Quick, can anyone tell me when was the last time Michigan's basketball team made headlines in November and December? Yeah, I couldn't remember either.
But that's exactly what this year's team has done. And given the last four months of purgatory that the football program banished the fans to, it couldn't possibly come at a better time.
Here we are, mid-December, and the Wolverines have already put together a very impressive resume for an NCAA berth, with statement wins over perennial powerhouses UCLA and Duke.
After the victory over UCLA, I was still skeptical. UCLA was rated too high to begin the season in my opinion, and they were just as young as Michigan, if not younger. But after taking it to the Blue Devils the second time around (Duke won the previous meeting on a neutral court), there's no way to dismiss the Wolverines now.
With their only other loss being at a notoriously hostile Maryland, it would appear that Michigan has made their strides faster than anyone has anticipated.
It all starts with coach John Beilein. It's very hard to imagine where this team would currently be without Beilein. The players have definitely bought into his system on both ends of the floor. The Princeton-style offense UCLA had no answer for has just as much to do with their early season success as the 1-3-1 zone that befuddled Duke.
Beilein has also been able to bring in his type of players. Freshmen Stu Douglass and Zack Novak have both made significant impacts in the wins over UCLA and Duke, respectively.
Lastly, the maturity and growth of the two stars of this team has really been evident just 9 games into this season. Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims have looked the part of first team All-Big Ten players. They are combining to score 50% of their teams' points, and have shown some amazing versatility as well.
One more note—it was amazing to see the excitement of the Maize Rage and the entire crowd itself during that Duke game. Home court could really make a difference for them this season. Teams may once again fear coming into Crisler Arena, which feels like a return to normalcy after the past ten years of mediocrity.
For what it's worth, I feel that Michigan (barring injury, of course) can make some serious noise in the Big Ten. I see 10 conference wins being very manageable, and a trip to the Big Dance will be virtually guaranteed if they can accomplish that.
Anyone else think that Sims and Harris would look good in football uniforms?