At the beginning of the Michigan basketball season all people were talking about was how self-imposed sanctions were forcing the team to take down banners. But the way the Wolverines are playing, they may put some banners back up at the end of the season.
The sanctions were predicted by many to have a debilitating effect on the program. Coach Tommy Amaker was entering his second year, and with a combination of seasoned veterans and talented freshmen, the punishment was a major step backward.
To add to this problem, the team got off to its worst start in program history at 0-6 with two losses coming to Mid-American Conference opponents.
But since that point, the Wolverines (6-0 Big Ten, 13-6 overall) have found something to play for and proceeded to rattle off 13 straight wins, the second longest streak in the nation behind Oklahoma State. Michigan also sits atop the Big Ten and notched a win over its biggest rival, Michigan State, on Sunday.
The ability of the team to find motivation and to take advantage of the opportunities it has is something Amaker is proud of.
“They know there is a finite number of games left for us, and they are not thinking about that, but it is a reality of the situation,” Amaker said. “Maybe subconsciously our players have played with a sense of urgency by staying in the moment.”
Team members and coaches point to the sense of pride and responsibility that exists on the team as one of the reasons they have been able to reach for alternative brass rings.
“On other teams they might just cash it in and play for fun,” freshman Daniel Horton said.
“What is amazing is that two months ago nobody was even talking about the postseason because we were 0-6. But now that we have won some games, people think that we deserve a chance to play.”
The Wolverines also feel that they have the opportunity to accomplish a lot they haven’t been able to do in the past.
“With this winning streak, we have a chance to do a whole lot,” senior tri-captain Rotolu Adebiyi said. “We are in a position – if we keep winning – to win the Big Ten, which we haven’t done in I don’t know how long. In 1998, they won the Big Ten Tournament, but they took that down.”
Coach K calling: After Michigan’s 60-58 victory over Michigan State on Sunday, Amaker received a phone call from his former coach and mentor, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. But Amaker, who spent his evening relaxing and watching the Super Bowl, didn’t pick up the congratulatory call.
“Coach K called and wanted to congratulate us on how tough we played,” Amaker said. “He is very excited and proud. It’s another step along the road that we are traveling. That is one of the things that he mentioned.”
While most players received calls from friends and family after the game, freshman Lester Abram said that he also received laudatory e-mails from people he didn’t even know.
Up and coming: When this week’s Associated Press poll came out, Michigan still hadn’t cracked the top 25. But the Wolverines did receive 41 points, a 39-point increase from last week. Michigan’s wins over Minnesota and Michigan State helped propel its position.
Currently, just five teams and 75 points separate the Wolverines from a place in the top 25. The ranking makes Michigan the highest non-ranked team in the Big Ten.