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Posted on Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

The Michigan basketball team re-wrote history this season, but ended with a dud

By Nick Baumgardner


Jon Horford, right, consoles Zack Novak after Michigan's 56-50 loss to Ohio in the NCAA Tournament last Friday. After a banner regular season, the Wolverines struggled in post-season play.

Melanie Maxwell |

All season, it was one achievement after another.

Most weeks ranked inside the top 25 in more than a decade, best start to a conference season since the mid-2000s, most assists by a freshman — ever, highest RPI in recent memory and the first Big Ten championship since 1986.

Everything about the Michigan basketball team in 2011-12 appeared to be building toward one final crescendo of re-written program milestones.

And, in the end, it did. Worst NCAA Tournament upset loss in school history.

Not exactly how you draw it up, if you're the Wolverines.

"We thought we could play for a while," Michigan coach John Beilein said after the team's 65-60 NCAA Tournament loss to 13th-seeded Ohio on Friday. "We knew we were going to have to play a really good game today.

"We didn't play as well as we had played earlier in the year."


Freshman point guard Trey Burke made an immediate impact this season. He had 13 points, two assists and two rebounds in a team-high 30 minutes of action in his first career start against Towson.

Joseph Tobianski |

Earlier in the season, the Wolverines had the look of a club built to surprise, sustain and achieve.

Michigan entered the year without a point guard, but quickly found one in freshman Trey Burke.

The rookie from Columbus, Ohio, had one early hiccup, arriving late to a team shootaround before the regular-season opener against Ferris State.

From there, it was smooth sailing.

Burke burst onto the scene during Michigan's Maui Invitational appearance, outplaying Memphis point guard Joe Jackson and hanging tough with Duke freshman Austin Rivers as the Wolverines left paradise with a more-than-respectable 2-1 mark and a firm spot inside the national rankings.

Outside of a road bump at Virginia, the Wolverines then cruised through the home portion of their non-league schedule and started 4-1 in Big Ten play before entering a road date with Iowa.

Disaster struck in Iowa City, though, as Burke got into foul trouble and the Wolverines were embarrassed by double-digits. But the sour feeling didn't last long, as Michigan immediately bounced back with a home win over Michigan State, its third straight in the series, and fourth straight victory immediately after a loss.

From there, the Wolverines went back and forth — dropping tough road games at MSU, at Arkansas and at Ohio State, but responding to each defeat with an instant win.


Michigan fans celebrate with Tim Hardaway Jr. after the Wolverines beat Ohio State, 56-51, at the Crisler Center on Feb. 19. Less than a month later, the Buckeyes would beat Michigan by 22 points in the Big Ten Tournament.

Melanie Maxwell |

Michigan wasn't perfect, but it kept hanging around. The Wolverines knocked off Ohio State at home in front of perhaps the most raucous Crisler Center crowd of the 2000s, and won six of their last seven to keep hope alive for that first Big Ten title in almost three decades.

Then, fate called. Ohio State stunned Michigan State in the final seconds of the regular season, and the Wolverines — who had just gotten off an airplane after winning at Penn State — erupted into a conference championship celebration.

They were entering postseason play with a ring in hand, with Burke receiving accolades by the day, with Tim Hardaway Jr. fixing his shooting woes and senior guards Zack Novak and Stu Douglass focused on one final March run.

"A year ago, Darius (Morris) left, and everyone said we were screwed," Novak said. "We proved a lot of people wrong.

"We won the best conference in the country."

Michigan had its banner, and seemed destined for more. But there was nothing left but heartbreak.

The Wolverines needed a heroic performance from Burke to survive an otherwise ugly performance against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, and were then pasted by the Buckeyes in the semis by 22 points, Michigan's worst margin of defeat all year.


A confident Ohio team capitalized on some Michigan flaws that Ohio State had exposed one week earlier in the Big Ten tournament.

Melanie Maxwell |

Suddenly, Novak and Douglass weren't shooting, Burke was struggling to find room and the defense was lapsing everywhere.

Things got no easier when Michigan drew a confident Ohio squad, but the Wolverines were confident that a week off would help cure its ailments.

It didn't.

Once the game with the Bobcats tipped, all the same issues floated back to the surface. Michigan couldn't rotate properly on defense, Burke looked suffocated, Novak and Douglass' shots kept falling short and the team continually seemed one step off.

The Wolverines made runs, but nowhere near enough. In the end, the season that began with so much promise and so much progress ended with a punch to the stomach.

"We wanted to win the whole thing," Burke said. "That was the goal.

"We just feel shocked."

Maybe this just wasn't Michigan's time. Maybe the Wolverines achieved too much too quickly. Maybe this was just a lesson along the way for a program that's on the rise, but just not there yet.

Michigan will have to find a way to replace the leadership of Novak and Douglass, two of the finest captains the program has ever known. Leadership and cohesion are two of the most underrated and difficult components to master in college basketball, and Beilein will have his hands full figuring out how to do so next season.

However, the cupboard will be far from bare. Michigan will bring in a top 10 recruiting class, Burke and Hardaway say they'll be back and four of the team's top six scorers will return on a team that will have just two scholarship seniors — Matt Vogrich and Blake McLimans.

With incoming freshmen Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas, combined with the returning ability, the 2012-13 Wolverines might be the most physically gifted club Beilen has ever coached.

But they'll have to learn to play together, and they'll have to figure out a way to wash out the taste the Bobcats shoved in their mouths this weekend in Nashville.

When next season begins, the Michigan basketball program will raise a Big Ten championship banner.

It won't say tri-champs, and it won't make mention of the team's early NCAA Tournament exit.

In 10 years, if the program continues to track on its current progress rate, Ohio should be a distant memory.

But in 2012-13, it'd better not be. That wound needs to stay open.

"Hard work, that's all we can do," Burke said. "This has to motivate us."

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.

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Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 12:23 a.m.

all that don't the NCAA tournament. the only way u stay is to win or u go home.getting the big trophy is all that really in any sport at any level it's only if you WIN in your VERY LAST game of the season that really matters.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 11:29 p.m.

Y'know, this headline is a stinker. It diminishes what was accomplished (a Big Ten conference championship, regardless of who it's shared with) and accentuates the final loss in the Big Dance. You would almost think the writer of such headline attended one of our rival schools. No matter. Yes, the Wolverines exited the tournament too early, but they made there, didn't they? And hushed the naysayers predicting a middle-of-the-conference finish at best this year. All good things. Go Blue!


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 9:19 p.m.

The shame of it is, of the best 64 teams in the country, 63 will end their seasons with a loss.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

when all is said and done though you have to win the VERY LAST game of the season for the season to be SUCCESSFUL.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 10:33 p.m.

Michigan and Michigan State won the exact thing, but look at the reactions of the players and fans. State players are crying and Michigan players are ready to have their numbers retired.

Albee Macaw

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 10:59 p.m.

Yep. Same I said in my post above. Albeemacaw

Albee Macaw

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 9:25 p.m.

Speaks volumes about your standards and expectations when you back into a championship, get eliminated in the first round by a MAC team. And lose to OHIO teams in less then a week and it is a successful seasons. If you guys set the bar any higher they will be popping champagne after beating the Northwesterns of the world. No wonder the fans have an orgasm when any of their programs recruit a descent class.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 2:34 a.m.

Albee--the end of the season is most definitely disappointing. Michigan did not back into anything--they earned a B10 championship, but then didn't play well in 3 consecutive games, stealing a game against Minnesota. You can't compare them to MSU at this point--MSU has been to more final 4s in the last 10 years than Michigan has total in history. Michigan would love to compare ourselves to MSU but it'll take some time (flip being true in football). It's all steps--but Michigan is getting there the right way, just as Izzo did. Let's hope for a time when it's like UNC-Duke, or KY-Indiana/KY-Louisville. There's room, but this was a great year for Michigan, no doubt about it, notwithstanding the finish.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 12:26 a.m.

very true

Ted Bundy

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 7:53 p.m.

Wow, spartans are coming out in full force today. I love the fact that MSU hates sharing the title with UM. Id rather share it with MSU, than win it outright because they are irate about it. Maybe they shouldnt have CHOKED so bad their last two games. A true Big Ten Champ doesnt CHOKE two games in a row... And maybe they shouldnt have lost 3 of 4 to UM the past two years. A true Big Ten Champ doesnt lose 3 out of 4 against a "NIT level" UM team right? "Pride before the fall."


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 6:58 a.m.

Ted Bundy: Let's get real...I am a Spartan fan who tries to tell it like it is. First off, kudos to the blue boys for winning a share of the B1G title, the school's first in a very long time. Secondly, State did not 'choke' as you are continuing to try to point out. They played a tough, ranked Indiana Hoosier team at Assembly Hall, the same venue that helped propel them over the best team in the country, Kentucky, and then hosted a Top Ten OSU team...both of which, may I add, are in the Sweet 16 in case you stopped watching since your team got smacked by a MAC team. And why are you pulling the 'last 3 out of 4' stat line out of your hat? Why not take U of M's record against State since Beiliens's arrival in A2? Or Izzo's all time record against U of M? What's's not as strong of an argument?? Yeah, thought so. The facts are simply this: until Tom Izzo retires, Michigan Basketball will always be second best to the Spartans.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 12:30 a.m.

ya Teddy boy. they're in the Sweet 16 even as i post this.and where are the wonderful Wolverines?why sitting home WATCHING on see there's the difference in the programs.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 7:24 p.m.

But Michigan was supposed to #beatohio???? Wha... wha.. happened???


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 7:19 p.m.

Had to give UM a grade of an A, because thats the best they will ever do. By the way I see MSU got another Mr basketball, 6 10" stud to go with the other top recrutes. Well UM had their run of 3 games, now back to another 10yr run for MSU!!!


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:25 a.m.

Beilien has failed to recruit for years. He has the Michigan brand behind him and should easily out recruit moo u and yet he never has. Hoke realizes what he has here with a world class school and sells it. Beilien does not get it yet and continues to get out recruited.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:27 a.m.

Trigg must be friends with Bleeding Green. On behalf of the real Spartans fans out there I apologize for these idiotic comments--although I know the Wolverines have their share of haters too. In addition to the option to Reply, Vote Up, and Vote Down how about a Hater option so people who want to read something interesting or insightful can have this sort of "input" relegated to a cyber garbage heap of some sort.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 6:43 p.m.

Thanks to the current mandate that the season is meaningless and the NCAA tournament is all that matters, this team will not be remembered fondly. despite sharing the Big Ten title during a season with so many great and good conference teams. The first title since 1986 will not mean much since they lost in the first round. Is this a good thing? The lessening of regular season games and conference titles for post-season glory all but ensures this will continue. It started a while back in hoops and is not happening to football (where the BCS is the glory) and serious sports fans continue to shake their heads.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 4:19 a.m.

Unfortunately, things change and post regular season games are what matter now in all sports: NFL, NBA, NCAAF, NCAAB, and so on where the big money and the national attention converge.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 6:20 p.m.

Aw, come on! Michigan's season did not end with a "dud". They played their hearts out all season. Give them the credit they deserve. No one is going to be NCAA champs every year. On the other hand, we do want to see Kentucky and Ohio State beaten, don't we? Show a little love to the Hoosiers. They made it to the final 16. They play Kentucky next. Andy Uof M players...hold your heads up high. I watched you play all season. Those were some great games. Now we've gotta say GO HOOSIERS!


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 7:32 p.m.

Will do 15crown. This is a big comeback year for IU and the fighting Hoosiers. You can bet THEY'VE got their eye on the prize!


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 12:34 a.m.

keep your eye on the prize though.the BIG Trophy awarded to the, and only to the,NCAA CHAMPION.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

I'm definitely disappointed w/ the way the season ended, but at the same time, I can't be disappointed about the team overall... I mean, we lost our starting PG to the NBA, have no 4 or 5 stars in our roster (like MSU and OSU), and still won the Big Ten playing the same schedule as them and splitting the season series. We were I think predicted to end 5th or so this year in the league, so I never even thought we'd be in the running... definitely over achieved. We're just in need of athleticism and height right now, and next year's freshmen along w/ continous development of current players will help greatly.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

I know it's a team game, but I'm grading them individually: A: Burke, Novac B: Douglass, Vogrich, McClimins, horford (pre fracture) C: Hardaway, smotrytz, Morgan


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

Unfortunately, it remains that the Cazzie Russell teams (two of them) are the only Michigan Basketball teams in history to win both the Big Ten regular season and go to the Final Four. No other Michigan BB team can make that claim--banished or not.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

I gave them a A, no on gave this TEAM a shot to be BIG TEN CHAMPS. With our top 4 Scorers and one of the best Classes coming in next year we WIN AGAIN. HERE'S TO ANOTHER BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP NEXT YEAR AND THE YEAR AFTER!!!!


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

MSU didn't give anything to Michigan. Michigan took that win in Crisler against them, MSU, the more athletic team. Michigan willed it, forced a loss on Sparty. Remember, Novak and Douglas finished 3-1 over MSU.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

The wolverines won nothing this year. MSU shared a piece of the championship cake with their little sister, that's all. The wolverines didn't fare too well in the B1G and NCAA tournaments, without the Spartans helping them.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

"ended with a dud", same quote for next year . . . and talk to anyone who knows anything about basketball, scum BACKED into the banner, they sure the hell did not WIN it!!! Those two road wins don't mean a thing. Losing to a MAC team in the BIG DANCE; well, that means a TON!!!!!!!!!!! Oh yeah, what night this week is your next game???


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

As a season ticket holder, I give them an A. Who would have thought they could achieve a Big Ten co-championship this year? Not me. Congratulations! The season ends in heartbreak but think of how far you have come in the past 4 years. It is inspiring.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 11:30 a.m.

I gave the team a B for the way the season ended, and for the road losses. They did not seem to get stronger as the season went on, as MSU and OSU did, and those 2 last losses in a row do not deserve an A no matter how you slice it. This team was great--full of great character, leadership, excitement and I love that they represent us all very well. A lot to look forward to. I hope they watch MSU in the tourney and try to elevate their game to those standards. Can Hardaway develop into a Green type player? Can morgan turn into a Nix type player? Burke continue to develop into his own legend? If so, then we have a lot left in us.