In a battle between in-state rivals, the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines outlasted the No. 9 Michigan State Spartans by a score of 58-57. Trey Burke capped off a phenomenal outing by stealing an errant Gary Harris pass with the game clock expiring, thus securing the victory for U-M.
As a result, the Wolverines are back on track for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Burke was masterful, placing his star power on full display by dropping 21 points, eight assists, four rebounds, five steals and a block. His game-deciding steal ended a recent cold stretch for the team and preserved a magical season.
With that being said, their fate has not yet been decided.
Michigan has a long road to travel, as the conference tournaments could go a long way towards determining who is seeded where. Furthermore, Michigan has two remaining regular season games that could threaten—or strengthen—their status.
The first is at a Purdue team that just upset No. 17 Wisconsin. The other comes against current No. 1 Indiana.
With that being established, Michigan has bounced back from a recent streak of ineptitude with a signature victory. While they still have work to do, they remain on track for a No. 1 seed with their win over the Spartans.
It's all about closing out strong when it comes to March Madness.
Signature Turnaround Victory
Just as things began to get difficult, the Michigan Wolverines pulled out a turnaround victory against a Top 10 opponent.
Michigan began the season at 20-1. Their lone defeat was a 56-53 road loss against archrival and the now No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Entering their showdown against No. 9 Michigan State, however, the Wolverines had lost four of their past seven games.
In terms of opponents, three of their four losses were of a high quality. Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin are all ranked and virtual locks for the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately, Michigan lost 84-78 at the 9-19 Penn State Nittany Lions on Feb. 27. They were also dominated by MSU, dropping a road battle 75-52.
Not only did their recent win over the Spartans put another signature win on their resume, but it broke a recent funk in style. More importantly, it was a game of revenge.
That's what it may come down to for NCAA tournament voters, as they want to see their No. 1 seeds prove to be the best of the best. By defeating the Spartans, another No. 1 seed contender, the Wolverines have proven to be just that.
This isn't the first time, either.
Improving a Quality Resume
Entering the Michigan Wolverines' game against the Michigan State Spartans, they had a quality resume. Michigan possessed numerous victories over Top 25 opponents, both in-conference and otherwise.
What they lacked, however, was a true signature win.
Per their current rankings, Michigan has defeated No. 13 Kansas State, No. 16 Ohio State and No. 23 Pittsburgh. They also own victories over previously ranked No. 9 Minnesota and No. 18 North Carolina State.
Tack on two wins over the 21-9 Illinois Fighting Illini and you have yourself a very strong resume.
To get to 24-5, however, Michigan had to win it's most difficult game all season. They did so by just one point against their rival Michigan State.
This solidifies what voters will consider to be an impressive crop of victories, thus enabling Michigan to contend for a No. 1 seed. The fact that they won a close game simply strengthens their bid, as voters want to see how a team will fare in a down-to-the-wire battle.
The icing on the cake may just be a phrase few teams can claim to possess—star power.
You could state that this has nothing to do with the way a selection committee acts, but it does. The fact that the Michigan Wolverines possess star power serves as a powerful factor in the selection process.
Contrary to popular belief, it's about more than National Player of the Year contender Trey Burke.
Burke has draw on his own, which may be enough for Michigan to take a top spot. He's currently averaging 18.8 points and 6.9 assists and is your quintessential "March Madness hero."
Burke solidified his star status by coming up with the game-deciding steal in the closing seconds against Michigan State.
Beyond Burke, Michigan has an attractive crop of freshmen that voters are certain to take note of. After all, freshmen dominating the tournament is a headline which the NCAA never deems as "old news."
With Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary, the Wolverines have yet another attractive draw.
The clincher for Michigan is Tim Hardaway Jr. Not only is he a second-generation star, but he's a drastically improved shooter that has come up time and time again in the clutch.
Whether or not Michigan is the best team in the country is a topic for another day. There's simply no denying the draw and intrigue this star-studded team would possess as a top seed.
All that's left for Michigan is a strong close to the season.