I still can't believe that in the 20 years it's taken Michigan basketball to return to the #1 spot, only 26 different teams have been the top-ranked team in the nation. Twenty six!
But it finally happened: Michigan took the top spot again. With a Duke loss at Miami last week, and two Michigan wins over Purdue and Illinois, there wasn't any real doubt over who was the mightiest team in the land...for the AP. I don't know many news outlets that still use the USA Today Coaches Poll, but that poll has Kansas ranked number one.
I'm not here to talk about that, though. In many people's eyes, this week is a huge one for Michigan. Yes, it is the number one team in the land. But they have to defend that ranking against one of the top teams in the nation - and who had been #1 for the first month of the season - Indiana. The Hoosiers have taken their hits - first against in-state rival Butler, then against Wisconsin, and finally in a near defeat by Michigan State last weekend - but don't doubt their ability to come out hard against the Wolverines in Bloomington on Saturday night.
In recent games, Michigan has started out slowly, or allowed the other team to come out fast. Against Illinois, large runs in the beginning of the game were quickly cut down by the Fighting Illini, while against Purdue, Michigan couldn't seem to stop the Boilermakers' hot shooting. Earlier, Minnesota hung around for more than 20 minutes until Michigan finally slammed the door.
Playing in Bloomington is dangerous, especially with a crowd that desperately wants its team to get back to that number one ranking. Michigan needs to come out pumped up and ready for the onslaught. More importantly, Trey Burke has to keep doing what he does best: coaching from the floor and finding the best possible way to get points. He can't overdo it - teams have dissected game tape and he isn't a surprise anymore. There are plenty of other scorers on this team that he can feed. (Nik Stauskas, anyone?)
I'm not dismissing tomorrow's game against Northwestern in the slightest. They managed Northwestern's 1-3-1 zone pretty well on January 3 (likely because Michigan runs a 1-3-1 themselves), and the Wildcats couldn't hit the broadside of a barn - and that issue probably won't be the case tomorrow. I am looking forward to the Indiana game more because Indiana is the High Ranking Team that Michigan hasn't really encountered this season. (I don't count Minnesota as a HRT...especially with that 4-game losing streak) How is Michigan going to handle the pressure? Not only is this one of the top five teams in the country, Michigan has a reputation to uphold!
Take the challenge and run, Michigan. Show a national, Saturday, prime-time audience that you were meant for this position.
After twenty years, it finally feels like now is the time for this team.