The day after Michigan won its opener against Michigan Tech, three of my college friends and I exchanged e-mails previewing Michigan's basketball season.
We were optimistic our Wolverines could beat Northeastern that night and advance to the Preseason NIT semifinals in New York. We weren't, however, too hopeful that our boys could taken down the No. 4 Bruins. After all, Michigan was coming off a 10-win season and was in only its second year under coach John Beilein.
While we spent our senior year soaking in a miserable season, there was reason to expect things would be better this year. The Big Ten seemed to be weaker than last year, Michigan's star player was no longer a freshman, and the team had a full year to learn Beilein's schemes.
In fact, one of my friends, Boyle, said Michigan could finish as high as fourth in the conference behind Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State. That was his optimistic view. His pessimistic/realistic view: Michigan still wasn't as good as Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Illinois.
Another friend, TJ, said he'd be "disappointed if Michigan didn't make the Sweet 16..of the NIT."
My pal Larson's outlook for the Wolverines wasn't exactly promising, either: "The Big Ten is awful, so maybe they can string some wins together."
Then Michigan did the unthinkable: It beat UCLA. Suddenly the tone of our e-mails changed.
A couple weeks later, Michigan upset Duke (also ranked fourth at the time), proving that its big win in New York was no fluke. We started to believe that this team could not only get to the Tournament for the first time since 1998, but that it could be a force once it got there.
Then conference play began, and after a three-game losing streak in January, Michigan was under .500 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines put up an admiral fight on UConn's campus against the No. 1-ranked Huskies, but lost, and followed that up with a critical home loss to Michigan State, dropping them to 5-7 in conference play.
On Saturday, Michigan (18-12, 8-9) travels to Minnesota (12-8, 9-8) for a "bubblicious" match-up with the Gophers. Many bracketologists are saying that a win puts the Wolverines in the Tourney. A loss would hurt their chances severely and would likely require an impressive run in the Big Ten tournament if they expect to dance.
So while a loss would be disappointing, it must be put in context. This year's Michigan squad has already overachieved. A win on the road in a game that is just as important to the home team as it is to Michigan is not going to be easy. Two games do not make a season, and while Michigan showed flashes of brilliance, it hasn't proved with certainty that it deserves a bid just yet.
Then again, this is the same Minnesota team that trailed Michigan in the second half by as many as 22 points in a game a couple of weeks ago (Michigan won 74-62). Two other Big Ten teams have already won on the Gophers' home floor. Can Michigan be the third?
If so, the program will be ahead of schedule and have reason to celebrate.
If not, the Wolverines might find themselves on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. Even if that's the case, they'd still have no reason to hang their heads.
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