Whatever you do, don’t panic. This applies much less to the members of the Michigan basketball team, rather it is intended for its fans; simply because the Wolverines have dropped two games in a row does not mean that you should jump off the bandwagon.
Even the best Michigan teams lost more than two conference games. (Yes, I know that the best team lost them all according to the new record books, but we know better). Jalen Rose and company had their struggles and rarely does any team make it through the season without them. These Wolverines should be treated the same way as the greats that came before them.
The Big Ten conference season is not unlike a conference game. Often a team will build up a lead and then either blow it or sustain it through the end of the game. Or a team could fall behind early and get its act together in time to finish out the game. Likewise, a team could drop a few conference games early, but go on a win streak and earn a NCAA Tournament bid, or win early and back its way into the tournament season.
For Michigan, neither of these situations has occurred. In previous seasons, it has only won the occasional conference game and built up the occasional lead in games. But this season all that has changed, yet fans still feel that Michigan has had a good run and now the losses that everyone expect are coming.
To contrast this attitude, I’d like to apply the game-season analogy to the Michigan State game.
Against the Spartans, after leading nearly the entire game, Michigan fell behind by five with 6:22 left and a wave of panic swept through Crisler Arena. It was as if everyone was witnessing the wheels finally coming off the train that had 12 games of momentum. For anyone that has followed the Wolverines the past few years, it was a familiar sight.
Over the past three years, it seemed as though Michigan could only win games that it led throughout. As soon as the opponent gained a two- or three- point lead, the Wolverines lost any momentum, and that lead quickly quadrupled. The fear of losing was so great that the players froze up, could not move the ball around and forced long-range shots out of pure desperation. This phenomenon contributed to plenty of losses.
The crowd had that same fear when the Wolverines fell behind by five. The fans, which had been raucous all day, were disjointed and struggled to put together even the simplest of cheers. They were not thinking about how impressive the 12 consecutive Michigan wins were; the only thing on their minds was how, after so many blowouts, the Wolverines had come so far, yet would again come up short.
But the Wolverines came through. They overcame a quieted crowd and brought it back in the game. Now, when Michigan appears to be slipping again, the fans should remain confident just as the players have. Bernard Robinson said after the game that the team knew it could win. After all, it was the same team that won 13 games in a row.
Even in the two losses, the Wolverines had a chance to win in the end. This team, unlike those of years past, didn’t collapse and lose by 30.
At the beginning of the season, if you had asked the most optimistic of Michigan fans what it would take to beat Michigan State and be 6-2 in the Big Ten, he would say that it would take a miracle. It was this line of thinking that left so many season tickets unsold.
The last thing that students wanted to do was lay down more than $100 to see their team lose and be embarrassed again by their rival. The fear of losing was so deep that fans refused to support their team. It was this same doubt that left me $100 richer, but with an immeasurable amount of disappointment at having trouble getting tickets.
Even though I know I have trouble getting a seat now, I hope it continues. There is no greater source of pride for a fan base or a team than a full stadium. With only four home games left, Michigan’s fans should show the same heart that its team has – and sellout Crisler.
While some fans might be content to just beat the in-state rival, the Wolverines aren’t.
– Jeff Phillips can be reached at email@example.com.