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Posted on Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Michigan basketball team, for the most part, controls its destiny in chase for Big Ten title

By Nick Baumgardner

An awful lot has happened to the Michigan basketball program over the past 26 years.

The Wolverines have had five coaches, won a national title, popularized baggy shorts, bald heads and black socks, raised banners with joy and lowered banners in shame.

They've seen Rumeal Robinson's free throws, the Fab Five, a Tractor and the advent of the Maize Rage.

But there's been one glaring hole in the program over the past quarter century.

A regular-season Big Ten championship.

"Winning a regular-season Big Ten championship is very unique," Michigan basketball coach John Beilein said earlier this week. "It hasn't happened here in a long time, and we'd love for our guys to believe they could be special and do something like that."

Michigan's last league crown came in 1986, when Glen Rice was a freshman, Bill Frieder patrolled the sidelines and not one member of the current Wolverine squad was alive.

Since that time, seven different Big Ten members have one title. Six teams have won multiple crowns, one has earned four (Indiana), two have captured six (Ohio State and Purdue) and one has claimed seven (Michigan State).


Michigan's last Big Ten title was in 1986, when Glen Rice, left, was a freshman and Bill Frieder, right, was its coach. file photo

Michigan during that time? Close, but no cigar.

The 1989 national title squad finished third; Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson ended their sophomore season (1992-93) in second place. And Robert "Tractor" Traylor's final squad (1997-98) won the inaugural Big Ten Tournament crown, but later vacated the trophy due to sanctions.

With less than a month remaining in the regular season, this year's Michigan basketball team finally has a chance to rejoin the party.

"We feel good right now," Michigan sophomore wing Tim Hardaway Jr. said after a win over Illinois on Sunday. "We've just got to concentrate on the next one."

For Michigan, "the next one" certainly holds the key to everything.

The Wolverines currently sit with a record of 19-7, 9-4 in Big Ten play with five regular-season games to go. Michigan moved within a half game of co-league leaders Michigan State and Ohio State after beating the Illini on Sunday.

So, when Ohio State visits the Crisler Center at 9 p.m. Saturday, with ESPN's "College GameDay" serving as the backdrop, Michigan's quest for that elusive regular-season title will officially begin.

Currently, there are four teams still standing with a shot at the top prize.

Ohio State and Michigan State are tied for first, and Wisconsin (19-6, 8-4 entering Wednesday) is right behind the Wolverines in fourth place.

Of the remaining contenders, the team with the apparent easiest road to the finish wears maize and blue.

After playing Ohio State on Saturday, Michigan won't face another ranked opponent the rest of the way. The Wolverines will travel to Northwestern (Feb. 21), host Purdue (Feb. 25), visit Illinois (March 1) and close the season at Penn State (March 4).

None of those four opponents currently hold a winning record in league play, and the Wolverines have scored victories over each one of them earlier this season.

For Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, things get markedly more difficult.

The Buckeyes still have road games against Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern. They also host Wisconsin and Illinois yet this season, the same Illini team that already beat OSU last month.

Wisconsin? The Badgers still have road games against Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa -- with home tests against Penn State, Minnesota and Illinois.

Michigan State, meanwhile, still has to host both Wisconsin and Ohio State, and must also survive tough road environments at Purdue and Indiana.

In short, the Buckeyes, Badgers and Spartans still have to beat up on one another, while Michigan -- should it survive Saturday -- will have a much simpler row to hoe.

Lose to Ohio State on Saturday, and the battle becomes more uphill.

But beat the Buckeyes in front of perhaps the most rabid home crowd of the season, and, suddenly, the Wolverines will possibly be looking at an inside track to at least a share of a Big Ten championship.

A lot's happened to Michigan over the past 26 years.

And, if all goes well for the Wolverines in the next three weeks, that Big Ten drought won't just end.

It'll be 86'd.

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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Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 6:49 p.m.

It seems like one of the functions of conference tournaments is to help a conference team on the bubble get into the NCAA tournament. I've seen this happen again and again in the ACC where some middle of the pack team such as NC State wins the tournament. For top conference teams that are a lock on the NCAA tournament, the functions of the conference tournament are to keep sharp and work out offensive and defensive schemes needed to win in the Big Dance. The last thing a top team would wish to do is peak before the tournament or start the NCAA tournament with injuries.


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 4:26 p.m.

And further highlights the accomplishments of the Russell-Darden-Buntin-Pomey-Tregonning era when you had to win the Big Ten (which occurred three years in a row) to go to the NCAA's when only 16 teams participated. The Big Ten season was much more meaningful when you couldn't settle for 6th place to go to the Big Dance or catch fire and win the season ending Big Ten tournament. For instance, in 1964-65 season, Minnesota, with Archie Clark, Don Yates and Lou Hudson finished the season ranked 7th in the nation and never got a sniff at the tournament!


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:12 p.m.

Those were the days. Regular season games were meaningful and great to watch.


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

I grew up on the Johnny Orr Wolverines of the 70s. Those 74-75-76-77 teams were special - Phil Hubbard, Ricky Green and Steve Grote carried those guys a long ways. I attend U-M in the early 80s (in 1982 Crisler was empty, I sat in row one as a freshman). The Eric Turner, Leslie Rockymore and Tim McCormick Wolverines were o.k. Then Henderson, Rellford, Wade, Joubert and Tarpley came on board. When Canton McKinley star Gary Grant showed up (Phil Hubbard was also a McKinley grad) U-M really took off. Those 85 and 86 groups were awesome teams. The 1989 Glenn Rice, Rumeal Robinson NCAA champions didn't win the Big Ten title. The Fab 5 could never get past Indiana and Ohio State back in the early 90s and they never won a Big Ten title. The B1G Ten regular season meant a ton back in the 70s and 80s. Does it mean the same now? My guess is that the tournament has stolen some of the shine off the regular season crown, but I have to believe that the regular season title is still a true mark of consistency. I bet it is one of the first goals that the players and coaching staff write on the white board in October. Go Blue!


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 5:16 p.m.

What about Mike McGee and Johnny Johnson


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

I would take it even one step further, and say that not only is the B1G regular season almost meaningless, but so is the BT tournament. The big dance, and the run you make there is ALL that counts.


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

I think they should eliminate the regular season championship. Maybe give the team some sort of award for having the most wins, similar to the Presidents Trophy in the NHL, to go along with the #1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, but the ultimate glory should come from winning that tournament, that or get rid of the Big Ten tournament. Two potential conference champions every year doesn't work.

Heidi Koester

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

Ah, Glen Rice... brings back memories of when I first came to Ann Arbor and had season basketball tickets. That guy was incredible to watch, just an amazing shooter, and so smooth and graceful on the court.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.

IMO since the advent of the tournament in 1998(?) the regular season 1st place slot has lost much of its meaning, other than seeding for the tournament. Its the tournament winner that gets the automatic bid to the NCAA.

Nick Baumgardner

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 7:34 p.m.

All good points. The teams that are good enough to pull the double-whammy (season and tourney title) are always extremely impressive, because that's really not easy to do. If OSU or MSU pull that off, a No. 1 seed would be in store. If Michigan or Wisconsin accomplish that feat, it'd be an interesting debate (no worse than a No. 2, though, I'd think).

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 6:53 p.m.

I agree too Ross, we just disagree with what "Win the BIG 10 title actually means. " You guys seem to think it still means "have the best record at the end of the season". I say it means win the BIG 10 tournament and that makes you the BIG 10 Champion. Not just having the best record before the BIG 10 tournament starts. And that's what the NCAA thinks too. Its the winner of the BIG 10 tournament that wins the BIG 10 title. nothing else. You or I don't have to like it, but thats how it is.


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 6:30 p.m.

Going to agree with Nick here. Winning the B1G title would be huge, from a pride, recruiting, and statement point of view. It's pretty easy to flounder out of the ncaa tourney after one or two games. And getting into the sweet 16 or elite 8 sounds good, but then if you simply lose that game... you don't have much to show for it. Winning the B1G is a tangible accomplishment and would be great for our seniors

Nick Baumgardner

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 3:55 p.m.

In most cases, Craig, you're right. The regular-season champion isn't quite what it used to be -- and, if there's a shared title (which could happen again this season), a co-champ isn't even promised the top overall seed in the Big Ten Tournament. However, if you're Michigan, I think it's important to get one simply because it hasn't happened in so long. It's certainly not the end of the world if Michigan doesn't win it, but being able to raise a Big Ten regular-season title banner for the first time since 1986 would be quite an accomplishment. Right?

Dan Kammer

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 1:04 p.m.

But Nick, your headline is wrong, as currently Michigan does not control its own destiny to the title. With three losses each and a game remaining to play against each other, OSU and MSU control their own destiny. In other words, even if UM wins out, they will still need MSU to lose another game to claim at least a share of the title. Chances are indeed good that MSU will lose again, but it isn't in UM's control.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

And now we have a headline conspiracy.


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

Nick, it's not even "for the most part", who are you trying to kid? Headline should be "Michigan does not control it's own destiny in race for big ten title" or even "Michigan controls its own destiny in race for second place in big ten title".


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

lols at 'for the most part'.

Nick Baumgardner

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

You're absolutely correct, Dan. That's a headline error, and it's been corrected. Michigan still needs someone to beat MSU. Thanks, Nick

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 1:18 p.m.

good point. Michigan needs somebody to beat MSU.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

"Since that time, seven different Big Ten members have one titles"


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:06 p.m.

So Craig- we have a spelling conspiracy here.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.

It was corrected. Because I cut and pasted straight from the original. And it probably should read "seven different Big Ten members have AT LEAST one title." Because one title and seven titles are two different concepts. If 7 teams had only 1 title each and 6 teams had multiple titles that's 13 teams.

Jim Knight

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

Craig. I checked the story, and it reads: "Since that time, seven different Big Ten members have one title."