wednesday, when he scored 15 points and pulled down 11 boards.
The Cornhusker game came on the heels of Robinson’s first career double-double Sunday, when the freshman scored 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Robinson is tied for second on the team with 6.1 rebounds per game.
Together, the tandem has turned Michigan into one of the conference’s best rebounding teams.
“It just comes from our bigs boxing out their bigs so they’re not able to get offensive rebounds,” Hardaway said. “(Beilein) wants all five of us crashing. This league is very tough and you’re not going to be able to get offensive rebounds that easy, so he just makes that emphasis for us to go down there and just all five just crash.”
But astoundingly, more than 40 percent of Robinson’s boards this year have come on the offensive end, giving Michigan easy second-chance opportunities, like the one Robinson slammed home for a highlight-reel put-back jam in the second half on Wednesday.
Robinson said his eyes got wide as the play developed.
“I saw the open lane and I just went and crashed, went up for it and luckily it rolled right to me and I just put it in.”
HORFORD HEALTHY: Though redshirt sophomore forward Jon Horford remained stationed on the bench for all of Wednesday’s game, Beilein said afterwards that in a different situation, the post man could’ve seen the floor.
“He could’ve played,” Beilein said. “I just elected not to go there. I thought the pace of the game was one that we would just keep things short; he hasn’t had that type of experience.”
Horford, who hasn’t played since re-injuring his knee in Brooklyn on Dec. 15, returned to practice over a week ago and began fully participating Tuesday.
Beilein is optimistic that Horford can play Sunday when Michigan heads to Columbus to take on No. 15 Ohio State.
“That would be the hope and it’s possible,” Beilein said. “If he plays really well in the next two days in practice, if he’s in that type of condition, we’ll throw him in there.”