Remember when we were arguing with Rutgers bloggers about which athletic director was worse?
Now that I've stopped grinding my teeth (and cursing up a storm) in frustration during the entire game against Ohio University, and now that I've accepted the loss to that solid team (led by an outstanding performance by DJ Cooper); I realize that despite the upset tonight, Michigan was a great team in 2011 -- 2012. Looking on as a dedicated basketball fan, I believe Michigan overachieved when it captured a share of the Big Ten championship for the season. In retrospect, it looks like that overachievement also led to the team losing some of its hunger--some of its edge.
Now, I'm not suggesting the team didn't prepare enough for the post-season tournaments. I just think the mentality of the team changed the moment it won a share of the title. Before that moment, Michigan (like the previous season and even like the season Beilein first took Michigan to the NCAA tournament) was out to prove people (the naysayers and doubters) wrong. It often acted like its back was to the wall. That mentality is how it beat MSU and Ohio at home and also went on the road and won at Illinois and at PSU. Winning the big ten title, however, validated Michigan's great season, and Michigan never seemed like it could thereafter adjust its mental approach (from that of an underdog to that of a champion) to play well going forward.
You may remember that the team came out flat against Minnesota. Michigan still won because the gap between Michigan and the Gophers is apparent. I think the gap is less apparent against Ohio University and inapplicable relative to Ohio. Michigan was hungry when it won out after losing to Purdue; and, if it had that same edge tonight, I think we would have advanced to Sunday. Instead, Michigan now has the off-season to learn how to play as a favorite, as a front runner.
And who knows? Perhaps Beilein also isn't used to being the favorite. It's possible. Ultimately though, I have no doubt that Michigan will perform better in the tournaments next year.
Despite the disappointment of tonight's game, I gotta give it up for the seniors and the rest of the team. The team was undersized the entire season and still earned a championship in the best conference. Would advancing to the second weekend--the sweet 16--been a notable improvement over last season's finish? Yes, without question.
Was winning a big ten title this season a notable improvement over last season's 9-9 finish in the conference? Yes, without question. Would I trade the championship for a sweet 16 finish? No, without question; absolutely not. Next year, I want the championship and the sweet 16 (at least!).
So, anyway, thanks, Michigan, for a great season. For basketball, I see a bright future with a team hungrier in 2012 -- 2013 than it was when it finished 2012 -- 2013. As Denard once said: "This program's been starving for a while. It's time for us to make something happen. We've been starving. It's time for us to eat."