The National Champions of 1988-89 didn’t do it. Neither did the NIT Champions of 1997 or the Fab Five (although according to the official University record books, the Fab Five didn’t do much).
In fact, it’s been 26 years since any Michigan team has done it.
But this year’s Wolverines – the sudden toasts of Ann Arbor, that loveable bunch of scrappers that no one gave a snowball’s chance in hell at the start of the season – have the chance to run the table at home in the Big Ten.
And if the Wolverines are serious about giving Rudy Tomjanovich’s retired No. 45 jersey some company with a Big Ten Championship banner, then they had better do just that.
With a 70-62 come-from-behind victory over Iowa on Saturday, the Wolverines grabbed their 11th straight home victory, and, more importantly, moved to 5-0 on Crisler Arena’s floor in the Big Ten.
Forget the missteps against Central Michigan and Western Michigan earlier this year, because they really mean absolutely nothing in the long run this season – Michigan has figured out how to win at home. And the Wolverine faithful (13,274 strong Saturday) are responding.
“There is a lot of basketball to be played, but a team always has to hold court in their own building,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “It is important for a team in a conference like the Big Ten to win in their home arena in front of their home crowd.”
Amen to that.
After this weekend’s play, just four of 11 Big Ten teams have fewer than four conference losses: Michigan, Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin.
None of them has lost a home game.
Winning on the road in this conference is far from being a given – it’s an enormous bonus.
Take, for example, Penn State and Northwestern. The lowly Nittany Lions and Wildcats are the only two teams in the entire Big Ten with home records below .500 and – surprise, surprise – they are dragging up the rear in the conference.
But even Northwestern held serve in Evanston last Wednesday, stunning an Indiana team that’s dropping faster than a bungee jumper without the bungee.
“It feels good to be back on our home court,” said forward Bernard Robinson after Saturday’s victory. “The whole support felt good – it was great to go play out there in front of the cheering crowd.”
And it’s amazing how much difference it can make when that crowd is cheering for you.
Michigan was given a harsh lesson in how difficult conference road games can be when the Wolverines dropped two tough games at Illinois and Minnesota last week.
Saturday, Michigan won a game that it very well might have lost if the game been played in Iowa City.
Don’t fool yourself. Michigan didn’t play great basketball against the Hawkeyes.
The Wolverines shot 50 percent from the free throw line, they were sloppy and sporadic offensively in the first half and they trailed an undermanned Iowa team that dressed just nine players, 46-40, with 14 minutes left.
But if the miraculous Michigan comeback against Wisconsin proved anything, it’s that games can change in a heartbeat at home.
After the loss at Illinois, Amaker said his team “came apart at the seams.” But on Saturday the reverse was true. Michigan stayed composed, hit a few key baskets and got the crowd back into the game.
And Iowa came undone.
After grabbing that six-point lead, the Hawkeyes scored four points in the next 10 minutes. They were firing up wild shots and turning the ball over, leading to several easy Michigan baskets.
Such is life in the Big Ten.
Last year, it took 11 wins to grab a four-way share of the conference title. The Wolverines currently stand at seven.
With road contests at Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin and Penn State, there’s plenty of opportunity to grab one more road win (looking your way Penn State).
Michigan can reach that 11-win mark with a 3-0 finish at home. The Wolverines close their home campaign with rematches against Ohio State and Illinois and a final weekend showdown with co-Big Ten leader Purdue.
A Big Ten title? Really?
“We still are Michigan and we represent a program of tradition,” Amaker said.
That tradition, though, has also included year after year of dropping crucial conference games at home.
That tradition has included 25 consecutive years of Michigan teams watching at least one Big Ten foe celebrate a victory in Ann Arbor.
Of course, that tradition also includes the 1976-77 Wolverines that finished 9-0 at home in the conference. Their final home win, 69-65 over Michigan State, allowed Michigan to close the year in a fashion that this year’s Wolverines would love to emulate.
By beating Purdue in the last conference game of the year to capture a Big Ten title.
Chris Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.