Full circle: Beating Michigan State now an expectation for the Michigan basketball program
In 2003, it was big news. In 2006, it meant an awful lot. In 2011, it was a major step.
But in 2012?
Well, now it's an expectation.
"Nothing against Michigan State, but there's a lot of great teams in the Big Ten," Michigan basketball senior Stu Douglass said following the Wolverines' 60-59 win over Michigan State on Tuesday. "It's good for us, but ultimately, we've got higher goals."
Multiple times Tuesday night, Douglass and fellow senior co-captain Zack Novak were asked how monumental it was to have three straight wins over in-state rival Michigan State.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
They were asked what it meant to have a three-game winning streak over the Spartans for the first time in 14 years, what it said about the current state of their program and how it could impact the future of Wolverine basketball.
Ground-breaking? Earth-shattering? Culture-shifting?
Just part of the process.
"We're to the point now where (beating Michigan State) is something we expect to do," Novak said. "My first two years, it was like, you've got to do it first -- you've got to do it one time.
"After you get that first one, you get a taste of it, but then you've got to learn how to win."
And with that, the state of Michigan officially has its biggest basketball rivalry back.
For 13 years, from 1998-2010, this matchup wasn't even a contest. Michigan State rattled off eight straight wins by an average margin of 22.5 points from 1998-2002.
And after Michigan nipped the Spartans by a bucket in 2003, Michigan State responded by pasting Michigan in each of the next four meetings, again by a double-digit average margin of victory.
The Wolverines got two more wins over the next four years, but they went down as afterthoughts. The Spartans continued to exert their will, winning six of seven in that stretch.
In the early 2000s, the Michigan basketball program was more worried about self-imposed sanctions, removal of banners and when, exactly, it would be allowed to participate in a postseason tournament again.
Michigan State at that time? Tom Izzo was busy winning a national championship in 2000, and building a streak of six Final Fours in a span of 12 seasons.
In short, Spartan basketball was king, while the Wolverines of the hardwood were a distant second."There's a reason they've been to so many Final Fours in the last 10 years," Novak said. "They do things the right way."
But during John Beilein's second season in Ann Arbor, 2008-09, the game got a little closer. The next season, the Wolverines lost one by a point at home.
And then last year, Novak and Douglass' third year on campus, Michigan took two mighty steps forward by earning a season sweep over its in-state foe.
But both of those wins were cast aside by some as a matter of circumstance, with Michigan State going through an unusual season filled with locker room troubles and inconsistent play.
On Tuesday, though? That wasn't the case.
Michigan State is currently the ninth-ranked team in America, has a winning streak of 15 games under its belt this year and arrived in Ann Arbor looking for revenge.
It left still searching.
For Michigan, Tuesday's win was definitely big. It was big for perception, it was big for confidence and it was big for the state of this current season.
But a program-changer? Not so much.
Not any longer.
"This is such a great basketball state and so many people care about this game," Beilein said. "This is good for perception, but our culture is our culture -- and it's good, we've got the right people (in place).
"We're moving in the right direction."
Beilein spoke at length Tuesday about how beating Michigan State felt good, but it's not an end-all, be-all goal.
The Michigan basketball program has gotten to a point where beating the Spartans is nice, but chasing a Big Ten title is better.
"It feels good," Douglass said. "But this isn't the ultimate goal."
The Spartans are no longer a big, bad wolf blocking the Wolverines' path on the court.
They're a peer, an equal and a necessary victory.
Michigan doesn't just hope to compete with Michigan State in basketball any longer.
It expects to.
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