IOWA CITY –
This year’s Michigan team is always exceeding my expectations.
At the start of the season, I did my best prognosticating and predicted the Wolverines would win a grand total of 16 games. With last Wednesday’s win over Penn State marking that figure, only a breakdown reminiscent of last year’s squad can salvage my pick.
During the nonconference season, I thought there was no way Michigan would go undefeated on the road. Then it did exactly that.
Two weeks ago, when the Wolverines prepared for a stretch of games that included matchups with two ranked teams at home followed by two conference opponents (one ranked) away from Ann Arbor, I set my standards. If they won just one game (Penn State on the road), I wouldn’t have been shocked. Two victories (Penn State plus one of the ranked teams at home), and I would have been pleasantly surprised. So when they entered the Iowa game having won all three, you can imagine my disbelief.
Leave it to Michigan to once again exceed my expectations – albeit not in the best of manners.
Before tipoff, I thought it could go either way. But whatever way it went, a margin of victory of 28 points was not in the realm of possibilities.
Judging from the reaction of the Iowa students, I was not alone.
Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby gave them permission to storm the court if the Hawkeyes prevailed. The game turned out so lopsided, the kids decided it wasn’t even worth it.
(Although it leaves me to wonder if the Maize Rage would show such restraint in an instance where Bill Martin gave his blessing.)
Judging from the reaction of the Michigan players, we were not alone.
The usually jovial locker room was filled with dead silence when the members of the media entered. Chris Hunter, perhaps offering his skills to Brent Petway for a future rap album, delivered this rhyme to describe the game.
“We played horrific, they played terrific.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
When Michigan left Ann Arbor and waved goodbye to injured teammates Jerret Smith and Lester Abram, it set off a string of bad luck Charlie Brown would be proud of.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Wolverines did.
Who would have thought that Dion Harris could pick up two fouls in less than two minutes? And that replacement Sherrod Harrell would pick up two of his own even faster?
Who would have thought that Iowa – 10th in Big Ten field-gold percentage – would actually take advantage of the zone Michigan was forced to play?
Things went so bad for the Wolverines that Daniel Horton missed his first foul shot of the Big Ten season, leaving him just four shy of tying the all-time conference record for consecutive free throws made.
But despite the deficit, despite the disappointment of another road loss, despite the discouragement Michigan suffered, things must be put in perspective.
It’s just one game.
It shouldn’t have to be said that Big Ten road wins are hard to come by, and Michigan already has two. This same Iowa team lost to Michigan State – already a victim of the Wolverines – by 30 in the Breslin Center. No. 6 Illinois fell to Iowa in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Just this weekend in Mackay Arena, Wisconsin succumbed to a dismal Purdue team that had won just one Big Ten game. (I’ll consider Penn State’s win over Illinois on Saturday a statistical anomaly.)
Sure a big road win would have been nice, but it’s far from a necessity. With seven Big Ten teams in the top 20 of the RPI rankings, Michigan will end the season with a solid enough strength of schedule. With victories over two ranked teams, Michigan already has the quality wins. True, the team’s chances for a Big Ten title have been dampened, but should that really be the Wolverines’ goal? In reality, this team is just a few victories – possibly as few as two – away from earning something it hasn’t had for almost eight years – an NCAA tournament bid. FYI – when it won its last NCAA Championship, Michigan did not claim the Big Ten title in 1989.
But for those who really want to see Michigan pull off the big win away from home, there’s still a chance. As the Badgers can attest, beating an 8-13 Purdue in West Lafayette might pose a challenge. And Michigan still has opportunities to topple two now-ranked opponent on the road, oddly enough, its two biggest rivals – No. 12 Michigan State and No. 20 Ohio State.
The Spartans are 9-0 at home this year. The Buckeyes are 11-1.
So certainly, I won’t be expecting it.
But I think you know what that means.
Jack Herman can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org