When University students came back from their holiday breaks, they had a surprise waiting for them:
A first-place men”s basketball team.
After an inauspicious 4-5 start to its nonconference slate, the Wolverines have cranked out two straight wins against Penn State and Purdue to open the Big Ten season. They now sit atop the conference standings with a 2-0 record for the first time since 1997-98 the year of Michigan”s last NCAA Tournament appearance.
While only two games into the conference season, the wins were enough to pique the interest of students on campus, even those who had given up on the team a while ago.
“It”s early, but it”s a start,” said Casey Gibson, a graduate student who stopped attending games four years ago. “It”s interesting to see if they could get back to where they were seven or eight years ago. I think they were bound to come back, but not this quick.”
Whom the Wolverines share first-place honors with is even more shocking.
The consensus preseason top three teams Iowa, Illinois and Michigan State were all upset yesterday by lower-tier teams.
This enabled three teams with few preseason accolades Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan to find themselves undefeated in Big Ten play.
“Yeah it”s a great feeling,” junior Gavin Groninger said about the unusual thought of being in first place. “We have the taste of victory, we feel it now and we don”t want to stop winning.”
A Michigan basketball team with a winning attitude? It doesn”t seem possible after the past few seasons, in which the Wolverines suffered four of their most embarrassing losses in school history, culminating in the firing of Brian Ellerbe after a 10th place finish last year in the Big Ten and a 10-18 record overall.
Two league wins against lower tier teams are no reason to get overly excited. But for a program that has seen its fair shares of black eyes over the past few years and a team this year that seemed to be suffocating under the pressure it”s a breath of fresh air.
Michigan”s first portion of the season seemed to follow the same disappointing pattern as previous seasons losing to Mid American Conference teams Bowling Green and Western Michigan, shooting a dismal 24 percent in a loss to San Francisco and losing two players to academic ineligibility.
But it”s funny what two wins will do to the atmosphere.
“We have a lot of enthusiasm and energy and excitement in the lockerroom right now,” said junior forward LaVell Blanchard.
More importantly, Michigan has the confidence that it can win away from Crisler Arena after digging out a dramatic victory against Penn State in State College five days ago Michigan”s first road victory since last January.
The Wolverines were 2-12 away from Crisler Arena last season and need that confidence if they want to hold their current first-place honors, as they have a rough road ahead of them. Michigan travels on Wednesday to a chaotic Williams Arena to face a Minnesota team that just upset No. 19 Michigan State there.
Then, the Wolverines head to Champaign on Saturday to battle No. 7 Illinois and its star point guard, Frank Williams.