Yesterday was an enormous test on my patience and optimism. I walked down to Crisler Arena with my friends fully expecting the Michigan men’s basketball team to extend its two-game win streak.
Instead, we saw the Wolverines blow a huge, early lead and lose to Northwestern. This seemingly cemented the team’s post-season invitation to the College Basketball Invitational. (Honestly, show me a scenario in which Michigan pulls it together enough to finish the season with a .500-or-better record, requisite for even an NIT bid, let alone some way in which the teams makes NCAAs.)
“When things are going south, the leadership has to come from more than just me,” Beilein said after the game. “There has to be positive stuff from people within this team.”
That doesn’t sound like a coach of a team that has one of the nation’s best players. A team that was poised to do something really special at the beginning of the year.
But it’s nothing out of the ordinary, especially not on Michigan’s south campus right now.
Thus continues the most head-scratching, frustrating academic-calendar year in Michigan sports history — which just so happens to coincide with my senior year. In the three major sports (football, basketball and hockey), the Wolverines are a combined 23-24. No bowl trip and — without some miracle — no chance at an NCAA Tournament bid in the other two.
All three teams, at some point, had wild expectations, which makes this downfall even harder to figure out. Football started 4-0 — a month-long stretch that seems surreal now, given the current state of the team — before falling off the face of the Big Ten planet. Everyone jumped on the basketball team’s bandwagon, with a No. 13 preseason ranking. Then the team took a national flop. And hockey — what the hell? That one, I can’t figure out.
So, my fellow seniors, you could take the obvious, “Oh, God, why me?” route that has become pretty popular on campus. It is the easy one, and it definitely sucks that our last year in Ann Arbor has to be one of such athletic misery.
You’ve seen losses and allegations of NCAA violations, a two-year losing streak to a Little Brother that seems to be growing up rather quickly and a slew of other disappointments too hurtful and depressing to mention here.
You see, you could let this recent backslide get you down. But look on the bright side here.
You’re witnessing history.
Not many senior classes can say that.
Sure, the 1998 graduates had a football national championship. The 2004 grads celebrated their last home football game by rushing the field after the Wolverines beat Ohio State in the 100th iteration of “The Game.” The 1989 class took to the streets and rioted after Michigan won the basketball national championship.
But this is a different kind of history-in-the-making, one that — once Michigan athletics is back on the performance-based top — could be remembered, in a different way, for far longer than any of that other stuff.
It’s rock bottom. The lowest plateau Michigan sports has been on, well, maybe ever. And all us seniors can say we were here for it. We’ve seen a steady decline over four years and now things have finally bottomed out.
Now, isn’t that special?
— Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.