Nov. 30, 1992.
Trey Burke was only 18 days old, and Glenn Robinson III’s father was just a sophomore at Purdue the last time the Michigan men’s basketball team was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. These were the days of the Fab Five, when the Wolverines were expected to win multiple national championships with the talents of Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King. Whitney Houston was on the top of the charts with her hit “I Will Always Love You.”
And now, more than 20 years later, Michigan is back on top. The Jan. 28 edition of the AP’s Top 25 was released Monday with the Wolverines earning a whopping 51 of the 65 total first-place votes. Kansas finished at No. 2 with just 13 votes, and No. 4 Florida got the final first-place vote.
Michigan had the chance to assume the No. 1 ranking two weeks ago when it visited Ohio State, but it opened the game flat and couldn’t complete the comeback in the loss. And in a similar situation two weeks later, the Wolverines headed to Champaign to face Illinois on Sunday with the chance to actually take over the top spot.
So the Wolverines redeemed themselves in a 74-60 win over the Fighting Illini and made a case to earn what has probably in the back of their heads for the past couple weeks.
Michigan coach John Beilein and the rest of the team have been mum about the rankings after the Wolverines hinted that the No. 1 spot may have been a distraction in the game against the Buckeyes, but after Sunday’s game, sophomore guard Trey Burke finally admitted he thinks Michigan is the best team in the country.
“I think (we deserve the No. 1 ranking),” Burke said. “I don’t think that was our goal, obviously we want to be No. 1, but I think as of right now we (deserve to be).”
So do the voters. Well, one group of them, at least. With Sunday’s win, Michigan is off to its best start in program history at 19-1, but there’s a bit of a complication. The ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll also has some weight in the discussion of which team is the nation’s best.
Kansas, which is riding a 18-game winning streak, was ranked ahead of Michigan at No. 2 in last week’s ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and squeaked into the No. 1 spot in that poll on Monday. The Jayhawks finished just three points ahead of the Wolverines for the top spot and started an argument as to which team actually should have the No. 1 ranking.
On Monday, Michigan gained an unlikely ally. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo thinks it’s obvious who is the best team in the country.
“I’ll probably gain some enemies and probably gain some friends,” Izzo said in a teleconference. “Michigan deserves to be No. 1. If you look at their body of work, if you look at the consistency they have played with and look at those two guards, Hardaway and Burke, they can control a game. They’ve been solid.
“If I had a vote, I’d have to vote them No. 1, even though it’s your rival. Who wants to do that? But I also have respect for what they’ve accomplished and what they’ve done.”
But even after the rankings were released, like before, Beilein is still focused on the Wolverines’ goal of raising another Big Ten championship banner. Beilein mentioned Sunday that nobody really remembers who was No. 1 in January of past seasons, and he is trying to keep his players focused on each game ahead of them, ignoring the hype surrounding the ranking.
Redshirt sophomore forward Jon Horford agreed with his coach, saying that at this point in the season, wins are more important than the team’s ranking.
“(Being No. 1) means a lot for the program and for the fans, I know that,” Horford said. “I can’t speak for the team, but I feel (they) vaguely feel the same way I do. Being No. 1 in the nation means nothing — it’s all about who’s number one in the end.”