This has clearly been a long season and anytime you have single digit wins there is a lot wrong. Before the season I wrote that Michigan had to stick together until the 2nd half of the Big Ten slate when their conference schedule finally lightens up. The schedule has been rough (ranked third by Sagarin, and 8th in the RPI) but does that excuse Michigan’s questionable losses to teams like Central Michigan, Harvard, and Iowa?
This season is showing how hard it is for a young team (of the “core 5″ there are 3 freshman and 2 sophomores) to learn how to win. The trips to Georgetown and Alaska were major blows to the team’s confidence. Then a home game against Boston College, a solid but not great team, and another disappointing loss, led to another loss and losing became more the expectation than the exception. A warn down young team headed to play Harvard in a game that seemed almost laughable to them and they saw first hand what it meant to play with heart, getting beat handily by a subpar team. Michigan is clearly a better team than Harvard who lost to Brown (who Michigan coasted by in week one) by 20 points, but they had not developed that winning edge.
Losses at Duke and at home to UCLA were again expected, and the occasional flash of 5 to 10 minutes of good basketball only provided some kind of hope for the future. But now it seems that the team might finally be developing this winning edge.
A lot of this is apparent in their improvement. Wisconsin destroyed Michigan in Crisler only to have Michigan play them neck and neck for nearly 40 minutes. Iowa beat Michigan convincingly at home and less than a month later Michigan went to their place and beat them in an impressive fashion. Ohio State beat Michigan by 10 in Columbus and Michigan rebounded to have their biggest victory to date on Sunday. Those are very encouraging performances the second time around against teams we have played twice.
Already this team handles adversity better than teams in recent years who would fold at the slightest bit on the road. This is encouraging not only for this year but in the future. Beilein is building this team from the ground up and it seems like the attitude might finally be coming around. Manny Harris is clearly a large part of this mental edge, his leadership ability for a freshman is a blessing for this year.
Coming up are games @Minnesota, vs. Illinois, vs. Northwestern, @Penn State, and vs. Purdue. I am not going to make any predictions about how many of these games Michigan could or should win. But we have played these teams before and hopefully we can continue to improve against teams the second time around. I have to mention that a lot of this is a credit to Beilein’s coaching ability as well. You can see a difference in the energy and mentality of this team that has changed simply in the last month since they hit rock bottom against Minnesota at home. Hopefully they can build on this momentum going forward, but at least they are learning how to win a couple games. At the very least we can say this gauntlet of a schedule has showed these kids what college basketball is all about.
In terms of the future there are a couple recruiting updates out there: