by Evan Wildey
When this college basketball season started, I like many others did not have extremely high hopes for the Michigan men’s basketball team. When you lose the National Player of the Year in Trey Burke and a three-year starter in Tim Hardaway Jr., there’s going to be a drop off in play. I thought a high preseason rating (as high as 7th in the Nation in some polls) was way too high. Unfortunately, Michigan proved me right at the start of the season, but somewhere along the way, Coach Belien righted the ship. It was after preseason All-American Mitch McGary was lost for the season due to back surgery that things started to change.
After a tough loss to then #1 Arizona, something seemed to click. Canadian sharpshooter Nik Stauskas (11) became a star and led the team on 10-game winning streak, while unheralded recruit Caris LeVert (23) stepped up as his wingman.
Stauskas was a contributor last season, but it seemed his ceiling was that of a JJ Redick – a prolific outside shooter that would need help getting open. Now, it appears that was a misguided comparison. Stauskas can handle the ball and drive more effectively than most thought, including the people guarding him. Not only does this give him more opportunities to shoot, as teams have to respect him driving, but it also creates opportunities for others. But the season would have been lost without LeVert. The games where Stauskas was guarded tightly, it was LeVert who initiated the offense and took the big shots. It always seemed, when Michigan needed a steal or a big 3-pointer, LeVert would come through with a play that would turn the game around.
It was behind these two, along with Glenn Robinson III and senior Jordan Morgan, that this Michigan team would do something not done since 1986. They won the Big Ten Championship outright. Wait, 1986 you might say? Has it been that long since the Fab Five took over Ann Arbor? Despite what our instincts tell us, the Fab Five never came close to a Big Ten title. They had great postseason success, but never won the regular season crown. Oh, so 1986 must have been when Michigan won the National title? No, wrong again. That was 1989, when Glen Rice led Michigan to the National Championship, but Indiana won the regular-season title that year.
What about that 1986 team then? Well, the 1986 team was led in scoring by Roy Tarpley. Tarpley was then drafted to the NBA in the first round that summer. He made the All-Rookie team and looked destined for stardom. However, within three years, he was banned from the NBA after multiple violations of the league’s drug policy. The 1986 team was buoyed by point guard Gary Grant and freshman Glen Rice. Both went on to be first-round NBA draft picks and had long NBA careers, but neither matched their college success at the pro level.
Unfortunately, the 1986 team, despite their regular-season championship, had their postseason end prematurely. They won their first NCAA tournament game, but were upset in the second round. With Selection Sunday coming up and the Big Ten Tournament kicking off on Thursday, let’s hope the 2014 Big Ten Champions can have more success than their counterparts from 1986.
Look for more from Evan Wildey on this year’s Big Ten and NCAA tournaments to follow on Michiganders Post.