Mired in a culture of failure and disappointment – replete with plenty of embarrassments, like 51-point drubbings – the Michigan men’s basketball program has struggled tremendously since the ’97-’98 team won the Big Ten Tournament. The program seemed to reach its nadir last semester when the University erased a significant chunk of its basketball past in response to violations of NCAA recruiting rules. Entering this current basketball season, the burden of those self-imposed sanctions figured to weigh heavily on an undersized team that planned to receive significant contributions from four freshmen.
Fears of a disastrous season seemed founded early on after six consecutive losses. The current incarnation of the University’s team had set a record for worst start in school history and the consensus on campus was that the men’s basketball team would struggle to win ten games and surely could not compete in the Big Ten. However, following a loss to Duke in which the team played well, coach Tommy Amaker gave his players a second chance, convincing them to ignore the losses and approach their game against Bowling Green as though it were the season’s first.
Amaker’s suggestion now seems like a masterstroke following the University’s 60-58 victory over rival Michigan State yesterday in front of a sold-out crowd at Crisler Arena. The win was Michigan’s 13th in a row; the win was validation of the team’s quality; the win was affirmation that something special is happening on campus.
Last Wednesday, as Michigan hosted Minnesota, Crisler was almost filled to capacity and the student section, the Maize Rage, had swelled through the addition of previously delinquent season ticket holders and other students motivated by what was then 11 consecutive Michigan victories. In the closing minutes of the contest, once Michigan was assured of victory, the student section began chanting, “We want State,” a cheer that perfectly captured the growing excitement surrounding the basketball team on campus.
Galvanized by the continued success of the program, students were brimming with optimism and excitement this past week. In classes, students conferred about the team; in homes, sports fans attentively watched highlight programs to see if the team and Amaker were receiving the respect they richly deserved. That passion enriched campus life, imbueing the University with a vitality that is often sorely lacking in Ann Arbor, especially in the bitter months of winter.
Yet, as Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and that faith is in full blossom today. Regardless of whether Amaker and his players continue their run of success, students should learn from the feelings engendered by this streak so that future campaigns are marked by the same excitement and more Mondays give rise to more chatter from what should always be an energized and engaged fan base.