If you have read this blog or any time at all then you know that I bleed Maize and Blue. If you have eyes, you also know that this has been a very, very ugly time to be a Michigan fan. After years of underwhelming futility and disappointment at the end of the Lloyd Carr era, the football team redefined just how bad a season can be in Ann Arbor this year. I am certain that things will get better, but that assertion is more than just a small test of my faith. Same basic story in basketball – Tommy Amaker led us to bland underachievement, then the world imploded last year in the first season under a new coach from West Virginia. We have had many glory days in both sports, but they seem just a distant, practically impossible memory now. Us Michigan fans deserve a break, so you can forgive my gloating now as I say this – Michigan may be the greatest basketball team in the history of the sport!!!
Perhaps that is overstatement, but you can certainly make the argument that few, if any, teams have accomplished what Michigan has in this young season. So far this year the highest seeds that have lost is number three Louisville, and two number fours – UCLA and Duke. Western Kentucky knocked off the Cardinals. Michigan has the other two upsets. To beat two teams of that caliber in just eight games says a lot about potential. It will also make it easier for us to finally return to the tournament if we can put together even a decent conference run.
The most impressive thing about Saturday’s Duke victory was the adjustments involved. Because they had met in a tournament final already this year, Duke and Michigan became the first team of the season to have played each other twice. The first game, the day following the UCLA upset, wasn’t particularly close. Duke looked like the far better team. John Beilein was able to learn from that game, though, and the second game wasn’t that close, either, only this time Michigan won. Michigan executed the 1-3-1 zone perfectly, forcing Duke outside, and then agitating them enough when they were out there to cause one of the worst three point shooting performances of the decade for the team. Meanwhile, Michigan remained calm, hitting 13 of their final 14 free throws to hold off a late charge. In other words, Beilein came up with a very solid gameplan and, for once, Michigan had the skill and the discipline to make it happen.
It was also impressive that the team was able to put together this effort following a disappointing loss to Maryland. They had led that game in the second half before running out of gas. Under Amaker, that loss would have been the excuse that justified a three game slide.
A big part of the success of this team has been the continued emergence of two players Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. Sophomore Harris is a pure scorer who has upped his game from last year. Sims, a junior, is the catalyst for when the team wants to erupt. He was the driving force in the Duke victory, with 28 points and 12 boards. Both players are statistically better than last year, but there is a far bigger change – they are playing with a confidence and authority that hasn’t been seen on a court in maize and blue for a long, long time.
Even if you don’t like Michigan as a team (and if you don’t, what the heck is wrong with you?!?), you have to like them as a bet. They are 4-1-1 ATS this year, and 2-1 ATS against ranked teams. They’ve also paid off a couple of fat moneylines.
It all comes down to one logical conclusion – the universe belongs to Michigan, and they have just been letting other people borrow it for a while.